photo: Tommy Pham (Scott Kane/USA TODAY Sports Images)
With the possible exception of Stubby Clapp as Minor League Manager of the Year, none of my selections of The Cardinal Nation’s annual awards to the top performers across the St. Louis Cardinals system for 2017 were as crystal clear as this one.
Tommy Pham was the top position player on the Cardinals in 2017, and therefore, is The Cardinal Nation’s St. Louis Cardinals Player of the Year. In fact, Pham was the team’s best player, period, with Carlos Martinez’ fWAR of 3.3 a very distant second to the outfielder’s 5.9.
In a vacuum, Pham’s unexpected performance is tremendous, especially coming from a player who did not even make the big league roster this spring. *
On the other hand, the fact that no other member of the St. Louis offense delivered more than 3.0 fWAR underlines a major team weakness. To put this into perspective, among all MLB hitters, Pham was 10th in fWAR, but the Cards’ next-best hitter, another unexpected offensive leader, rookie Paul DeJong, was tied for 107th.
Looking at it another way, the two World Series teams – the Dodgers and the Astros (six each) – had a total of 12 position players this season with a higher fWAR than DeJong. Six to one is not a favorable comparison for the top end of the Cardinals offense at all.
But, let’s get back on track. This article is intended to illustrate how dominant Pham’s contributions to the 2017 Cardinals were.
Let’s get into our first of two views of the numbers.
11 St. Louis hitters had at least 300 plate appearances in 2017. They are listed in fWAR sequence, from highest to lowest.
What is there to say? Pham delivered as many wins over replacement as the next two hitters, DeJong and Matt Carpenter, combined.
Pham led the team in runs scored, on-base percentage and OPS and absolutely dwarfed the competition in stolen bases. In the other key offensive categories, the 29-year old finished second – in home runs (tied with Carpenter behind DeJong), RBI (after Yadier Molina), batting average (Jose Martinez) and slugging (DeJong).
The above offers further detail on the effectiveness of the 11 hitters. They are in the same fWAR sequence as the first table.
Pham finished second to only the master walker Carpenter in bases on balls rate. At the bottom of the free pass list are Aledmys Diaz and DeJong.
Those with the lowest strikeout rate are Molina, Diaz and Wong. At the top end are Randal Grichuk and DeJong, with rates twice as high as the aforementioned trio.
Pham and Martinez are number one and two in both weighted on-base average (wOBA) and weighted runs created plus (wRC+). One slight downside is they also led the team in highest batting average on balls in play (BABIP), joined by DeJong in the potentially unsustainable range.
However, Pham delivered all of these fine results over 530 plate appearances in 2017.
In his balanced excellence in 2017, Pham went where no other player in the history of the franchise had gone before. He is the first-ever Cardinal to hit 20 or more home runs, steal 20 or more bases and hit .300 or better in a single season (.306 BA, 23 HR, 25 SB). Pham is the team’s first 20/20 player since 2004 (Reggie Sanders) and just the sixth Cardinal ever to do so.
Pham led the Cardinals and ranked third in the National League with his .411 on-base percentage. The right-handed hitter finished in the top 15 in the 15-team NL all four slash categories: batting (.306, 11th), slugging (.520, 15th) and OPS (.931, 12th). Pham scored a team-leading 95 runs, tied for 10th in the league.
Speaking of the slash categories, across all of MLB in 2017, just seven were .300/.400/.500 players (BA/OBP/SLG). Pham joined Jose Altuve, Justin Turner, Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman, Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon in this elite group.
* To be fair, however, those who are critical after the fact of the Cardinals for starting Pham in Triple-A this season are playing it loose with the facts. In 2016 with Memphis, he batted just .236 and that dropped to .226 in the majors with a whopping strikeout rate of 38.8 percent.
To top it off, this spring in Jupiter, Pham batted .209 with a 32 percent whiff rate and just one RBI. As a result, he lost the open outfield berth to Martinez, who batted .380 with a 1.215 OPS and a team-leading total of 15 RBI. In their competition, Martinez had 50 spring at-bats; Pham had 43.
It is great that Pham earned his way back up to St. Louis and performed at such a high level after he did – while remaining healthy. There is no doubt his contributions helped keep a flawed Cardinals team in the wild card race until the final week. But being honest, there was very little in his recent history that suggested it was coming. The question ahead is what to expect from the 2017 Cardinals’ best player during his age 30 season just around the corner.
Congratulations to Tommy Pham, The Cardinal Nation St. Louis Cardinals Player of the Year for 2017.
Prior years’ winners
Our honorees over the prior eight seasons follow. Pham unseats Carpenter, the winner in both 2015 and 2016.
|TCN Player of the Year|
These winners are also permanently recorded under “SEASON RECAPS/TOP PLAYERS,” located on the left red menu bar here at The Cardinal Nation.
Link to master article with all 2017 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Next up will be the final article, a comprehensive season recap.
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