Monday, October 24, 2016

Column: St. Louis a solid fit for young Jedd Gyorko

When Jedd Gyorko was given a five-year, $35 million contract extension heading into the 2014 season, heavy expectations followed. Now, as the heavy hitter takes his talents to St. Louis, those expectations will lessen a bit, giving him a chance to truly take his game to the next level.

In San Diego, Gyroko proved that a rookie second baseman could come in and hit for power and drive in runs when he needed to. But when injury plagued him, one had to think that the mental aspect of being tasked with carrying a team had to weigh heavy on the young hitter.

Gyorko’s rookie season proved to be his best, a year in which he provided a .249 batting average, a .301 on-base percentage, a .444 slugging percentage, 23 home runs, 121 hits, 26 doubles and 63 RBIs — all career highs.

The slugger compare favorably — in terms of this situation — to outfielder Jason Heyward, who revamped his career after coming to the St. Louis Cardinals.

During his rookie season, Heyward hit 18 home runs and drove in 72 runs with a .277 batting average, a .393 on-base percentage and a .456 slugging percentage. And during his five seasons with the Braves, Heyward hit .262 with 84 home runs and 292 RBIs.

In 2013 and 2014, it seemed as if Heyward was being asked more and more to carry the Braves to success as other pieces around him began to fall. And during those two seasons he hit just .264 with 25 home runs and 96 RBIs.

Then, we he came to St. Louis, he wasn’t tasked with  being the team’s sole source of production and wound up hitting a career-best .293 with 13 home runs and 60 RBIs, the runs-batted-in total being the best since his rookie season. He also hit a career-high 33 doubles.

From 2011 to 2013, Heyward, too, battled injuries and took extra steps during the preseason to help ease those pains. While his bat sometimes suffered, his play in the outfield continued to rise. Then, in 2014, he put together a solid year that led him to be traded to the St. Louis Cardinals.

The same has gone for Gyorko in recent years, having to work at relieving his injuries prior to the season and during it, his defensive play not really taking the brunt of those injuries.

Gyorko is coming off a 2015 season that saw him hit .247 with 16 home runs and 57 RBIs. During that season, Gyorko was able to lean a little bit on some big-name hitters in the lineup, which showed that he could relax a little bit more.

The second baseman will likely split time with another young keystone position player in Kolten Wong. Gyorko will likely be asked to take more at-bats against lefties as he has a .260 average with 13 home runs off of them. Meanwhile, Wong hits just .248 with only four long balls against left-handed pitchers.

The biggest thing for Gyorko won’t be the fact that he can hit better off of lefties than Wong, nor will it be the fact that he’s going to be able to get healthy by not having to play every day.

For the fourth-year pro, the best thing that the St. Louis Cardinals will offer him is simply the fact that he doesn’t have to put added pressure on himself in the lineup.



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