If Jedd Gyorko Continues To Play Multiple Positions, the Cardinals Are Better For It

I talked about this on the Tuesday radio show, but let’s go with a written version for those who have an adverse reaction to the sound of my loud voice.

Question: why are so many people seemingly bothered by the idea of using Jedd Gyorko as a super utility guy?

101ESPN’s Bernie Miklasz

You can see the anxiety in Derrick Goold’s weekly chat. I see it in the text messages sent to the radio program. Some of the broadcasters are talking about it.

Gyorko led the Cardinals with 30 homers last year and he may not be a starting player this season? How can that be? Why wouldn’t you just put him at third base? He’s better than Jhonny Peralta, and Kolten Wong hasn’t proven himself at second base.

So why would you use a 30-homer guy into a utility man when he could be starting at third or second base? 

My five-part response:

1. Well, because you can. Gyorko can play every infield position, and flexibility is a good thing. It isn’t a negative. Last season Gyorko started 39 games at second base, 28 at third base, 25 at shortstop, and eight at first base.

The metrics show that the man named Jedd was a “plus” defender at 2B and 3B. He was an average defender at first base. He was slightly below average at sortstop.

2. And because it makes a lot of sense. Gyorko has shown that he can be moved around, and it doesn’t faze him. He doesn’t embarrass himself at any position. Peralta’s range has diminished and third base is his home. Peralta can’t cover the ground at shortstop, Peralta can’t play second, and there’s no reason to push Peralta into a crowded spot at first base. Why would anyone with brain cells use Peralta in a super-utility role instead of Gyorko? As for Wong, GM John Mozeliak made it a point of emphasis to add more athleticism and speed and defense to the lineup. That would be K. Wong. He’s the team’s best second baseman. He’s probably their fastest runner. And Wong is definitely among the most athletic Cardinals. He’s got to play. Didn’t you learn a damned thing while watching last season’s awful defense, mule-pace running, and a one-dimensional lineup that was addicted to homers?

3. Because the Cardinals are better off having Gyorko to plug in wherever they need him, to cover for injuries, deep slumps, platoon splits. Gyorko banged 13 homers and slugged .588 as second baseman last season. He hit 9 homers and slugged .452 when playing third. He slugged .462 with 7 homers when used as a shortstop. And Gyorko homered, once, during his limited time at first base. So what’s wrong with transferrable power? What’s wrong with taking advantage of Gyorko’s power by spreading it around? Why must he be locked into one position? Makes no sense.

4. Because I wouldn’t assume that 2016 was the real Gyorko, the normal Gyorko, the expected Gyorko, and that you can write him in for another 30 homers and a repeat of last season’s .495 slugging percentage. Maybe Jedd will do that. Maybe he’s good for 30 bombs again. But what if 2016 was an outlier? That’s possible too. In his first three MLB seasons, Gyorko slugged .395. He jacked that up by 100 points in 2016. Before last season, Gyorko homered an average of every 26.7 at-bats. Last year, that home-run ratio was 13.3 at-bats. Over his first three years, the RH-swinging Gyorko slugged a weak .379 versus RH pitchers.

Last season, Gyorko cannon-blasted RH pitchers for a .536 slug. He just destroyed four-seam fastballs and sinkers from RH pitchers, putting up fantasy-land slugging percentages against the hard stuff. And the pitchers stupidly kept feeding fastballs to Gyorko instead of going with more sliders and curves (his weak pitches.) I would expect some adjustments this season. I’d be surprised if Gyorko gets a steady diet of fastballs again. I’m not saying Gyorko will be anemic at the plate — but pardon me for hesitating to put him down for 30 long balls and a slugging percentage just under .500. And power is pretty much Gyorko’s game. He won’t draw many walks. He’ll have a low onbase percentage. Hell, last year Gyorko drove in only 59 runs despite hitting so many homers. And he cranked only nine doubles.

I’m not trying to put Gyorko down. I loved the trade that brought him to the Cardinals. I just think that too many people get so obsessed with a home-run count and forget about the all-around skill set. Goodness, the Cardinals clobbered 225 home runs last season to lead the NL. And they failed to make the playoffs … in part because they had too many free-swinging power types who couldn’t consistently get on base, or add speed, or play good defense.

5. Because I realize that having a so-called super utility player is a Thang in today’s game. Again, I’m a tad perplexed why some people think it’s crazy to use Gyorko at multiple positions instead of one set position. Evidently these folks haven’t watched Ben Zobrist, Brock Holt, Justin TurnerJosh Harrison, etc. Having the  “super utility” label next to your name isn’t a slap, a slur or an insult. It’s actually quite the compliment. How many MLB players are capable of providing impact at several positions both offensively and defensively? And some players have done this without the “utility” label. Matt Carpenter, for example.

“There are a lot more guys around the league that are doing it and understanding the benefit it can have to both the team and their career,” said Zobrist, who started games at five different positions for the Cubs in 2016. (You know, the team that won the World Series.) “So this is becoming more of a position. Like most guys, I prefer one spot. But playing for (manager) Joe Maddon at Tampa Bay, and again with the Cubs, I came to appreciate the extra value you can have for your team just by being versatile.”

Sure, Gyorko could end up spending much of his time at one position. Again: injuries, severe droughts and platoon splits are a part of the game. And if manager Mike Matheny displays dexterity by slotting Gyorko in multiple spots when warranted to reinforce weak areas, Gyorko will get more than 400 plate appearances again. If the aging Peralta just goes off a cliff in his performance, then Gy0rko can help. Same with Wong at second base…if Wong frets and worries and drives himself crazy in a way that hurts his performance and the team, then Gyorko will be ready. If the LH-swinging Wonng struggles against LH pitching, Gyorko is an option.

Last season Gyorko got plenty of at-bats because of injuries to Peralta, shortstop Aledmys Diaz and Carpenter.

It’s nice to know that your team can rely on Gyorko to move around and stay busy handling emergencies.

It’s nice to know that Gyorko can be an asset at several positions instead of one position.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie 

More: Miklasz – A Positive Sign From Cardinals Camp: Mike Matheny Is Trying to Grow and Evolve