Hello, Nolan Gorman!
Welcome to the St. Louis Cardinals and major-league baseball. May your home runs fly frequently and travel high and far. May your strikeouts generate nothing more than a minor summer breeze. May you wallop right-handed pitching, cause considerable stress, and do extensive damage to earned-run averages. May you cause little stress and avoid extensive damage to your own pitchers with your defense at second base.
May your manager utilize properly, and have the common sense to place you at designated hitter instead of Corey Dickerson when a righthander is on the mound. Dickerson was signed by John Mozeliak to a $5 million salary for 2022, but that should matter if he continues to flop. Or is this just the usual management calculus? (A cautious navigation to the safe haven of wild-card land.)
Young Gorman is 22, and here’s hoping that you never have to go back to the minors to work on flaws that lead to more swings and misses than Chris Davis on a bad day. No offense to Patrick Wisdom, but potent slugging isn’t as appealing when a hitter has a career 41 percent strikeout rate. We’d appreciate it if you can avoid being the left-swinging version of Wisdom.
May the fans be patient if you require time to adjust to big-league pitchers and their evil sliders. Your minor-league record shows a pattern of starting slowly before consistently plugging in that power. But your numbers this season against right-handed pitching jump off my laptop screen: .379 average, .426 onbase percentage, .828 slugging percentage and a 1.253 OPS. You’ve homered every 7.25 at-bats vs. righties this season, so your confidence should be robust.
The Pirates are starting a righthander on Friday night, a fella named Zach Thompson. He has a 5.47 ERA this season. May you launch one into the Allegheny River, beyond the barriers of PNC Park in Pittsburgh, when you make your MLB debut tonight. We can’t wait.
Hello, Matthew Liberatore!
Welcome to the St. Cardinals and The Show and we wish you great success in your first MLB start on Saturday night. Please throw strikes. My goodness, we beg you to throw strikes. And if you do a good job, here’s hoping you will stay in the Cardinals rotation in place of two starters (Jordan Hicks and Dakota Hudson) who cannot throw strikes, operate efficiently, or pitch more than four innings on a regular basis. These dudes work more slowly than an overly deliberate 90-year-old watchmaker and put the fans and their teammates to sleep.
May you put an end to the obsession of why fans who can’t get over the fact that the Cardinals traded outfielder Randy Arozarena to Tampa Bay to get you in a trade. You didn’t ask to be traded. You weren’t the St. Louis manager that wouldn’t play Arozarena when he got promoted to the majors late in 2019. By the way: Arozarena is batting .225 for the Rays this season, with a .622 OPS and 27 percent strikeout rate.
You were the 16th overall selection in the 2018 draft, chosen three picks ahead of Gorman. You’re still only 22 years old, and most prospect pundits believe you have a chance to be special. It probably won’t happen right away, and let’s be candid here: you’re a talented lefty but haven’t fared well against RH batters. This year in Triple A they’ve hit .297 against you with a .462 slugging percentage and .830 OPS.
That’s concerning, but you have what it takes to improve, and we’re impressed by your 28% strikeout rate this season. After getting slapped for a 6.28 ERA in your first three starts, you’ve posted a 2.45 ERA in your last four. But you’ve thrown only 162 innings above the Class A level, and that makes it difficult for the rest of us to gauge your readiness. But the skill is abundant. The fastball is effective. The curve is nasty. The changeup is a work in progress.
We can’t imagine that it gets any better than two childhood friends from Arizona to be promoted to the majors at the same, and are set to make their big-league debut only 24 hours apart … after being drafted three spots apart in the 2018 draft. They moved quickly through the STL minor-league system, and their dreams have landed. Have fun. Savor every moment. And hopefully this is the start to a long, rewarding major-league career.
Now let’s look at this from the Cardinals’ standpoint …
Why now for Gorman? Because this team is sinking in mediocrity and needs a jolt. The Cardinals (20-18) have lost eight of their last 12 games. They’re 11-14 since April 24 and have scored three or fewer runs 13 times during this 25-game stretch. Gorman has pulled himself out of a crash phase and is reducing his strikeout rate. The Cardinals would have been idiots to promote Gorman during the throes of a hitting slump. They waited until he came out of it. But strikeouts will be the No. 1 issue for him as he moves into the majors.
How will Gorman impact the 2022 Cardinals? It depends on how quickly he adjusts and adapts and gets comfortable in the big leagues. And if he gets into a rut, his ability to overcome it will affect his trajectory. His LH bat can be a significant presence for a team that ranks 19th in slugging and 16th in OPS against RH pitching this season. Their collection of designated hitters is 20th in slugging against RH pitching. The stated plan is to put Gorman at second base, but if they want his bat in the lineup as much as possible, he’ll have to serve as DH vs. RHP in some capacity. Rookie Juan Yepez (who bats from the right side) has boosted the Cards’ DH production vs. righthanders. But Yepez will likely see a lot of action in left field, and Corey Dickerson is batting .194 with a .226 slug against RH pitching this season.
Will the Cardinals decline defensively with Gorman at second base? I could be a phony, and say something like “Hey, It’s Fine!” but I’ll pass on that. Tommy Edman is the top second baseman in the majors, leading the position with seven defensive runs saved … and now he’ll slide over to shortstop. Edman played extensively at shortstop in college and in the minors. The Cardinals used him at shortstop in 2020 and 2021 for a total of 122 innings, and Edman handled it capably with three defensive runs saved. A more extensive test awaits, and we’ll see how he holds up physically. He’s confident that he can be a plus shortstop defensively.
As Edman moves, he takes over (at least for now) a STL shortstop position that ranks third in the majors with five defensive runs saved this year. Before these changes, the Cardinals were a +12 defensively in middle-infield defense. Gorman isn’t a natural second baseman, and STL pitchers have the second-highest ground ball rate in the majors. Edman will have to reestablish himself at shortstop, and the most realistic hope is that Gorman can play average or slightly-below average defense at second. But it’s naive to think that the Cardinals can continue to play middle-infield defense at an extremely high level with the new alignment.
The 2021 Cardinals defense was rewarded with five Gold Gloves. But as the team plays in Pittsburgh, only three of those Gold Glove winners are still in place at the position they manned last year: Paul Goldschmidt at first, Nolan Arenado at third, and Harrison Bader in center field. Edman has transferred to shortstop. Tyler O’Neill, who won the Gold Glove in left field, is on the IL with a shoulder impingement. Bader’s defense hasn’t been as distinguished this season, but it’s early. Bottom line? The Cardinals are tied for 17th in the majors with seven defensive runs saved. And if anything they’ll lose some ground defensively.
I’ve had fans remind me that the Cardinals played Matt Carpenter and Skip Schumaker at second base and the franchise didn’t fold. So what’s the big deal about putting Gorman there? Answer: the Cardinals had several bad years defensively with Carpenter or Schumaker at second. Both were well below average at second base. So their defense at second mattered … and not in a positive way. But if Gorman can hit like a career-peak Carpenter, it will be easier to overlook any defensive limitations.
Why Liberatore right now? It’s more pragmatic than anything. The Cardinals needed a starter for Saturday’s game, and Liberatore fits the opening. It’s possible that he’ll do his turn to help the team with a one-and-done before heading back to Memphis. But Liberatore’s performance in his first MLB appearance could change any tentative plans – unless, of course, the Cardinals are committed to keeping starters around who walk too many hitters and come up short in supplying innings.
Something to consider: the Cardinals could use lefty help in the bullpen, and this year at Memphis Liberatore has held LH batters to a .167 average, .291 slug and .498 OPS. All he can do is take the ball Saturday, pitch a helluva game, and impress the manager, pitching coach and front office.
Are the Cardinals turning to a youth movement? It sure looks that way. And I hope so. Their rookies are performing at an impressive level so far this season: position players Juan Yepez and Brendan Donovan and relief pitchers Andre Pallante, Packy Naughton and (to a lesser extent) Jake Walsh.
Offensively Yepez and Donovan are doing their part to elevate a terribly inconsistent offense. In 14 games Yepez is batting .333 with a .945 OPS. He has plenty of power, takes mature at-bats and shows no signs of being overmatched or overwhelmed. Donovan has started games at every infield spot and had some action in right field. In 20 games left-handed hitter is batting .316 with a .490 OBP and .500 slug. He’s also walked in 21.5 percent of his plate appearances.
If Gorman can join Donovan and Yepez by pumping more adrenaline and production into a tired lineup and bench, the Cardinals could get something going offensively. And given that the Cardinals are downgrading defense as a priority, this offense must come through with more runs … a lot more runs.
Is there any other message here? Yeah. If these impressive rookie hitters begin to struggle and fade, Cardinals management will have to take a long look at the work of batting coach Jeff Albert. I’m no Albert basher and can’t stand the way he’s scapegoated by media and fans that won’t hold players accountable. But at some point, the scrutiny of Albert will increase. That’s life in the big city. Of course, if the rookies thrive, you can expect most media and fans to ignore the name “Jeff Albert.” He’s only mentioned when the offense stinks.
Thanks for reading …
Have a great weekend.
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.