photo: Tommy Pham (Scott Kane/USA TODAY Sports Images)
I don’t need silly puns to make my point that Tommy Pham was the most valuable player on the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals and you don’t need them either to appreciate how far the outfielder progressed during the year.
To recap, in 2016 with Memphis, Pham had batted just .236 and that dropped to .226 in the majors with a whopping strikeout rate of 38.8 percent. This spring in Jupiter, it arguably got worse. The 29-year old batted .209 with a 32 percent whiff rate and just one RBI for the month. As a result, he lost St. Louis’ final outfield berth to Jose Martinez, who batted .380 with a 1.215 OPS and a team-leading total of 15 RBI in the Grapefruit League.
A window of opportunity soon opened when Stephen Piscotty was placed on the disabled list on May 5. Pham was recalled from Triple-A and took advantage. In fact, in five months, Pham dominated even teammates who had been with the Cardinals all year.
Specifically, Carlos Martinez’ fWAR of 3.3 was a very distant second to the outfielder’s 5.9, a mark that was 10th-best among all MLB players. In fact, Pham delivered as many wins over replacement as the next two best Cardinals hitters in 2017, Paul DeJong and Matt Carpenter, combined.
Pham led the 2017 Cardinals in runs scored (95), on-base percentage (.411) and OPS (.931) and absolutely dwarfed the competition with his 25 stolen bases (no one else was in double digits). In other key offensive categories, the 29-year old finished second – in home runs (tied with Carpenter at 23, two behind DeJong), RBI (73 after Yadier Molina’s 82), batting average (.306, three points behind Martinez) and slugging (.520, 12 points back of DeJong).
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. Pham is the team’s first 20/20 player (homers/steals) since 2004 (Reggie Sanders) and just the sixth Cardinal ever to do so.
Pham was among league leaders as well, as he ranked third in the National League in OBP. The right-handed hitter finished in the top 15 in the 15-team NL all four slash categories: batting (11th), slugging (15th) and OPS (12th). Pham’s 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.
There is no doubt Pham’s contributions helped keep a flawed Cardinals team in the 2017 wild card race until the final week. With Pham’s likely move to full-time starting duty in center field this coming season, the questions persist. Can he continue to remain healthy and productive in his age 30 season?
The Cardinals have to be counting on it.
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