Phamtabulous or Gricherrific? By the red baron on Oct 28, 2015, 11:31a 696 Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports Considering two players, both of whom could contribute mightily to the fortunes of the 2016 St. Louis Cardinals. TWEET (9) SHARE (61) PIN Coming into 2015, the Cardinals looked to center field and saw two primary options. Jon Jay was the incumbent starter, having earned himself a full-time role yet again with a strong 2014 campaign that saw him play his standard brand of solid defense and BABIP his way to above-average offensive production. Peter Bourjos, on the other hand, was coming off a season in which he worked through hip problems and one of the worst contact rates of his career, en route to losing his starting job and finding himself once again overshadowed at his chosen position in spite of putting up 1.7 wins above replacement in barely half a season's worth of plate appearances. It seems strange for a club with serious world series aspirations (and, more importantly, serious world series chances), to turn over an up the middle position so completely, and seemingly without trying, but that's exactly the situation we see the Cardinals facing as they enter the 2015 offseason. There are still two primary options in center field -- actually, there might be three, depending on how things play out -- but they're two completely different primary options than what we were looking at just one year ago. It's hard at this point to see either Bourjos or Jon Jay as option number one in center field, considering the kind of season both players just had. And, more importantly, the other options the Cardinals have going forward. When I say options for center field, I'm deliberately not counting Jason Heyward there, just for the framework of this article. Not that Heyward isn't an option out there, of course; no less an authority on the Redbirds than Benjamin Humphrey said recently on a podcast that he considered Jason Heyward to be the Cards' best option in center field. However, I'm leaving the J-Hey Kid out of this discussion, for a couple of reasons. One, it muddies the waters further than need be; two, he's a free agent, and as such could very well be playing for some other team next year. And three, if I'm being honest, I just prefer Heyward in right field. He probably could be a very good center fielder, sure, but I like him patrolling right and saving ~20 runs a year. Given that we are left with two options: Randal Grichuk and Tommy Pham. Both players are remarkable athletic specimens in their own way, and either could likely be a productive major league center fielder. The question is which one is the better bet going forward. First things first: the age. Age is probably the single biggest advantage Grichuk has over Tommy Pham. Neither of them are old players, obviously; Pham is 27 years and 7 months old, still well within what should be his athletic peak years. Grichuk, however, is just 24 years old (and two months, to be specific), and that's not nothing. I don't necessarily feel like either player is likely to significantly improve from this point on, but if you were going to bet on one or the other getting better, you would obviously put your money down on Grichuk. However, age alone doesn't tell the whole story, particularly considering that both players are very early on in terms of their service time clocks; neither has a real cost advantage here. For what little their fielding metrics are worth in such limited time, both Grichuk and Pham appear to be very good fielders in center. Pham's UZR/150 this season in center was 16.7; Grichuk's was 13.1. Tiny samples, of course, but that mostly squares with the eye test, at least for me; both have the range to play the position, with Pham feeling a little bit better out there to me. If Grichuk's arm is healthy enough to throw without restrictions, that's probably a wash, as well. We've seen Grichuk make some very good throws, and while Pham has really only made one notable throw I can think of in the big leagues, the reports on his arm as he was coming up through the system were consistently glowing. Pham seems a tiny bit faster, a little rangier, but I feel comfortable saying both players can handle the position with something approaching aplomb. Offensively, things are a little more interesting. Grichuk, of course, had a monster season, cut short only by those aforementioned elbow issues. In 350 plate appearances this season, Randal slugged .548, posted an ISO of .272, and just generally bashed his way to a 137wRC+. Pham, meanwhile, was pretty excellent himself, though in a somewhat less outsized way, putting up a 125 wRC+ in 173 trips to the plate. Along the way, he slugged .477, with a .209 ISO. So, not quite as loud, but still a well above-average hitter for a premium position. However, the question of sustainability must be asked. Grichuk's batting line for the season was powered largely by a .365 batting average on balls in play that appears in no way to be sustainable. Now, admittedly, Randal Grichuk hits the holy hell out of the baseball, and so I feel comfortable saying he's probably a higher than average BABIP hitter, but not to the tune of .365. That number is going to come down, and when it does, Grichuk's offensive value is going to take a huge hit. That's because he strikes out at kind of an amazing pace: 31.4% of Grichuk's plate appearances in 2015 ended with him walking out of the batter's box back to the dugout, having failed to make contact. Combined with his aggressive approach at the plate -- 6.3% walk rate -- Randal managed in 2015 to be a productive hitter in spite of whiffing almost exactly five times as often as he walked. I don't honestly know how many major league hitters have made that kind of ratio work, but it certainly feels like something other than a recipe for success. Grichuk's batted-ball profile is very interesting, particularly considering how high his BABIP was in 2015. He puts more balls in the air (41.6%), than on the ground (37.9%). That's a good thing, generally speaking, since Grichuk has enough power to make those fly balls meaningful, but given fly balls usually come with a higher slugging but lower BABIP number attached, would seem to further suggest some real fall off in the number of hits is coming. He also pulls the ball a large percentage of the time; over 50% of Grichuk's balls in play this past season went to left field. The actual breakdown is 50.5% pull, 30.8% to center field, and just 18.7% to the opposite field. Again, this all makes sense in the context of the type of hitter Grichuk is; his approach is actually very similar to that of Jose Bautista since he arrived in Toronto. Bautista is, if anything, even more of an extreme fly ball hitter, but the field percentages and overall shape of the approach are remarkably similar. The really big difference between Grichuk and Bautista, of course, is the fact that since Jose Bautista became Jose Bautista he has regularly posted strikeout to walk ratios in the 1:1 neighbourhood. He also draws 13%+ bases on balls every single year. Grichuk's 5:1 K:BB rate is a very, very different animal. Pham, in contrast to both Grichuk and Bautista, is very much an all-fields hitter; his pull/center/opposite percentages are 30.1%, 43.4%, and 26.5%, respectively. He uses the large part of the field, to steal an announcer phrase, and has no problems whatsoever taking the ball wherever it's pitched. If pressed, I would say I prefer that approach overall, particularly if a player lacks the preternatural patience to wait on a drivable pitch every time up. The downside for Pham, at least in his very limited exposure, was a tendency to hit a very high percentage of ground balls. He hit a good percentage of line drives (21.6%), but put the ball on the ground over half the time. (51.3%, to be exact.) Hitting the ball on the ground as often as Pham did in 2015 is very much a limiting factor for a hitter; after all, the driving idea behind the Dave Duncan Philosophy is that grounders are generally the least-damaging type of ball in play, and that's largely been borne out by the evidence over the years. If Pham really is the sort of hitter to hit grounders over half the time, he may be able to maintain a high-ish BABIP, but there are going to be far fewer extra-base hits in his future than we might hope. Speaking of BABIP, Pham's in 2015 was .333, which feels a little high to me. Not as inordinately high as Grichuk's, of course, but high all the same. Given he runs well, hits a lot of high-BABIP batted balls, and at least so far has shown an ability to both go to all fields and avoid infield fly balls, two things which heavily affect BABIP, Pham's regression should be much, much less severe than Grichuk's, both because he's starting from a less-inflated place and because I frankly think his true-talent BABIP is probably a little bit higher. Where Grichuk's K:BB in 2015 was nearly 5:1, Pham's was just slightly worse than 2:1, as he posted a walk rate of 11.0% to go with a K rate of 23.7%. Eyeballing his minor league numbers, those figures don't look hugely out of line to me going forward; since 2010, when his eye issues were finally cleared up, Pham has consistently been in the 20-22% range for strikeouts, and has been at or above a ~10% walk rate the majority of the time as well. In short, I expect some BABIP regression for Pham, but believe his on-base abilities will hold up far, far better than those of Grichuk. He also, for what it's worth, added nearly twice as much value on the bases (3.3 BsR for Pham, vs 1.9 for Grich), in right about half the playing time. Just some food for thought. The final question comes down to one of health, and really, it's hard to say too much about either player at this point. Tommy Pham's health record is legendary, of course, but Grichuk has proven himself to be anything but durable throughout his career, as well. In other words, I wouldn't count on either player breaking Ripken's streak anytime soon, and whichever is your starter in center will probably leave enough space for someone else to get some playing time. So I put the question to you, VEB: which player do you prefer? If I offered you one of Pham or Grichuk as your starting center fielder in 2016 and beyond, who would you choose? The crazy power and all-out approach of Grichuk, or the more well-rounded and dynamic but less dramatic skillset of Tommy Pham? For my money, I would take Pham. The hope for Grichuk offensively, of course, is that as pitchers learn how careful they have to be with him and eventually just stop throwing him anything hittable, he can adjust his approach enough to start taking walks, less by virtue of a great eye and more coming from a simple mindset of not chasing everything in the dirt or off the plate. I'm not sure how realistic that is, though, honestly, as Grichuk seems to have just generalised contact and pitch-recognition issues. The BABIP is absolutely going to come down, I think the ISO is due to drop some as well, and suddenly Randal Grichuk is quite possibly going to be flirting with the Mendoza line. Pham, meanwhile, will probably see a bit of a drop in his ISO as well, simply because that .209 appears to be a bit above where he normally sits, but the walk rate, strikeout rate, and BABIP all appear much more stable and sustainable to me than what Grichuk is doing. Pham's batted-ball fortune will probably take a slight tumble as well in the future, but not crater in the way I think Randal's could. At the very least, a player who has shown the patience to post double-digit walk rates on a consistent basis has a better chance of getting on base than the guy with a 5:1 K:BB ratio. But that's just me. What about you?