Tony LaRussa seems to have taken some heat for not wanting Brett Wallace in the big leagues. Wailing and gnashing of teeth seems to be the vogue response from fans as TLR “stonewalls” another prospect. I’ve alluded in the past why I agree with TLR in this area but let’s lay it out point by point.
1). He’s left handed. For a roster that already tilts severely towards people who were never taught the proper side of their body to utilize, Brett Wallace doesn’t help the Cardinals’ problem with left handed pitchers. Please don’t bother running to his minor league splits — his BABIP against lefties (over a small sample size) is ridiculously high. At best, you can argue that his plate coverage will let him hit both righties and lefties to an equal degree. At worst, he’s going to struggle.
2). He’s not really hitting that well in AAA. For all the clamoring to call up Wallace (and he’s admittedly been hitting better over the last 15 games), Wallace’s numbers are far from a sure thing in AAA. Baseball Prospectus’ MLE has him as a below average hitter in the majors based off his AAA performance. Read that again: a .252 EqA, which would be below average. He’s not walking much (6%), hitting for significant power (.142 ISO), and his average is predicated on an inflated .353 BABIP and 18% line drive rate. This isn’t a player that’s got AAA all solved.
3). His defense is a problem in isolation and in relation to the team. It would be one thing if the Cardinals had a stellar defense and were swapping out some of that defense for some offense. As a team, UZR has them at right at average and, regardless of the 3B component of that, that’s with some relatively athletic defenders (Joe Thurston, Khalil Greene) at 3B. Given the significant groundball tendencies of Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Joel Pineiro, adding a player who is almost certain to be a defensive liability to the infield is a concern. First base and shortstop are manned by excellent defenders but Skip Schumaker remains a question mark at second and the corner outfielders are nothing to speak of. This isn’t a team that has defense to spare in droves.
4). He’s not conditioned for it. Wallace isn’t in good shape. The additional wear and tear on his body relative to a college year is significant given the increased time on the field. Besides needing to adjust to simply more games, Wallace needs to focus on his conditioning and defensive repititions rather than the pressures of contention.
5). For better or worse, Troy Glaus’s return still haunts the decision making process. The Cardinals can’t and shouldn’t completely disregard the possibility of Troy Glaus coming back. At this point, the time required to wait and find out if he’s ready (let’s say another month worth of games) just isn’t that significant in terms of value that Wallace might out produce the current third basemen.
Is Brett Wallace the Cardinals’ third baseman on opening day next year? I’m inclined to believe that some in the organization strongly believe so. For me, he’s not. I don’t think the defense gets to passable levels. Given the right opportunity, I’d be building a package around Wallace for Roy Halladay right now. Whether that’s feasible from a financial standpoint, I don’t know, but that’s what I’d be trying to do.