COMMENTARY | The shortstops for the St. Louis Cardinals have been scuffling through the final months of the season.
Pete Kozma started the year strong but is hitting just .144 with a .238 OBP since the All-Star break. His plummeting stat line opened the door for platoon-partner Daniel Descalso, but Descalso's .218 July and .203 August failed to offer manager Mike Matheny a clear alternative.
And now the Redbirds find themselves playing in September with Triple-A call-up Ryan Jackson warming the bench.
Jackson represents yet another example of a shortstop that started the year strong in the Cardinals' system only to plunge in the second half. His .302 average in April, .345 in May and even .278 in June gave Cardinals fans hope that help was merely a bus ride away -- and right on cue, a .229 July and .218 August left Matheny and general manager John Mozeliak right back where they started.
But despite a similar regression to his big-league counterparts, one key fact remains true for Jackson: The kid hits lefties.
A Gaping Hole
Despite carrying one of the game's most prolific offenses all season, the Cardinals still struggle to solve the mystifying arms of left-handed pitchers. St. Louis hitters rank No. 25 out of 30 MLB teams in average against lefties (.239), No. 23 in slugging percentage (.375) and No. 27 in on-base percentage (.296). Once again, Kozma and Descalso find themselves in the thick of it -- or, more precisely, at the bottom of it.
Among 12 regular St. Louis position players, the Cardinals' shortstops rank No. 11 and No. 12 in batting average against left-handed pitchers and are the only players on that list with sub-.200 marks.
Descalso, a left-handed hitter, could be forgiven his .184 average against lefties -- even though the utilityman for the Cardinals has routinely defied the traditional splits against southpaws for his career. But Kozma's .164 mark is inexcusable. Of course, in context, it helps to remember Kozma isn't hitting anyone lately.
In short, the failure of Descalso and Kozma at the plate resembles the proverbial square peg in a round hole every day Matheny writes them in the lineup.
An Opportunity for a Round Peg
In 166 at-bats in Triple-A Memphis, Ryan Jackson posted a line of .331/.397/.416 against left-handed pitchers. Compared to a line of .246/.325/.304 in 276 at-bats against right-handed hurlers, those numbers demand attention. In 110 fewer at-bats, the Redbirds' shortstop hit nine doubles (10 against righties), one triple (none against righties), and one home run (two against righties). He struck out just 30 times compared to 61 against right-handers, and defied the odds with four of his nine stolen bases against southpaws.
Bottom line: Ryan Jackson plays at a much higher level against left-handed pitchers.
And the St. Louis Cardinals will face two left-handed starters over their next four games with the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates. It may be time to give the kid from Memphis a shot. Yes, the entire case for Jackson against left-handed pitchers is based on numbers in Triple-A, but as Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch points out, Kozma and Descalso have created an offensive black hole at shortstop.
How could Ryan Jackson possibly do any worse?
Kevin Reynolds is the author of Stl Cards 'N Stuff and host of The State of the Nation Address podcast at Cards 'N Stuff. He's been writing and podcasting about the St. Louis Cardinals since 2007 and can be found chatting about baseball on Twitter (@deckacards).
- Sports & Recreation
- Daniel Descalso
- Pete Kozma
- Mike Matheny