A Baseball IQ Test For The Cardinals: Drew Robinson or Yairo Munoz?

Jedd Gyorko is missing swing-training time with a strained calf and may not be ready for the start of the regular season on March 28 in Milwaukee.

If Gyorko goes on the injured list, the Cardinals won’t have to make a decision on Yairo Munoz and Drew Robinson. They’ve been competing for the final bench spot. Pitching aside, both can play six positions — all but catcher and first base.

Based on small-sample defensive metrics Robinson has the edge over Munoz at shortstop and second base. They’re equal at third base. And Munoz is a better outfielder. But again, we’re not talking about a lot of innings.

Munoz bats right.

Robinson bats left.

If the Cardinals were serious about choosing between Munoz and Robinson, the preference for a left-handed bat worked in Robinson’s favor.

But the idea that this was a legitimate competition — well, it troubles me. I realize Munoz made too many errors at shortstop and second base last season. But Munoz was a 23-year-old rookie that had played only 91 games above the Class AA level before 2018. In his first MLB experience, Munz was still developing — and probably a little jumpy.

With Texas in 2017 and 2018, Robinson played pretty well in limited time (108 innings) at second base. But for the Rangers he logged only 15.2 innings at shortstop and 131 at third base. Robinson isn’t a defensive standout.

The stark difference separating Munoz and Robinson materializes in offensive performance.

Munoz is clearly superior, even though he’s two years younger than Robinson. And the platoon splits don’t give Robinson an edge over Yairo.

For instance, you’d think that Robinson’s LH swing would make him a more appealing option than the RH-swinging Munoz against right-handed pitching.

That’s false, based on the early MLB trends with both players.

In 208 MLB plate appearance against RHP, Robinson has a startling 41.3 percent strikeout rate, with a .186 average and .617 OPS. He’s 39 percent below average vs. RHP in park-adjusted runs created (wRC+.)

In 227 MLB plate appearances vs. RHP, Munoz has a .280 average, .731 OPS and a much lower (21%) strikeout rate. He’s about league average (99 wRC+) as a hitter when facing right-handers.

Even though the Cardinals evidently are obsessed with Robinson because of his left-handed swing, Munoz has out-performed Robinson against RH pitching.

With the exception of last season, Robinson has pounded RHP in the minors. But Munoz, then 22, improved in 2017 — his last full season in the minors — by slugging .449 vs. RH pitchers.

Munoz comes out as a huge winner when we compare his plate discipline, two-strike hitting, and situational hitting to Robinson’s. It’s a rout.

PLATE DISCIPLINE

Munoz had a nine percent walk rate and 21.6 percent strikeout rate as a big-league rookie last season.  And after being recalled by the Cardinals in mid-May after a short stay in the minors, Munoz lowered his strikeout rate to 19.4 percent over his final 309 plate appearances of the season.

Robinson has done a fine job of drawing walks (12%) early in his big-league career, but his strikeout rate (40%) for Texas was abysmal.

In high-leverage situations, Munoz struck out only 16.7 percent of the time in 2018.

In the same situations with the Rangers, Robinson had a strikeout rate of 39%.

Munoz had a 22.4 strikeout rate with runners in scoring position

For the Rangers, Robinson struck out at a ghastly rate of 49% with RISP.

Good grief.

TWO-STRIKE HITTING

Munoz was the Cardinals’ best two-strike hitter last season in batting average (.252), OPS (.665) and wRC+ (83.) When encountering a two-strike count, Munoz struck out 41 percent of the time. That may seem excessive, but it actually matched the overall MLB rate on two-strike counts last season.

But more on point: Robinson’s career MLB strikeout rate with two strikes is 59%.

Using park-adjusted runs created, Munoz is 37%  above  the MLB average in two-strike hitting. Robinson is 28%  below  the MLB average in two-strike hitting.

SITUATIONAL HITTING

In 2018 Munoz led the Cardinals in batting average (.324), OPS (.935) and wRC+ (40% above average) with runners in scoring position.

As a Ranger Robinson batted .214 with a .635 OPS with RISP.

Robinson was 29% below the league average (wRC+) with runners in scoring position.

In high-leverage situations Munoz batted .280 with a .400 OBP and .480 slugging percentage for the Cardinals. His performance in high-leverage challenges was 44% above the league average.

What about Robinson? As a Ranger he went 2-for-17 in high-leverage situations with seven strikeouts. And he was 41 percent below the league average in high-leverage wRC+.

On top of all this, under manager Mike Shildt and new hitting instructor Jeff Albert the Cardinals are are prioritizing improved  contact, fewer strikeouts and smarter situational hitting.

If the brains behind this team are sincere about this initiative, then how in the hell could they choose Robinson over Munoz? This is a credibility check.

Robinson has poor plate discipline and isn’t effective in money-time hitting situations By contrast Munoz already has displayed advanced skills in those areas and was the Cardinals’ best overall situational hitter in 2018.

WHEN FACING BETTER PITCHERS 

In 2018, when he stepped in against pitchers with an ERA of 3.50 or less, Munoz went 35-for-118 (.297) with four homers, 18 RBIs and an .802 OPS. He was at his best against the best pitchers.

In 2018, when he competed against pitchers with an ERA of 3.50 or better, Robinson went 6-for-40 (.150) with a homer and a 464 OPS.  As a Ranger, Robinson’s two-year batting average against pitchers that had a 3.50 ERA or lower was .159.  (He went 10-for-63.)

SPRING TRAINING,  2019

This spring Munoz has a K rate of 17.5 percent in 40 plate appearances.

Robinson has struck out nearly twice as often (34%) in 50 plate appearances.

The trend continues.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Munoz doesn’t throw away at-bats.

Robinson is awfully nice to pitchers, the way he gives away at-bats.

Selecting Robinson over Munoz would be a cuckoo move … and it would completely contradict the Cardinals’ proclaimed emphasis on smarter and more controlled hitting.

And if the Cardinals opt for Robinson over Munoz, Robinson will be the only thing they’ll have to show on the 25-man roster from the Stephen Piscotty trade.

Piscotty blasted 28 homers plus 41 doubles and slugged .491  in 2018 to help push the A’s push into a wild-card playoff spot.

–Bernie