Is it reasonable to suggest that the St. Louis Cardinals had the worst 100-win season in Major League Baseball history? They were bounced from the playoffs by a deep-seated rival in the Chicago Cubs and they were implicated in a hacking scandal in which the team acquired proprietary data from the Houston Astros. To add to the frustration, Jason Heyward decided not to re-sign with St. Louis and Lance Lynn’s UCL exploded. Suffice it to say, the excitement of winning 100 games for the first time since 2005 was extremely short-lived.
There are some very clear signs of regression heading into the 2016 season. The Cardinals were 100-62, but they had an 85-77 record by both Pythagorean win-loss and BaseRuns. BaseRuns cut their +122 run differential down to +34, as a metric that creates standings based on expected runs scored and expected runs against. Cardinals pitchers had a 79.4 percent LOB%, which means that 79.4 percent of all baserunners against failed to score. League average tends to be around 72 or 73 percent. Only the 1968 Detroit Tigers posted a better team LOB% as a pitching staff at 79.6. That’s not just since 1968. That’s in the history of Major League Baseball. For what it’s worth, the 1969 Tigers had a 75.3 percent LOB% and went from 103-59-2 to 90-72.
Except for the month of October, when the Cardinals had nothing to play for in the final series, they had a winning record in every month of the season and gave up less than 100 runs in every month except for September. Consistency is one of the biggest reasons to bet on or against a team from a win totals standpoint and the Cardinals have won at least 86 games every year since 2008.
On the other side of that LOB% ledger, the Cardinals were 28th in wOBA with runners in scoring position, so they should have been a lot better offensively. They were 10th in wOBA with the bases empty at .313. So, cluster luck and sequencing were on their side in the field and against them at the plate. Assuming both of those even out, as they should, it will make for a very interesting 2016 season.
The Chicago Cubs are already being fitted for World Series rings per some fans and bettors. The Pittsburgh Pirates won 98 games last season. With two rebuilding clubs in this division, the Cardinals still have a lot of upside, even with what was a rather tough offseason from a player personnel standpoint. The one thing we can say with complete certainty is that the floor is very high for the Cardinals. I’m not exactly sure where the ceiling is, but the floor is still in the low-to-mid 80s for this team. That’s a key point to remember as we go along.
Season win total odds:
BetOnline: 87.5 (100/-130)
5Dimes: 87.5 (-105/-125)
Bovada: 87.5 (-115/-115)
Key additions: Seung-hwan Oh, Mike Leake, Jedd Gyorko, Brayan Pena
Key losses: Jason Heyward, John Lackey, Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos
It was not a great offseason for the Cardinals. In a general sense, Adam Wainwright is a free agent addition, but the team fell short in the bidding for David Price and missed out on Jason Heyward. John Lackey left, taking a lot of innings with him. Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos weren’t great offensive players, but they could both go and get it in center field.
On the other hand, there are some interesting acquisitions. Mike Leake is a durable guy that should fare a bit better in a friendlier home pitching environment than what he dealt with in Cincinnati. Jedd Gyorko is a bounce back guy with some power from his infield position. Seung-hwan Oh is a lottery ticket with some upside and Brayan Pena is a nice backup to Yadier Molina.
Why bet the over?
It’s tough to find a better player development system than the one that the Cardinals have. Jokes aside from the hacking scandal, “The Cardinal Way” works. They have regularly brought homegrown talent to the big leagues and it has performed. It’s extremely sad that Oscar Taveras’s life was cut short because he was yet another in a long line of Cardinals projected for big league success. In terms of drafted players, Tim Cooney, Marco Gonzalez, Stephen Piscotty, Tommy Pham, Tyler Lyons, Michael Wacha, Kevin Siegrist, Seth Maness, Matt Adams, Trevor Rosenthal, Kolten Wong, Haime Garcia, Matt Carpenter, and Yadier Molina are all going to be significant contributors to the season. Carlos Martinez was an international free agent signing in 2010.
This doesn’t happen by accident. This is an organization that feeds the 25-man roster from within and therein lies to consistency. The Cardinals are able to build a core internally and then add pieces and parts around it through free agency or trade.
One of the things I really like about the Cardinals is that they don’t have a single superstar. They generate value from lots of players. When you get top-heavy teams, one devastating injury can ruin everything. The Cardinals lost Adam Wainwright for almost the entire 2015 season. They won 100 games. Wainwright missed the 2011 season with Tommy John. They won the World Series.
There’s strength in numbers for this team. Among the position players, the most valuable is Matt Carpenter. Last season, Carpenter traded contact for power and hit 28 dingers with a .272/.365/.505 slash. Some scouts and evaluators believe that power is the last thing to come and it showed up in a big way for Carpenter last season. He didn’t sacrifice much of his patience, so it led to a pretty strong offensive season.
Randal Grichuk was outstanding in his 350 plate appearances last season with a .276/.329/.548 slash. He has shown good power throughout his minor league career and it carried over to the big leagues. He has excellent barrel skills, so he was also able to hang a .365 BABIP by making really good contact. He struck out a ton and didn’t walk a whole lot, but you’ll deal with that when he’s hitting long-range missiles. He also plays a pretty good center field.
Jhonny Peralta put together another above average offensive season and seemed to be bothered by an injury in the second half that zapped a lot of his production. In any event, he’s been an above average hitter in four of the last five seasons, with a BABIP outlier bringing him down in 2012. His defensive metrics took a hit last season, taking away some of his value, but that could have just been nothing more than a random occurrence. He’s another to add to the list of positions with above average offensive prowess.
The Cardinals went out and got Jedd Gyorko to help Kolten Wong with his bad platoon splits. Wong hits right-handed pitching very well, but might as well be swinging one of those pool noodles against lefties. Gyorko has good pop from the right side and put up a .282/.358/.445 slash against lefties. This is a platoon situation where the vastly-superior player is on the bigger side of the platoon and that creates a lot of value.
Yadier Molina still put a lot of balls in play last season, but not with the authority that he was accustomed to. For the second straight season, his power numbers bottomed out and his contact quality went down. A thumb injury was to blame last season and it’s reasonable to believe that a healthy Molina can still swing a good stick at 33 years of age. Molina’s .295 BABIP was his lowest in five seasons. There’s no reason he can’t get back to 2014’s .282/.333/.386 slash or better, which could turn him back into a three-win player with his terrific defensive skills.
While he was in the lineup, Matt Holliday was still hitting. The 36-year-old is in the final guaranteed year of his deal with the Cardinals and has been somewhere between 24 percent and 54 percent above league average offensively in that span. Last season was his lowest output with a wRC+ of 124, but he still draws walks and still puts balls on play. The power was down, but the rest of the skills were still there. The power is unlikely to return, but the above average triple slash won’t go away.
Another player that hit at just about every level is Stephen Piscotty. Piscotty hung a high BABIP last season that inflated his performance, but even with regression, he’s another above average stick in this regular lineup.
The starting rotation has a lot of concerns, but the talent level is undeniable. Adam Wainwright is back in the starting rotation after rupturing his Achilles last season. Because it wasn’t an arm injury, there’s no reason to believe that Wainwright should regress and, in all honesty, a year off for his 34-year-old arm could very well be a blessing in disguise. I would put his performance somewhere around 2012’s 3.10 FIP and 3.23 xFIP. Not as good as his last two full seasons, but well above average and he should be durable once again.
Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez bring pretty significant injury risk, but also large amounts of talent. Wacha is a master at inducing weak contact and he saw some strikeout gains as the season went on last year. He didn’t impress by the advanced metrics with a below average strikeout rate, but I don’t know if he’s ever really going to grade that well in FIP or xFIP unless he starts striking more guys out. The guy with the special advanced stats is Carlos Martinez, whose 3.01/3.21/3.28 pitcher slash is a sign of what could happen this season. After being bounced around from the pen to the rotation, Martinez had more than a strikeout per inning in nearly 180 frames. He’s also close to the extreme end of the spectrum in ground balls. I adore pitchers with high K, high GB tendencies and CMart fits that criteria. I’m a big fan and I fully believe in the upside.
With some injury worries in the rotation, it’s good that Mike Leake is around. Leake has worked at least 192 innings in each of the last three seasons. His peripherals aren’t exciting and his strikeout rates aren’t great, but he’s going to a good pitcher’s park and will work 190+ above average innings in all likelihood.
There’s good depth here and the Cardinals will likely have to tap into it. Jaime Garcia is terrific when his shoulder allows him to pitch. Marco Gonzales, Tim Cooney, and Tyler Lyons all have varying skill sets with some upside. They’re all left-handed as well, so they will give hitters a different look with four right-handers in the rotation. I think the need for a lefty in the rotation is severely overblown, but the Cardinals will have at least one.
The bullpen is very solid, with some high-quality relievers. Trevor Rosenthal is one of a few flamethrowers, with Jordan Walden and Samuel Tuivailala also in that same style of pitching. Tuivailala may not even make this crowded bullpen, but he’ll have an impact. Kevin Siegrist is a very good power lefty and Seth Maness is a ground ball expert. Seung-hwan Oh is the wild card here, as a former closer in Japan. He doesn’t throw hard, but it’s safe to say that there will be some deception in his arsenal.
Why bet the under?
For me, it all goes back to health for the Cardinals. While they have the ability to persevere through a few of them, there are a lot of injury candidates on this team. We’ll start with the pitching staff. Adam Wainwright’s 2015 Achilles injury was a freak accident, but he is a past Tommy John guy and he had averaged more than 250 innings per season in 2013 and 2014. His injury risk isn’t as big as others, but it’s still present.
Lance Lynn already had Tommy John surgery, so the Cardinals miss out on his above average performance on a yearly basis. Lynn worked 176, 201.2, 203.2, and 175.1 innings over the last four seasons and effective averaged three wins above replacement player in that span. He showed signs of UCL trouble last year and then it was announced after the season that he was done for all of 2016. He was really rolling last year before the UCL trouble became too much to bear and he was down to simply gutting out his starts. In any event, he’s gone and his production and innings are gone with him.
That’s why the injury risks for Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez are so prevalent. Wacha worked 109 innings in 2014 and 181.1 in 2015. His shoulder issues seemed to be in the past, but he hasn’t been consistent over the course of an entire season yet and he had these shoulder worries coming out of Texas A&M.
In Martinez’s case, there’s always going to be worry for a wiry 6-foot, 185-pound right-hander that runs it up in the high 90s like he does. That’s why people have always been worried about a guy like Yordano Ventura. For Martinez, he was, in fact, shut down with a shoulder issue in September and just faced hitters for the first time on March 4 in Spring Training. Publicly, the Cardinals are saying all of the right things about his shoulder. Privately, I’m sure they’re very concerned.
It’s almost not worth talking about Jaime Garcia’s left shoulder. He’ll make somewhere between seven and 20 good starts and then something else will go wrong. He’s had Tommy John, rotator cuff, and thoracic outlet surgeries done in the past. It’s amazing he’s still as effective as he is. His 129.2 innings in 2015 were more than he threw in 2013 and 2014 combined. Imagine what he could have been with some decent health. But, he’s another major injury risk in this rotation and the list is growing.
Tim Cooney has “shoulder weakness”, which is always good to hear. Marco Gonzales spent two months on the MiLB DL with a shoulder injury. Top pitching prospect Alex Reyes wasn’t going to make a Major League impact this season, but he’s been suspended for the first 50 games of the season, so that’ll set his development back a little bit. The news really hasn’t been very good about this pitching staff recently.
On the offensive side, Yadi Molina, Jhonny Peralta, and Matt Holliday are on the wrong side of the aging curve. Holliday and Molina were both hurt last season and Peralta was 26 percent below league average offensively in the second half. His defense also fell apart, which is not a good sign for a middle infielder approaching 35.
Randal Grichuk hit 17 home runs, struck out 31.4 percent of the time, hit a pop up 10 percent of the time, and yet still managed to post a .365 BABIP. Regression is going to hit his offensive profile like a ton of bricks. The power should still be fine, but his average will plummet and his on-base percentage will go with it. Similarly, Stephen Piscotty, whose walk rate is around average, hung a .372 BABIP. That should come down as well. While the Cardinals may have some offensive gains in high-leverage situations, some individual regression could hurt the overall production.
The bullpen has more modest injury concerns, with Jonathan Broxton and Jordan Walden. Broxton saw some strikeout gains last season, but the picture was getting cloudier back in 2013 and 2014. He only worked 30.2 innings in 2013. Walden worked 10.1 innings with a shoulder injury last season.
That LOB% regression I talked about earlier is coming. The Cardinals should fare a lot better with RISP in their own right, but it needs to be mentioned again.
Another thing that needs to be mentioned if St. Louis’s defense. The Cardinals were 10th in defensive runs saved last season with 14. Jason Heyward was responsible for 22 defensive runs saved. Randal Grichuk will be good in a full year in the OF after saving nine runs last season, but Jon Jay rated well in UZR metrics. Matt Carpenter and Jhonny Peralta both had poor defensive seasons. Jedd Gyorko is a poor defender. The Cardinals should be in the negatives in defensive runs saved this season. Who knows how bad it will get, but it would be a surprise to see a repeat of last season’s mark.
Pick: St. Louis Cardinals Under 87.5 (-115 – Bovada)
My good buddy Josh is reading this and is swearing as me as we speak on Google Hangouts, so, hi Josh! In any event, the Cardinals have so many injury concerns in my mind that I can’t possibly take the over. On the other hand, this isn’t a strong play at all because a healthy Cardinals team has a very high ceiling. I’d be surprised with 100 wins, but I wouldn’t be that surprised with 95 wins. It would take a lot of things going right for this team to get to that ceiling.
As I mentioned, the floor is very high for St. Louis. This is actually one of the better numbers oddsmakers have put out. A bad year for St. Louis is probably 83-84 wins. If a good year is 95, you’d think I’d lean to the over, but I like the Pirates a little bit more than most people and I do believe the Cubs can go over their very high total. I just feel like this is a dicey year for the Cardinals with their injury risks, Lance Lynn already gone, and some of the defensive struggles on the left side of the infield. I’m also not sure the outfielders that came up last season – Piscotty, Grichuk, and Pham – will be as successful over the long haul.
But, like I said, this is a pretty sharp line and this is just a lean rather than a pick. There are better opportunities to use to make money in the NL season win total market.
-END OF 2016 PREVIEW-
The St. Louis Cardinals and their fans are pretty happy that Y2K and all the doomsday talk surrounding the start of a new millennium was a bunch of hogwash. (It only took me 24 teams to work “hogwash” into one of these!) Since the start of the 2000 season, it’s hard to find a team that has experienced more success than the St. Louis Cardinals. They’ve been to the World Series four times and they won rings in three of them. They have finished with a winning record in 14 of the 15 seasons since 2000 and they have won eight NL Central titles and have appeared in the playoffs as a wild card on three other occasions.
All in all, nobody can hold a candle to the Cardinals over the last 15 seasons. They are, however, coming off of their worst offensive season in that span and worst offensive season since 1990 with 619 runs scored. The Cardinals finished 90-72, even though their +16 run differential suggested a record of 83-79. Outside of the Cardinals, no NL team finished more than two wins different than their Pythagorean Win-Loss record. The Cardinals were 32-23 in one-run games and won the Central because they were 45-31 against division foes. The Cardinals were 21 games over .500 at home with a +24 run differential.
When you start talking about run differentials and Pythagorean win-loss, you start talking about regression. What the Cardinals did in the standings last season was certainly an outlier. Regardless, they played their best baseball when it counted with a 17-9 record in September and they held the opposition to 75 runs in those 26 games. As a result, the Cardinals are the favorite once again in the NL Central and some savvy transactions by GM John Mozeliak seem to have strengthened the club for the better.
Oddsmakers at BetOnline and 5Dimes both have the Cardinals lined at 87.5 wins. Bovada is a full win higher at 88.5. The NL Central has a range of 88.5 to 77.5 across the different offshores, so parity is expected to be the theme of this division based on the oddsmakers’ opinions of those teams.
Key additions: Jason Heyward, Jordan Walden, Matt Belisle, Mark Reynolds, Carlos Villanueva
Key losses: Mark Ellis, Pat Neshek, AJ Pierzynski, Justin Masterson, Shelby Miller, Daniel Descalso, Oscar Tavares (RIP)
Clearly the big name on that list is Jason Heyward. Heyward is a high on-base player with a tremendous defensive skill set. Sadly, the untimely, tragic death of Oscar Tavares is probably the reason why the Cardinals went out and got Heyward. Heyward is an impending free agent looking at a big contract in today’s world of advanced metrics because his defense is so great, but the Cardinals do have a shot to re-sign him.
Jordan Walden also came over in that trade and he will be called upon to fill the void of Pat Neshek. Neshek made 71 appearances for the Cardinals last season and was the key cog in the bullpen, especially with some of the control issues that plagued Trevor Rosenthal. Neshek signed a free agent deal with the Astros. Matt Belisle is an under the radar signing to improve the pen as well. Carlos Villanueva is a solid depth signing as a swingman that can spot start in the event of injuries or a doubleheader.
Mark Reynolds had a great season for the Brewers in 2014. He managed to be an adequate defender along with a power threat against left-handed pitching. Hitties lefties has been a problem for the Cardinals for a while and this will help in that area.
Shelby Miller was the cost of doing business with the Braves and Justin Masterson went back to Boston after failing to live up to expectations for the Cardinals. Mark Ellis was the placeholder for Kolten Wong and now that Wong is an everyday player for the Cardinals, Ellis had no further use.
Why bet the over?
When you look at what the Cardinals did offensively last season, their low number of runs can be whittled down to two simple causes. The Cardinals hit 105 home runs. Only the Royals hit fewer with 95. The other is that the Cardinals provided very little value on the basepaths. The Cardinals were a top-10 offense in terms of on-base percentage and wound up in the middle of the pack in batting average.
That’s where Jason Heyward comes in. He has a career .351 on-base percentage, with 20 stolen base upside and a good chance to hit 15 home runs now that he is out of Atlanta. That’s also where Mark Reynolds comes in, a guy with a career 19.9 percent career HR/FB% mark. One of my favorite things about John Mozeliak is that when he sees a need, he fills it. The Cardinals needed some speed and some power. He got both of those things.
Of course, there should be some power gains for players that were on the roster last season. Matt Adams hit 17 home runs in 319 plate appearances in 2013, but those home runs were doubles last season as Adams only hit 15 home runs in 563 plate appearances. An injury stalled his season early on, but Adams showcased good power in the minors and a spike in all of his numbers across the board looks very possible.
Yadier Molina was limited to 445 plate appearances and hasn’t been able to replicate the 22 home runs he hit in 2012, but he also has been bothered by various ailments over the last two seasons, including a thumb injury that zapped his power in 2014. Molina’s value is most closely associated with his excellent defensive skills, but he’s a great contact hitter with more pop than people realize. He could easily tick up to 15 home runs and get back to being a .300 hitter.
Jhonny Peralta was a big fan of the National league. He posted the third-best walk rate of his career and popped 21 home runs, while having one of his most productive defensive seasons. The batting average regressed from 2013, which was to be expected after a .374 BABIP with the Tigers, but he was a complete player offensively and defensively and should be able to have another season like that in his age-33 season.
A power bump, maybe not from a home run perspective, but from an extra-base hit perspective could be in the works for Matt Holliday. Holliday got off to a very slow start, but hit 20 home runs for the seventh straight season. His BABIP dropped last season and that could lead to some more balls in the gaps or down the lines this season. His worst offensive season was a 132 wRC+. He’s 35 now, but his job will be to hit because he could be a late-inning defensive replacement with a guy like Peter Bourjos or Jon Jay available to come into the game.
Speaking of slugging percentage drop-offs from a lack of extra-base hits, Matt Carpenter’s slugging percentage dropped over 100 points in 2014. Carpenter still performed well above average, but he walked 3.4 percent more often and his OBP and SLG were identical at .375. Carpenter smashed 55 doubles last season and could be moved out of the leadoff spot this season, which could alter his approach a little bit, leading to more power.
Kolten Wong is an intriguing player. He’s a good contributor across the board who will post a higher slash line this season with some better batted ball luck. He also has 15 home run upside with 20 or more steals. He’ll be a key piece of this Cardinals team, both offensively and defensively, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him post a three-win season.
Defense is a big key to this Cardinals team. When Holliday is on the bench, there’s no better defensive outfield than Peter Bourjos, Jon Jay, and Jason Heyward. The Cardinals are also good defensively around the horn and Yadi Molina is one of the game’s best in the crouch. The fielding value of the Cardinals is less hidden than other teams, but it has the potential to be better than expected.
It was a tough season overall for the Cardinals rotation due to injuries, but Adam Wainwright remained one of the constants. Outside of his Tommy John rehab season in 2011, Wainwright has thrown at least 198.2 innings in each of the last three seasons with elite control stats. His strikeout percentage did fall off a bit last season to elevate his advanced metrics, but he still suppressed home runs with his cutter and the Cardinals defense came into play in keeping his ERA low.
Lance Lynn took an enormous step forward last season. After getting battered by lefties in his first two full years as a starter, Lynn adjusted and posted a 2.74 ERA. Like Wainwright, the defense was a huge help in keeping his ERA well below his FIP, but his FIP was in line with his 2013 results, so there’s not much to worry about there. Lynn used the two-seam grip more often this season and its natural movement kept the ball out of the middle of the plate. A five percent increase in ground balls from lefties should be sustainable with the two-seam usage increase and therefore he should keep performing at a high level.
Michael Wacha is reportedly healthy. If he can stay healthy, he’ll turn this rotation from good to borderline great. Wacha posts great control numbers because of an easy-to-repeat set of mechanics and a fastball-changeup combination that provides less volatility for throwing strikes than a slider or curve ball would. The hammer is still there as Wacha’s out pitch, though. He did come back and pitch at the end of the season, so the Cardinals and over bettors should be hopeful for his chances to be effective in 2015.
John Lackey wasn’t great for the Cardinals last season, but they got a bargain price on him for 2015 thanks to a dirt cheap contract option he’s going to provide value at any cost. Lackey is 36 and three years removed from major surgery, but he was victimized by some bad batted ball luck and a penchant for giving up homers in his 60 innings with the Cardinals. He has been a high homer guy for a little while now, but a 3.75 ERA is certainly doable with this defense.
Carlos Martinez should be the fifth starter and he’s basically Marcus Stroman lite. Martinez has a similar smaller body type and can run it up there in the upper 90s. His secondary arsenal doesn’t quite have the refinement of Stroman, which is why he is often viewed as a reliever, but the Cardinals would prefer to have him in the rotation. The raw stuff is good, but the need to develop a third pitch to neutralize lefties looms large.
The bullpen should be just fine with Trevor Rosenthal, Jordan Walden, and Seth Maness. Rosenthal still has some big upside as a high swing-and-miss guy with the ability to miss bats. Maness is more of a sinker/slider guy that can hang one occasionally, but largely pitches to the defense. Ageless wonder Randy Choate is still LOOGYing his way through a career. Matt Belisle is a crafty name to watch. He’s getting out of Colorado and into an organization that loves control pitchers.
The Cardinals are a team capable of winning well over 90 games with the strength of their defense and some bounce back seasons from a couple of key players. The offense should hit for more power and add some more baserunning value. The top of the rotation is nice if Wacha and Wainwright stay together. This is a team with a high ceiling.
Why bet the under?
On the other hand, this is a team that could be a major disappointment. Injuries would be the reason why. Adam Wainwright saw some declining velocity and declining skills last season. Wainwright had elbow surgery after the season and is reportedly healthy, but that’s probably not the case. Not after Tommy John and various other arm troubles. It’s hard to pencil him in for another 30-start season.
Speaking on injuries, the right shoulder of Michael Wacha is a major point of emphasis this season. Wacha came back, but a “stress reaction” sounds bad and the injury history for something like that has a tricky prognosis. Some pitchers have come back fine and others have had long-term trouble. The Cardinals were okay only getting 19 starts from Wacha last season, but bettors looking for them to win 88 or more games would obviously prefer to have him in the rotation.
The Cardinals are a little bit shaky on starting pitching depth. Tyler Lyons had big problems with righties in his limited action. Marco Gonzales was fast-tracked to The Show and struggled. Carlos Martinez may be a reliever when it’s all said and done. John Lackey is always an injury risk. Jaime Garcia probably won’t pitch at the Major League level until summer, if at all. The Cardinals have some major problems in this area and two of their top pitchers have increased injury risk as well. This truly is a team that could bottom out because of injuries.
Matt Holliday is getting up in age on the position players side. He’s already a bad defender, so all of his value is tied to hitting. The bat speed is still there given that there was no decline regarding contact on pitches in the strike zone, but he barreled up fewer balls and had less distance when he hit the ball in the air. Those are some concerning signs. There’s depth in the outfield, but Peter Bourjos can’t hit and Jon Jay can’t provide the power that Holliday can.
The Cardinals were 62-47 in Yadier Molina’s 109 starts. That means they were 28-25 without him. He is critically important to the team, not just from an offensive standpoint, but from a defensive standpoint as well. He controls the running game, frames strikes for the pitchers, and, perhaps most importantly, is the team leader. When he is out, that’s also a psychological downgrade for the team and the pitching staff. He needs to stay healthy, otherwise this is a mediocre team.
Trevor Rosenthal enters the season as a bit of a question mark. He was erratic last season and hitters were able to start laying off of more of his pitches. His chase rate went from 37.3 percent to 29.3 percent and he worked from behind in the count far more often. This is a mediocre bullpen already, but a bullpen with Jordan Walden closing and a lost Rosenthal in middle relief will really hurt the ballclub overall.
Pick: Over 87.5
This is a really hard pick to make. The line is right for the Cardinals and this is one of the few cases where I’m going to pick against my main theory regarding win totals. The team has to show the potential to go way over this number. I’m not convinced that the Cardinals can, but I’m in love with their team defense and I like the moves that John Mozeliak made this offseason.
One of my major considerations in this is that I believe the Cardinals can still go over this without Wainwright or Wacha. The defense is going to elevate any starter that comes in the game and part of the problem last season is that Molina wasn’t always there to help the youngsters through the game. The bullpen worries me a lot, but, again, the defense. The late-inning defense is going to be outstanding and as long as Rosenthal and Company can keep the ball in the park, the Cardinals should hold on to lots of leads.
It’s not one of my strongest plays overall and certainly not the strongest one in the NL Central, but I do believe that the Cardinals can go over this number.
-END OF 2015 PREDICTION-
The season finished in disappointment for the St. Louis Cardinals as they lost the World Series to the Boston Red Sox. One has to wonder if things would have gone differently had the National League won the All-Star Game that decided home-field advantage for the World Series. The Cardinals split the first two in Boston before losing two out of three at home and eventually fell in Game Six at Fenway Park.
The Cardinals were the National League’s most consistent team in 2013. Over the six-month season, the Cardinals were .500 or better every month. They scored 4.96 runs per game in the first half and 4.65 runs per game in the second half and gave up 3.6 and 3.7 runs per game, respectively, in each half. They scored the most runs in the National League by 77 over Colorado and their enhanced offense due to Coors Field and had the fifth-best team ERA. This was an elite team that played at a tremendous level over the course of the season.
Their only Achilles’ heels were the American League and left-handed starting pitchers. Despite a +25 run differential against the AL during the regular season, the Cardinals only went 10-10. Adding in the team’s playoff record, the Cardinals were 12-14 against the American League and 94-59 against the National League. The Cardinals destroyed right-handed starters with a 78-42 mark, but just a 19-23 record against southpaws. The Cardinals ranked 26th in wOBA against lefties and had a wRC+ of just 88, 12 percent below league average.
The Cardinals were in first or second place every day of the season from April 6 on through the final game. Their home-field dominance continued with a 54-27 record. The last time the Cardinals had below 45 wins at home in a season was in 2007. St. Louis is a proud baseball city with a tremendously passionate fan base and the team has rewarded their loyalty over the last several seasons with playoff appearances, World Series titles, and great play at home.
Does 2014 hold yet another a playoff appearance and a third trip to the World Series in four years? Oddsmakers certainly think so, as the Cardinals are the overwhelming favorite in the NL Central, both in the futures market to win the division and in the win total lines. The Cardinals are grouped with the Tigers and Dodgers as the only teams with win totals of 90 or higher. The Cardinals win total is at 91.5 at 5Dimes.eu, BetOnline.ag, and BetDSI.eu with varying juice. Bovada.lv has the Cardinals at 90.5, but it will cost -140 to play the over.
Key additions: Jhonny Peralta, Peter Bourjos, Mark Ellis, Pat Neshek
Key losses: Carlos Beltran, David Freese, Ed Mujica, Rafael Furcal, John Axford
The Cardinals did all of their work early in the offseason. The last transaction listed on Baseball-Reference.com is the signing of Pat Neshek back on February 6. This is a front office that gets things done, develops homegrown talent extremely well, and fills holes when necessary. That’s exactly what happened this offseason.
Some people will automatically expect the Cardinals to be worse because of the names that they lost and the less-interesting names that have been added. Carlos Beltran left for Yankee Stadium, David Freese was traded in the Peter Bourjos deal with Anaheim, Ed Mujica was the team’s closer early in the season, Rafael Furcal has had a long Major League career, and John Axford was a former closer for the Brewers.
For the Cardinals, it was all about addressing weaknesses. Cardinals shortstops combined for a .226/.282/.314/.596 slash line and a wRC+ of 63. That’s incredibly bad production. Not only that, but the group was marginally above average defensively. That explains the signing of Jhonny Peralta, who has been a steady offensive contributor for most of his career and nowhere near as bad as his defensive reputation leads people to believe. Furcal was often injured and not very productive with the bat.
Cardinals outfielders produced a 121 wRC+ last season. They also finished 27th in stolen bases. While stolen bases aren’t necessary, playing defense is. The Cardinals ranked 24th in defensive runs saved among outfielders at -27. Peter Bourjos is an elite defensive center field with great speed and a skill set more conducive to the National League. Beltran’s offensive losses will have to be made up by somebody else, but Bourjos will have a big impact on the team’s defense.
Mark Ellis lost the second base job to Kolten Wong, but Ellis provides great veteran insurance if Wong is unable to hold on to the job. Second base was a position of strength for the Cardinals but Matt Carpenter is moving to third base to fill the void left by the trade of David Freese, so Ellis is a nice depth guy to have.
Pat Neshek and his wonky, sidearm-style delivery adds middle relief depth lost by the departures of Axford, Fernando Salas, and Mujica. All in all, the Cardinals shed some payroll and potentially improved the ballclub.
Why bet the over?
The Cardinals continue to draft and develop talent, fill holes through free agency, and are constantly in the mix in the National League playoff chase. This year shouldn’t be any different. The chief reason to love the Cardinals is their starting rotation. Adam Wainwright anchors a staff that should be among the league’s best once again. Wainwright has always been a frontline starter, but he took another big step forward last season. Wainwright issued 35 walks in 241.2 regular season innings and his FIP- was 70, meaning that he was 30 percent better than league average. In fact, since 2006, Wainwright has been at least 10 percent better than league average each season. In a “bad” year in 2012 after Wainwright missed all of 2011 recovering from Tommy John surgery, Wainwright had a 3.94 ERA but a 3.10 FIP and was 18 percent better than league average. He’s truly elite.
Michael Wacha became a media darling from his performance as a rookie that carried right on into the postseason. It was just a 64.2 inning sample size during the regular season, but Wacha showed the promise of a polished pitcher at 22 years old. The key going forward for Wacha will be his ability to miss the barrel of the bat. He got by with a low home run rate and a low line drive rate last season and that should continue with a mid-90s fastball and a true weapon of a changeup that can neutralize lefties. While Wacha may not be as good over the course of a long season as he was in last season’s small sample size, he should be worth somewhere around three wins for the Cards.
Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller will provide support in the middle of the rotation. Both guys have swing-and-miss fastballs with Lynn sitting in the 92-94 mph range, while Miller can run it up into the upper 90s when need be. Lynn has underperformed in each of the last three seasons per his FIP, so there’s reason to believe that 2014 could be his best season yet. When Miller missed his spot, the ball went a long way, but at 23, another year of experience and a big right arm could help him inch closer to dominance.
Joe Kelly has won the fifth spot in the rotation as the Cardinals have opted to use Carlos Martinez as a bridge to closer Trevor Rosenthal. Kelly will be the only Cardinals starter with a below average strikeout rate, but his ground ball split makes him valuable fifth starter. This is a rotation that will miss a lot of bats and has room for growth. With four above average starters and Kelly, it will be one of the National League’s top groups.
The ninth inning belongs to Trevor Rosenthal and his triple-digit fastball. The Cardinals had the luxury of moving Rosenthal to the back of the pen because of their ability to develop pitchers and Rosenthal thrived in a short-inning role. He struck out nearly 35 percent of the hitters he faced with a fastball that averaged 97.3 mph according to Baseball Info Solutions.
The aforementioned Carlos Martinez has two plus-pitches with a fastball that sits in the upper 90s and a tremendous curveball. The lack of a third pitch and questions about Martinez’s durability at 6’, 185 are why he’s in the bullpen, but he should be a tremendous setup man and a great bridge to Rosenthal.
Behind Martinez, wily veteran Randy Choate will be the primary matchup lefty. Kevin Siegrist struck out over 32 percent of the batters he faced. Extreme ground ball guy Seth Maness had a 68.4 percent ground ball rate, the second-highest of all pitchers with at least 60 IP. Also, keep an eye out for former Cardinals closer Jason Motte, who spent the 2013 season recovering from Tommy John. He could add depth to the bullpen in May.
The offense looks to be rather solid entering the upcoming season as well. There are above average contributors at every position. It’s difficult to find a catcher as impressive as Yadier Molina. Not only is he a great hitter at a very poor offensive position, but he is the field general for the pitching staff and the team’s results are a great reflection on his work from the crouch. Molina was the third-most valuable catcher by StatCorner.com’s pitch framing report, 19.8 runs above average. And, he’s thrown out a ridiculous number of baserunners in his career, gunning down 45 percent of attempted base stealers. League average is around 28 percent.
Matt Adams was tremendous in a half-season sample of 319 plate appearances and he will have the opportunity to see what he can do over the course of an entire season. Adams hit 17 HR and posted a .220 ISO in his first full season with the Cardinals. It would seem that he will have a huge upside. If you project his numbers over a 650 plate appearance season, he will hit 35 home runs and drive in somewhere around 110 runs. He’s a big boy at 6’3”, 260, so durability may be a concern, but a healthy Adams is a big time corner bat for the Cardinals.
Jhonny Peralta was a rather unsung signing this offseason. The knock on Peralta has always been his apparent laziness in the field and seemingly apathetic attitude. But, according to Fangraphs’s defensive value calculations, Peralta has actually been an above average defender each of the last six seasons. Add in above average offense in 2011 and 2013 and the Cardinals are getting a player that can truly help them both offensively and defensively in the middle of the field. With -0.3 fWAR from shortstops last season, Peralta could easily be a three-win improvement.
It’s hard to say that Matt Carpenter came out of nowhere last season after a rather impressive stint in 2012 with the Cardinals, but he wound up being one of the league’s most valuable players at a terrible offensive position last season. Carpenter’s 7.0 fWAR led all second basemen by a full win last season. By getting on base nearly 40 percent of the time, Carpenter led the league in runs scored with 126. He’s moving to third base this season, where his numbers won’t be as good compared to league average, but a major regression looks unlikely.
The outfield trio of Matt Holliday, Peter Bourjos, and Allen Craig has a nice combination of power, on-base ability, speed, and defense as Bourjos can cover a ton of ground in Busch Stadium’s spacious center field. Fourth outfielder Jon Jay will make for an interesting defensive replacement or a guy who can fill in for Holliday, Craig, or even Bourjos a couple times a week against a tough righty. It’s a rather complete package if Craig can stay healthy.
All in all, the Cardinals have very few, if any, weaknesses. Even Kolten Wong at second has some speed and some contact ability at second base, a good complement to this lineup. The Cardinals could be the first National League team since 2009 to score 800 runs, a feat accomplished by the Rockies and Phillies that season, with the caveat that both teams play in extreme hitter’s parks. The rotation may not be as dominant as some people believe, but with a pretty big margin for error from the offense, they won’t have to be.
Why bet the under?
Adam Wainwright threw over 270 innings last year including the postseason. Just two years removed from Tommy John surgery, the workload could truly take a toll on him. Also, his 3.7 percent walk rate is probably unsustainable, with a likely bump back towards his usual average of around six percent. Not that substantial, but with Michael Wacha likely to go through some growing pains in his first full season and potential regression for Lance Lynn, especially with his struggles against lefties, the Cardinals may need all the help that they can get to truly have an elite rotation. Will Shelby Miller become more of a pitcher this season, or will he remain a thrower that misses bats and also hits barrels from time to time.
Health could be a factor for the Cardinals as Matt Holliday starts his age-34 season, Allen Craig was sidelined with various ailments in 2013, and Yadier Molina isn’t getting any younger. The backup catcher options behind Molina aren’t particularly impressive and his defensive value cannot be replaced. Jhonny Peralta’s 2013 season was cut short by a PED suspension, leading some to wonder what his true production level is. The Cardinals are taking a gamble on him.
The Cardinals middle relief looks an area of weakness. The eighth and ninth innings are in good hands, but the middle relief leaves something to be desired. Seth Maness is a BABIP-driven pitcher with all the balls in play and that doesn’t fit the mold of a prototypical setup guy. Kevin Siegrist missed bats in his role, but there’s serious regression in his future with a 98.3 percent strand rate and questionable control.
Mike Matheny made some questionable decisions in his first season as manager of the Cardinals that left some people scratching their heads. The Cardinals finished four games worse than their Pythagorean Win-Loss record suggested, some of which could be attributed to Matheny.
Pick: Over 91.5 (-110, 5Dimes.eu)
The Cardinals have a tremendous chance at not only going over this win total, but winning 100 games. This is a team that could easily represent the National League in the World Series for the second straight season and third out of the last four. There are very few weaknesses on the ballclub overall, with some depth concerns in certain areas, but nothing too major. With the NL Central appearing a couple notches below where it was last season, as the Reds and Pirates are highly unlikely to repeat their 90+ win seasons from 2013, the Cardinals appear to be the biggest benefactors.
As mentioned above, the Cardinals could be the first NL team since 2009 to score 800 runs and it’s hard to see them allowing more than 615-620 runs with their pitching staff. A run differential of +185 from 800 runs scored and 615 runs allowed represents a Pythagorean Win-Loss record of 100-62, something that the Cardinals could achieve. The additions of Peralta and a full season from Adams could certainly add an extra four or more wins to a 97-win team from last season, which would more than account for the loss of Beltran.
It’s a big number to ask a team to win, but the Cardinals are built to win and that’s exactly what they’re going to do.