Let’s be honest: Aledmys Diaz is not going to hit .400 this year. He may not hit .300, and that’s OK. The bigger question: Is Diaz an everyday shortstop for a first division team like the Cardinals? With what he’s shown so far, the answer would have to be a resounding “Yes.” But it’s better to take a step back and objectively look at a player without your Cardinals rose colored glasses on.
Baseball Prospectus has rightfully earned a reputation as one of, if not THE foremost authority on player and prospect evaluation through advanced metrics and scouting. In their yearly annual, BP will write anywhere between a 100-200 word scouring report on every player on a given team’s roster, plus that team’s top prospects. Diaz, however, was tossed aside into the book’s “Lineouts” section for the Cardinals. A section destined for players are generously to be described as question marks. BP’s brief write-up on Diaz was NOT flattering:
“About as close as the Cardinals can get to a “You only moved the headstones!” level mistake, Aledmys Diaz hasn’t impressed since signing a four-year, $8 million contract prior to the 2014 season. The expectation now is that he could turn into an extra infielder. Diaz passed through waivers untouched in July, so the rest of the league might find that evaluation a tad optimistic.”
OUCH! Talk about not mincing words. While many Cardinals fans think they’re seeing a Carlos Correa Light, BP paints more of a Pete Kozma 2.0. But again, if we’re being objective, up until his brief call-up to Memphis, and an 82 plate appearance surge in the AFL last year, Diaz was at best, inconsistent. Anybody can, and has gone through a 100-200 plate appearance run, that can even span two seasons, where numbers deviate from the norm, and resemble that of a superstar instead of the fringe MLB player that they actually are.
Alas, there are plenty of numbers right now, in my estimation, that back up that what we’re seeing from Diaz right now, is more of a glimpse of the player the Cardinals thought they signed back in 2014. Remember, there was some talk two years ago that Diaz would waltz into camp and snatch the SS job away from Jhonny Peralta before he ever stepped on the field. Of course, those thoughts were quickly dashed when reality sunk in, and the rawness of Diaz’s game became evident. Quite frankly, there are many aspects about Diaz’s game today that are still raw. Namely, his defense, which flashes plus, but isn’t showing up on a routine play to play basis.
What is showing up right now, however, is the bat. Wow what a bat it is! And what’s being overshadowed by all the extra base hits and power inside that bat, is a pleasantly surprising high contact rate. Like, REALLY high contact rate.
Diaz has only struck out THREE times in 66 MLB plate appearances. Diaz walk rate is nothing to write home about, but his 4 walks compared to 3 K’s is a rate that nobody would’ve predicted this late into April. And it’s the low K rate that may indicate a realistic sustainability in what Diaz is doing so far.
The K-rate also has a hand in a stat that can tell us how a player will perform moving forward: BABIP. Or Batting Average on Balls in Play. This average does NOT account for strikeouts or home runs. But if a player’s BABIP is considerably higher than their actual batting average, it is almost always a sign that a decline is on the way.
Last night, for the first time this season, Diaz received enough AB’s to be eligible for the batting race. And wouldn’t you know it, Diaz has the highest average in all of baseball right now. But that’s not the most interesting thing. All the players behind Diaz in the batting race, have significantly higher BABIP’s than averages. In fact, Dexter Fowler, who is hitting .368, is sporting a BABIP 90 points higher!!
Let’s bring it back around to Diaz, who is currently hitting .468. Because of his minuscule K rate, Diaz’s BABIP is actually LOWER than his average, sitting at .455. Now, neither of these numbers will remain anywhere near their current status by the end of the year, but the BABIP, of all things, might indicate that Diaz really is an everyday shortstop for a first division team like a the Cardinals, providing offense at a position that ranks atop the offensive scarcity scale.