Column: Gyorko should be in the mix in left field

Brian Stull over at STL Baseball Weekly wrote an article yesterday about Jedd Gyorko playing in left field for the Cardinals on Tuesday against the Brewers. The best part about it may have been the tweet promoting the article and the way everyone quoted it and then projected their expectations based on the tweet without having read the article.

In the article, Mike Matheny was asked if Gyorko in left field was going to become a more regular thing. He basically said probably not and that he only appeared there for two innings on Tuesday night because of their short bench.

But in all honesty, I really like the idea of Gyorko adding left field to his repertoire. I believe I talked about it on one of the UCB Podcasts earlier this season when discussing the Matt Adams in left field experiment. I always felt that Gyorko should have been the one learning in left field.

Now in the first part of the season, Gyorko has gotten off to a tremendous start. He has a career best batting line of .296/.346/.495 with 8 home runs through the Cardinals’ first 64 games.

But entering this season he has a career batting line of .238/.296/.418. I wouldn’t be relying on a player with a career OBP of .296 suddenly becoming a guy capable of reliably hitting .296. No, we’ll probably see a player much more on par with his career averages through the final four months of the season.

In fact, he’s already showing signs of that performance slipping. He’s batting .244 over the last four weeks, .189 over the last two, and .176 over the last seven days. Regression is a wicked mistress.

I expressed some concern when the Cardinals made the decision to designate Jhonny Peralta for assignment that he had a better batting average than Gyorko did between when he returned off the disabled list on May 19th and when he was DFA’d on June 9th.

Courtesy of that hot start, he’s also batting fourth in the Cardinals’ lineup. His career numbers are not the guy you want batting cleanup in your lineup.

Ultimately though, Gyorko was never penciled in to be anything more than a utility player for the Cardinals the past two years. He was supposed to get 450 to 500 plate appearances, bounce between infield positions, and go on a hot streak or two where he supplanted a starting player for a week or two, but ultimately be a utility player.

He’s played all four infield positions in his career, so why not add more utility?

The Cardinals need to add at least one more bat to this lineup and preferably two, and third base is one of the easiest positions for them to upgrade. With Matt Carpenter at first, Kolten Wong having a career year at second, and Gyorko not being good enough defensively to stick at shortstop, where do you play him?

Enter left field.

I don’t see this like the Adams experiment in left field, though I don’t think that went as badly as most do. When I watched him, what I saw was inexperience far more than just simply being incapable of playing the position. I felt like with enough time he could become a passable option in left field.

A key part of playing outfield is ball tracking and that’s not something that first baseman have to do with any regularity. The vast majority of what first basemen do is stand still and catch the ball. They aren’t tracking balls. That’s something that the rest of the infield does quite often, so it is a skill that Gyorko should have far more refined than Adams did.

It’s a move that makes sense for the Cardinals in many ways, but perhaps the most important is that it gives John Mozeliak more flexibility if he elects to add an offensive player this summer.