The position of center field normally isn’t a weak offensive position for a major league team. It may be populated by smallish, true leadoff men who specialize in high on-base percentage and, possibly, high average, with the ability to steal a base.
The five players who have started in center field for the St. Louis Cardinals this season carried a collective .213 batting average, ahead of only Milwaukee (.209), into this week series against the Cincinnati Reds. The Cardinals also were tied with Washington for 14th in on-base percentage at .278 and were second in a not-so-good-category, strikeouts.
Their calling card, offensively, was the 18 homers emanating from that position, ranking the Cardinals fourth in the league, two off the lead, and the statistic to which manager Mike Matheny wants to pay the most attention.
Much of that power came in the play of Randal Grichuk, who hit 12 home runs during his stint in St. Louis but was sent back to Class AAA Memphis. Grichuk has started more than half (59) of the Cardinals’ 110 games in center field but hit just .216, which actually is four points above the team average for the position.
Tommy Pham, who has 24 starts in center field, had the duty last week against the Reds and his numbers are mediocre. He was hitting .255 overall with an impressive eight homers in 110 at-bats but has a disturbing 44 strikeouts, a whopping ratio of 40 percent of his at-bats. Grichuk, before he was sent down amid a flurry of whiffs, had 78 strikeouts in 268 at-bats, or a strikeout in 29 percent of his at-bats.
This is the 24-year-old Grichuk’s second tour in Memphis this year. His first time through, he batted .283 with 15 hits, including five homers and 15 runs batted in over 53 at-bats. He fanned 13 times. In his first three games on his August option there, he was 6 for 11 with 1 homer and no strikeouts. Manager Mike Matheny is hoping that Grichuk works out the issues down in Memphis so he can be added on September 1.
Jeremy Hazelbaker has also played this position and has showed some promise batting.247 with 8 home runs and 27 runs batted in, but has whopping 53 strikeouts in 153 at bats.
Looking at the overall numbers of the players who started at centerfield, there is no wonder Mike Matheny is concerned about the center field position. The Cardinals are locked in a tight battle for a NL wild card position and he wants a player set in that position. It looks for the time being however, Matheny will utilize the “play by committee” in center field with the hopes that the one player to take the position and claims as his own.