The St. Louis Cardinals had a pair of infielders be named honorable mentions in ESPN’s top ten players by position. First baseman Matt Carpenter and shortstop Aledmys Diaz were given a shout out as players just outside the top ten.
The list that our very own St. Louis Cardinals appear on are written by ESPN’s Buster Olney after consideration from what are referred to as “baseball evaluators”. Once all the votes are in from the scouts and executives, the lists are made. Some of the decisions are no-brainers, like Clayton Kershaw at number one for starting pitchers but some, like first baseman, had five different players voted as the top player.
As far as first baseman go, Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves ended up topping the list followed by two guys from the NL Central, but not in the order that most would expect. Number two is Joey Votto followed by Anthony Rizzo. They were the only NL Central first baseman to make the list.
Matt Carpenter found his way to be mentioned without having ever started a full season as a first baseman. With the St. Louis Cardinals announcing their intentions to use him as their everyday player at the position, his previous limited play was enough to be thought of for the list.
Buster Olney mentions only two things in his evaluation of Carpenter. His .380 on base percentage from the previous season, and the 49 home runs over the last two years. But there is also his 3.2 WAR for the 2016, and 5.2 from the 2015 campaign. He has been one of the more reliable hitters in the Cardinals lineup.
The move to first base from third was widely publicized as a way to allow Peralta to play third base. While that is one benefit, it is not the only plus. Carpenter boasts his best UZR by far at first base at minus-1.6 for his career but a positive 1.0 in 2016. Still not great, but much better than his career minus-8.4 at second. Furthermore, at third base, he shows a -6.7 on his career.
If Carpenter can find his form from 2015 when he had a WAR of 5.2, then the St. Louis Cardinals could be dangerous. Based off of the past 2 seasons, fans can know Carp is good for 20 plus homers and a .270 average and absolutely deserves to be an honorable mention on ESPNs list.
Even though Diaz is listed under the honorable mentions, he is the last name discussed. Buster Olney gives only one sentence to the St. Louis Cardinals shortstop: “A tremendous rookie showing cut short by injury.”
That one sentence is very true. Diaz totaled 111 games in his rookie year, hitting an even .300. He was in Rookie Of The Year talks, and was even a front runner depending on who was asked. I have little doubt that a full season lands Diaz in the top ten. I would confidently guess top five the way his season was going. Four and five are Brandon Crawford and Xander Bogaerts in that order. Diaz could have very well snuck in there.
In the field Diaz is still improving. He had a fielding percentage of .961, and a UZR of -8.4. As he matures into the league, his fielding should see improvements. Not monumentally, but it will trend upward. After all, it was only a rookie year for the 26-year old shortstop.
His bat more than makes up for where he may lack with the leather. He collected 121 hits, which included 28 doubles and 17 homers. In the end, even with the injury taking away 50 games from Diaz’s season, he posted a WAR of 2.7. Compare that to Addison Russell who posted a 3.9 WAR in 151 games. The Cardinals shortstop was on pace to finish higher than 3.9 if he had played all year.
With a healthy season, the what-ifs can be answered. If Diaz has a season anything like his rookie year then he will be in the top ten list then next time around. Not to mention the contributions he can make towards getting back into the playoffs.
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This roster is looking ready to make a run at getting back to October. With young guys like Diaz and Alex Reyes, the veterans like Carpenter and Yadier Molina, and the new guys Dexter Fowler and Brett Cecil. And of course Carlos Martinez and Seung-Hwan Oh who were also recognized in the rankings. These rankings are just building the excitement for Opening Day.