I’m glad the segment of St. Louis Cardinals fandom that would have released outfielder Randal Grichuk Monday night after his 0-for-6, five strikeout performance doesn’t have a say in the clubs’ personnel decisions.
Grichuk, who has 57 major league games under his belt, was 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles, a triple and three runs batted in Tuesday night against the New York Mets. He helped key a 10-run outburst as Micahel Wacha held the opposition to two runs to earn the win.
The unseemly Grichuk bashing started during the 2014 playoffs when some folks just couldn’t accept that a rookie thrust into a starting role wasn’t dominating the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Madison Bumgarner at the plate.
Some folks just couldn’t believe he made the roster out of spring training while manager Mike Matheny said he couldn’t imagine the team leaving Florida without Grichuk.
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A particularly vocal segment of Cardinals Nation just doesn’t have any patience with some players. Grichuk, centerfielder Jon Jay and backup catcher Tony Cruz, for some reason, have been frequent targets of social media wrath.
I blame at least part of the irrationality on the concept of Wins Over Replacement, or WAR, which is a compilation of statistics designed to estimate a players’ overall value to his team. It’s the gold standard by which people who follow sabermetrics judge players.
I don’t have problem with the complicated stew of statistics that make up WAR. It’s the concept that a real life player’s qualities can be accurately translated to the number of wins they contribute to their team over an “average” replacement that is what makes things murky.
Baseball players have different learning curves or are forced into very different roles that aren’t always a reflection of their overall talent. And the three Cardinals social media whipping boys are proof.
WAR takes no consideration for the fact that Grichuk, who had less than half a season of Class AAA baseball under his belt before he was pressed into service at the big league level because his team desperately needed outfield help, is still learning on the job.
If he was allowed to mature for two seasons at Class AAA while collecting 1,000 at-bats would he have an easier time of things in the big leagues? Almost certainly.
So why don’t the Cardinals send him back to the minors? Because they need him now and, contrary to the concept of that imaginary replacement player, he’s the best option available in the system.
So, while some other players have had more time and at-bats in the minors to hone their skills, Grichuk has had to take his lumps as he learns in front of 40,000 screaming fans every night.
Given the circumstances, I’m thrilled with Grichuk’s .269 average with five extra base hits in 26 at-bats so far this season. Anyone who doesn’t appreciate the guts it took to put his Monday performance behind him and start fresh on Tuesday doesn’t appreciate the difficulty of the grind of major league baseball.
What do people expect?
People seem to demand Cruz to be a carbon copy of Yadier Molina, the best catcher in baseball.
A career .226 batting average, solid defense and a handful of clutch hits in big games are better than average contributions from a backup catcher. Still, a group of folks howled for him to be replaced over the winter, a notion that doesn’t even seem to be on the radar of the front office.
Jon Jay has been the all-time leader of unwarranted internet criticism. A career .292 hitter who was the starting centerfielder on two World Series teams, Jay is constantly negatively compared to Peter Bourjos, a WAR darling -- who is trying to craft his second decent major league season in six years of trying.
The problem with WAR is that an average replacement is an abstract concept. There is a statistical average. But there is no single player who can be pointed to as the average major league guy. There are too many variables in the major league skill set for one person to be average in all ways.
The concept that some guy off the bench of a Class AAA team can be dropped into a MLB lineup and have a predicted amount of success is ridiculous.
Ironically, the root of Sabermetrics is trying to predict the future potential of players. But maturity, experience and the role a players is being asked to fill are all factors that can’t be denied when assessing a player.
Some guys face obstacles that others don’t. So let’s have some patience with players in a sport where the best athletes fail more than two-thirds of the time.