Bird Bytes: The Cards' hole against LH pitching

2014-06-20T02:00:00Z 2015-12-01T12:35:58Z Bird Bytes: The Cards' hole against LH pitchingBernie Miklasz bjmiklasz@post-dispatch.com stltoday.com

Notes on my Scorecard: 

* When lefthanded pitchers start against the Cardinals, it puts manager Mike Matheny in a tough situation. Most likely it means putting LH bopper Matt Adams on the bench. Big City has impressively assaulted pitches thrown by righthanded pitchers but hasn't been able to do much against lefties. In 117 major-league plate appearances vs. LHP, Adams is batting .183 with a .197 onbase percentage and .304 slugging percentage. Adams has a 32.5 percent strikeout rate against lefties. So on one obvious level, parking Adams against LH starters is an understandable move.

* Here's the problem: the alternative lineup choices haven't offered an acceptable solution. When Adams doesn't play, Matheny has used one of two RH-bat options, Peter Bourjos or Randal Grichuk, in center field --with Jon Jay in right field. Or maybe Grichuk in right field, with Jay in center. (And RF Allen Craig moves to 1B.) Jay isn't the issue; even though he bats left he does well against LH pitching. (More on that in a few moments.) But Bourjos is only 10 for 55 (.182) against LH this season, and he's struck out against them 32 percent of the time. (Ouch.) Grichuk is back in Triple A Memphis, but in two big-league stints this season he went 3 for 27 against LH, striking out 10 times. Grichuk did homer off Toronto LH Mark Buehrle.

* When the Cardinals soon adjust the roster and go from 13 to 12 pitchers they'll likely add an outfielder. If the team is still hung up on the idea of Oscar Taveras and Grichuk playing every day _ and will keep them in the minors -- then the call would likely go to Shane Robinson. In the past Matheny has used the righthanded hitting Robinson as if Robinson offered a platoon-split advantage against LH pitching. Unfortunately, there is no platoon-split edge for Robinson. In 224 plate appearances against LHP, Robinson has batted .227 with a .313 onbase percentage and .294 slugging percentage. So I'm not sure why Robinson would be elevated as a countermeasure to face LH pitching on days when Adams doesn't start. The numbers simply don't warrant it. 

* That leads us back to Adams ... and until and unless the Cardinals are willing to commit to Grichuk or Taveras in a part-time role in the bigs, I'm thinking Matheny would be better off just giving Adams more at-bats against lefthanded pitchers. Adams did well against LH in the minors and had some good moments against them early last season. It's a small sample, but Adams had 8 hits (including two homers) in his first 25 at-bats vs. LHP in 2013. Granted, Adams has been only 10 for 70 (.143) with 25 strikeouts vs. the lefts in the regular season since then. Playing him against LH now isn't idea. But here's the point: in the absence of a valid platoon alternative, it makes sense to give Adams more swings against LH with the hope that he'll get better.

* Adams hit LH pitching very well in the minors. He had a .329 average against them in 2009, and slugged .548 against them in 2010. From 2011 through 2012, Adams' minor-league numbers in 249 plate appearances vs. LHP was .293 average, .355 OBP and .518 SLG. He has demonstrated an ability to handle LH pitching. The challenge to master lefties is much more difficult in the majors, and it's been tough for Adams, but he has the potential to become a solid hitter against them. Unless the Cardinals line up a better option to take on lefthanded pitchers, they might as well bank on Adams' potential. Because he'll only improve against LH pitching by getting more at-bats against LH pitching. 

* We mentioned Jay's performance against LHP: 13 for 31 (.419) this season. In his big-league career Jay has 496 plate appearances against lefties, and hasn't hit for power, but his batting average is .280 with a .348 OBP. And that's more than adequate. But right now, if Matheny isn't willing to play Adams against LHP, and the Cardinals are one bat short. That is, unless they want to give another shot to Grichuk or Taveras.

* Taveras bats left. And after a slow start against LHP in his minor-league career, Taveras has put up good numbers against them. In 399 plate appearances vs. LH since 2011, Taveras has batted .307 with a .364 OBP and .479 SLG. The damage includes 11 homers, three triples and 23 doubles. But for now the Cardinals are content to keep the clock stopped on Taveras' major-league playing time so they can possibly save money later. At some point RH-hitting prospect Stephen Piscotty will be in the mix, but not yet. (By the way: Taveras turned 22 years old today.) 

* If Matheny wants to think beyond the usual formula, here's one to consider on days when he decides to rest Adams against LHP: give catcher Yadier Molina's knees a break by playing him at first, and go with Tony Cruz behind the plate. That way the Cardinals can keep Craig in RF. During his big-league career Molina has appeared in 31 games at first base (three starts) for a total of 31 innings. That said, Cruz is a .182 hitter (20 for 110) against LH during his time in the majors. So that doesn't really solve the problem, does it? At least Molina would put fewer miles on his knees. 

* And I don't understand why Matt Holliday can't be trained to handle occasional starts at first base. Why is that out of bounds? 

Bernie Miklasz has been covering St. Louis sports since 1989. 

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