Aledmys Diaz Needs to Move Up in the Cardinals' Batting Order
In most Major League lineups, the guy hitting eighth is usually not one of the better offensive players on the team.
Unless you've got an offense like the Toronto Blue Jays or the Chicago Cubs, a team's eight-hole hitter usually has a batting average in the low-to-mid .200s, gets on base barely 30% of the time, and has a slugging percentage that could be mistaken for Bryce Harper's batting average.
But not in St. Louis. No, those kids have always done things differently over there, and they're choosing to hit their best hitter (at least through the first 21 games) in a spot usually reserved for a replacement-level player.
P Wainwright#STLCards at ARI LHP @PatrickCorbin46
— Cardinals Lineup (@STLLineup) April 28, 2016
Yes, that's Aledmys Diaz still batting eighth for St. Louis in their 11-4 win over the Diamondbacks on Wednesday night, a game in which the young shortstop went 2-for-4 with a homer, a walk, 2 RBI, and 3 runs scored. On the season, the 25-year-old is hitting .468/.500/.823 in 66 plate appearances, with 4 homers, 13 RBI, and 18 runs scored. He has a weighted on-base average (wOBA) of .556 and a weighted runs created (wRC+) of 247.
Here is how he stacks up among MLB shortstops so far in 2016.
|Xander Bogaerts||Red Sox||1||.334||113||0.9|
|Troy Tulowitzki||Blue Jays||4||.294||87||0.3|
And if Diaz can keep his batting average where it is for another couple days, he will have pulled off a historic feat.
Aledmys Diaz is on pace to have the 2nd-best batting avg in April in the modern era (since 1900) - h/t @EliasSports pic.twitter.com/529bJXeyuZ
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 28, 2016
That .468 batting average is tops in all of baseball, by the way. With his fifth official plate appearance in Wednesday night's game, Diaz officially qualified to be counted among the league leaders. His wRC+ of 247 is also tops in baseball, higher than Jose Altuve's 209 and Harper's 205. He also has the highest OPS in the game right now, 1.323, better than Harper's 1.252.
After notching 26 hits in his first 52 at-bats, the Elias Sports Bureau says he is the only player since 1900 to have a batting average of .500 or better at least 50 at-bats into his Major League career. And perhaps most impressive of all, Diaz has struck out only three times.
And he's still hitting eighth. As he's done in all 12 of his Major League starts. All while doing things like this.
And Diaz isn't simply hitting Texas leaguers and dribblers through the hole, as evidenced by his mammoth bomb against the D-Backs on Wednesday.
Aledmys Diaz just deposited a ball into the second deck at Chase Field. Statcast had the distance at 440 feet. Exit velocity of 107 mph.
— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) April 28, 2016
As Cardinals beat writer Jenifer Langosch noted, Diaz was actually designated for assignment last year, which means any of the 29 other teams in baseball could have had him. He's only on the roster because of an injury to Tommy Pham, who hurt himself on Opening Day. And the Cardinals came into the season with Ruben Tejada on the depth chart ahead of him, but an injury to Tejada allowed Diaz to step in and do what he's done.
But he has always hit, even in the minor leagues. In 102 games at Double-A last year, he batted .264/.324/.421 with 10 homers and a wRC+ of 108 and did a bit better in 14 games at Triple-A, slashing .380/.448/.620 with a 182 wRC+.
Still, no one saw this coming.
Despite Diaz's hot start, manager Mike Matheny says he's in no hurry to move Diaz up in the lineup, seeing no need to mess with what's working. Yet it's still interesting that Diaz is hitting behind Randal Grichuk (.203 average), Jedd Gyorko (.240), and Tejada (.167) in the order.
Of course, it's still early, and it's unlikely Diaz will continue to hit like Don Mattingly in his prime. But for now, he's the hottest hitter in baseball, and batting him eighth is essentially costing him -- and the team -- at least two or three plate appearances per week.
Don't be surprised if Diaz moves up soon.