The Cardinals Belatedly Promote Randy Arozarena, Scapegoat An Assistant Hitting Coach, And Prepare For Yadi’s Return.

Catching up on the Monday-afternoon Cardinals news on what turned out to be a busy off day for the team.

1. The Cardinals finally promoted outfield prospect Randy Arozarena. 

It’s about damn time. The Cardinals have one of the least productive outfields, offensively, in the National League. Among the 15 NL outfield groups the Cardinals rank 13th in OPS, 13th in slugging, 11th in batting average, 11th in OBP, 10th in homers, 12th in RBIs, and 14th in doubles. The mediocre hitting by the entire STL outfield is a prime reason behind the team’s lethargic overall performance offensively.

In 80 games and 347 plate appearances split between Double A Springfield and Triple A Memphis, Arozarena batted .349 with a .435 OBP and .547 slug for a .982 OPS.

Arozarena isn’t a massive slugger, but he slashes lots of doubles (23) and can drive the ball over the fence (10 homers.) He has outstanding plate discipline that leads to walks. He runs very well and by all accounts is a polished fielder.

Two other encouraging things about Arozarena’s trajectory: (A) after being promoted from Springfield to Memphis, his hitting actually improved. In 231 plate appearances at Memphis, Arozarena batted .368 with a 1.004 OPS. And (B) this righthanded batter doesn’t have a glaring platoon split; in the minors this season he had a .939 OPS vs. RHP and a 1.179 OPS vs. lefties.

The question: will Arozarena receive a significant number of at-bats? Or will he sit on the bench for days and weeks at a time, like fellow rookie Lane Thomas?

Will Arozarena be put to the side because of manager Mike Shildt’s odd obsession with putting infielder Tommy Edman in the outfield? With an OPS+ of 88, he’s 12 percent below league average offensively.

It’s crowded out there, with too many outfielders and not enough work to keep everyone busy. But that isn’t because of a surplus of plus-level talent. Shildt has given too many outfield at-bats to average or below-average hitters. And the Cardinals’ front office isn’t exactly astute in evaluating its outfield talent.

For example: Jose Martinez, who was placed on the injured list Monday with a sprained shoulder. Arozarena got the call from Memphis to take J-Mart’s spot. Had Martinez avoided banging his shoulder against the wall in Sunday’s win over the Pirates, Arozarena would have remained in Memphis.

And that’s just straight-up asinine.

Using the metric park adjusted runs created (wRC+) Martinez is four percent below league average offensively this season. After a strong start, Martinez is 14 percent below league average offensively since the start of May.

And Martinez has had a difficult time against RH pitching this season, batting .246 with a .318 OBP and .339 slug vs. righthanders. That translates into 23 percent below league average offensively via wRC+.

(Footnote: using wRC+, the demoted Harrison Bader is better than Martinez against RH pitching this season. And he’s an elite defender who frequently picks up an extra base with his speed as a runner.)

So why would the Cardinals continue to give so many at-bats to an extreme defensive liability in right field who also rates among the team’s worst base runners?

If Martinez is, at best, a league-average hitter who costs the team runs with his fielding and baserunning, then what is the tradeoff?

What were they gaining here?

Because of J-M’s slightly below-average offense, his minus 10 defensive runs saved, and his plodding baserunning, Martinez has an 0.1 WAR this season. That’s that’s just a whisper above the replacement level.

Meanwhile, promising young and talented dudes like Lane Thomas and Randy Arozarena had to park at Memphis or sit on the bench with St. Louis. Two young outfielders touted by the Cardinals have touted.

But there was no room in the outfield — all because the Cardinals have played Martinez in 110 games and given him 348 plate appearances. They did not comprehend that Martinez, essentially, is a replacement-level player in 2019.

I’d like to see Thomas and Arozarena play … and play a lot. But at this point, it’s difficult to put much trust in the decision makers.

2. Hoping to repair a deeply flawed offense, the Cards scapegoated assistant hitting coach Mark “Buddha” Budaska. 

I suppose this was predictable, given the Cardinals recent history of terminating hitting coaches. With the Cardinals mucking through a historically terrible season offensively, there had to be a fall guy, right? Surely they wouldn’t fire lead hitting coach Jeff Albert, who was hired with great fanfare last winter.

Buddha was a guru-hero last summer after being named hitting coach last summer following the team’s belated decision to fire manager Mike Matheny and batting coach John Mabry.

The offense improved under the watch of Buddha and assistant batting coach George Greer; both highly respected instructors were elevated from the minors.

After “Buddha” took over as hitting coach last season on July 15, the Cardinals improved offensively, raising their team OPS by 38 points.

Albert was brought in to install a new approach, with a more advanced agenda that incorporates analytics, enhanced pitch recognition and technology. But the Cardinals have gotten worse offensively this season, ranking 13th in the NL in runs per game and 13th in OPS.

And Buddha is a problem?

Here’s the spin from president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, in comments delivered via MLB.com:

“It really came down to philosophical differences in what we’re trying to do,” Mozeliak said. “As the season wore on, we just didn’t feel like it was clicking. Ultimately, we had to make a decision. I’ve really enjoyed my time working with Buddha, but we felt like for the better good that we had to make a change.”

GM Michael Girsch offered this to Post-Dispatch Hall of Fame baseball writer Rick Hummel:

“It’s really a matter of we wanted a consistent voice for our hitters from the coaching staff and not having mixed messages,” Girsch said. “We felt we were better positioned to have a more uniformed voice for the players. There’s no blame.”

Yeah, except Buddha was fired.

That’s blaming him.

Sure there could have been a mixed-messaging issue here.

And perhaps it was best to move on.

With Buddha out of the way … problems solved — right?

The Cardinals will be facing a row of bad pitching staffs in the coming weeks. That should help Jeff Albert and the hitters make things look better on the surface.

But when your cast of position players ranks 19th in the majors in WAR, and your baseball operation and manager have such a hard time in understanding the difference between a good player and mediocre player … well, I’m thinking the problems are a helluva lot larger than the work of an assistant hitting coach.

3. Catcher Yadier Molina returns Tuesday in Kansas City. 

It will be good to see him behind the plate, his eyes bright and burning with intensity. The Cardinals could use their leader’s energy and intensity. And with his strained thumb finally healed, perhaps Molina, 37, is capable of generating more offense. He struggled down the stretch last season. Since last Aug. 1, and obviously including this year, Molina has a .659 OPS and is 25 percent below league average offensively in park adjusted runs created.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie