Cardinals news from a Sabermetric point of view

2014 Cardinals Preview: Whiff Kids lead the way

March 30th, 2014 by Pip

After setting a new staff record for strikeouts for the second straight year and leading the league in on-base percentage for the third straight, the St. Louis Cardinals are eager to defend their National League pennant. That’s because they spent an offseason solidifying those strengths, including the coming of age of their young pitchers.

Offseason

If you were to go back in time to the end of the 2013 World Series, you likely couldn’t have outlined a better played offseason than what John Mozeliak and the rest of the Cardinal front office enjoyed over the last four months. Granted, they had already with wise prior planning put themselves in a position to succeed, but they made few, if any, mistakes this past winter and as as result the Cardinals are poised to be even better than they were a year ago.

The offseason to-do list wasn’t complicated: The team primarily needed to upgrade at shortstop, and secondarily at centerfield. Mozeliak checked both boxes, signing free agent Jhonny Peralta, perhaps the best shortstop on the market, and trading for defensive specialist Peter Bourjos. Other than that, the front office’s job was to strengthen and shore up the talent it already had waiting for 2014.

The only major loss was Carlos Beltran opting for free agency, but his replacement plan — some combination of Allen Craig and Oscar Taveras — was so apparent that the Cardinals never even seriously considered bidding for Beltran’s continued services (but not before cashing in on Beltran declining their qualifying offer, netting a sandwich pick in this year’s amateur draft). The team also bade farewell to (and cleared payroll in doing so) Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook, Edward Mujica, John Axford and Rafael Furcal, either through retirement or as unwanted free agents. The Cardinals accepted the purging of the dead wood as a naturally as if it were simply the ongoing cycle of a forest, focusing instead on the burgeoning young trees and saplings blossoming into the roster. The only departure that even registered a palpitation on the hearts of the Cardinal faithful was that of David Freese. Even then, the ensuing signing of Peralta and the foregone conclusion that Matt Carpenter would inherit third base — not to mention the sabermetrically-infused excitement about Bourjos, the main player obtained in the trade — rendered Freese’s westward move a non-issue.

Even in the small transactions, the club was spotless, avoiding arbitration with Daniel Descalso, Jon Jay and Bourjos. And as is Mozeliak’s wont, he didn’t rest on his laurels, even as the roster solidified into spring training. He recently bought out Carpenter through at least his first two free agent seasons, locking up the club’s best player last year. And as a coup de grace, the team even won the services of touted Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz as a final, triumphant punctuation of a winter in which they did most everything right.

2014 Outlook

So on the brink of the 2014 title defense, the Cardinals look every bit as talented as they did in 2013. The pitching staff is improved, with Whiff Kids Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha taking their rightful places in the rotation. They join fellow K-masters Adam Wainwright (7.7 K/9 career) and Lance Lynn (9.1), not to mention relief fireballers Trevor Rosenthal (12.2) and Kevin Siegrist (11.3).

As for the offense, the Cardinals essentially exchanged Carlos Beltrán, David Freese and Pete Kozma for Kolten WongMatt Adams and Jhonny Peralta. It’s a pretty sizable upgrade, given the average WAR projections for each of the 2014 players:

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The 2013 trio totaled 2.2 WAR; the 2014 version figures to provide 6.4, or nearly three times their counterparts’ total. And considering that the Cardinals merely needed to replace Beltran, that’s pretty prolific.

And last, but certainly not least (as any number of sabermetricians will tell you), the defense is improved. The Cardinals and their fans’ irrational hatred of Jon Jay and Pete Kozma might be forgiven for their recency bias, after witnessing some poor glove work in the playoffs. In truth, though, the team’s fielding really wasn’t all that great for the full season (though it wasn’t as bad as it seemed in October): Whatever defensive metric you pick, it’s likely that the Cardinals were in the bottom of the majors in 2013. So their cautious winter did yield at least a part-time upgrade in centerfield in Bourjos, and the combo of Wong will almost assuredly be a better fielder at second base than Freese was at third (as worst in MLB in overall Defense, Freese was worse even than Miguel Cabrera).

With little competition from their division foes, who had trouble even replacing their lost players, the Cardinals enter 2014 as the clear pick in the Central Division, if not the league and majors. Their only enemy is themselves, but it appears that not even Mike Matheny‘s giving away outs via bad strategy can derail this juggernaut.

2014 NL Preview

March 29th, 2014 by Pip

Along with our fellow SweetSpot bloggers, we recently submitted our preseason prognostications for ESPN. Let’s go into the NL, and the NL Central in particular, in a bit more depth. First, our picks for the end-of-season tournament (win totals in parentheses):

  • NL East champion: Nationals (84)
  • NL Central champion: Cardinals (90)
  • NL West champion: Dodgers (90)
  • NL Wild Canards: Braves (83), Diamondbacks (83)

Nothing too surprising there: The Cardinals and Dodgers are clearly the class of the league, if not all of baseball. Beyond them, we’re as confident in some arrangement of the Braves, Nationals and Diamondbacks as any teams to garner the remaining spots for the playoffs.

As is our policy for handicapping short series, we won’t venture into a guess for NL pennant winner (though ESPN’s poll required us to, in which case we picked the Cardinals). Other league-wide predictions:

  • Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw
  • Most Valuable Player: Yadier Molina. We figured that, with the increase in awareness of defense among the legacy media, it’s possible that Molina will win a plurality of votes this year.
  • Rookie of the Year: Chris Owings. Picking the RoY is almost as inane as the Cy Young or MVP, but we bit. Note: We’re not putting any money on Owings, and neither should you. But you probably already knew that.

NL Central

All right, so onto something that we have a little better grasp on (talk about damning with faint praise!), the NL Central. Our not-so-out-on-a-limb projected order of finish:

  1. Cardinals
  2. Pirates
  3. Reds
  4. Brewers
  5. Cubs

The Cardinals have improved in almost every area (you can read our longer report on their front-office work at the Bird’s Eye Series Preview), so they’re clearly the tops. They’re not perfect, of course: Jhonny Peralta will almost certainly be more effective than Pete Kozma, though it’s unclear just how much more. The combination of Matt Adams and Kolten Wong should be as potent as Carlos Beltran and David Freese, the batters they’re effectively replacing in the lineup. And the pitching staff should be every bit as strikeout-oriented as they were in 2013.

Despite winning a wild card last year, the Pirates don’t figure to challenge, having lost AJ Burnett and Justin Morneau. But they’re at least as good as the Reds, who lost even bigger cogs Bronson Arroyo and on-base machine Shin-Soo Choo. As exciting as Billy Hamilton (ZiPS-projected .319 OBP) is, he unfortunately can’t steal first base, which is many times more important than stealing anything else.

As for the Brewers, we’re not exactly sure what they’re doing, but it’s fairly clear that they won’t be competing for a division title. And the Cubs seem like they’re rebuilding their rebuilding program, so perhaps they’ll be competitive someday, but it’s not looking like it’ll be this decade.

Cardinals avert cost of delay with Carpenter contract

March 11th, 2014 by Pip

The question never really was if the Cardinals should sign Matt Carpenter to a long-term contract, but for how long and how much. Fellow United Cardinal Blogger Matt Whitener recently posed the question of which players the Cardinals should buy out. We replied that the Cardinals should make like the Braves, who went on a spending spree to sign Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel,  Andrelton Simmons,  Julio Teheran and  Jason Heyward to multiyear contracts:

Buying out the following four players gives the team some risk coverage if even a couple of them don’t pan out:

  • Lance Lynn: Averaged 3 WAR last two years, projects at 2.5 WAR in 2014 and could post 8-10 WAR over next four years.
  • Trevor Rosenthal: Two years younger than Craig Kimbrel; team’s closer role uncertain in near future.
  • Shelby Miller: Locking him in low could save a ton come 2016 and 2017.
  • Matt Carpenter: Not unreasonable to think he could post 18 WAR over next five years.

Okay, so we were hedging our bets with Carpenter. Although he likely won’t top his 7.0-WAR 2013, he’s also likely to average better than 3.6 WAR annually through 2018. For instance, Ben Humphries  at Viva El Birdos projects him at 22.6 WAR in five years, and 26.3 over the next six. That’s as good a guess as any, so let’s build on Ben’s helpful post and examine the cost of delay that the Cardinals might’ve incurred by going year-to-year with Carpenter. We’ll use Ben’s estimates on arbitration payouts (40% of full-market value in year 1, 60% in year 2, 80% in year 3; values in millions):

Year Status Est WAR  FA value  Contract Salary  Year-to-year  Surplus
value
(contract)
 Surplus
value
(y2y)
2014 Pre-Arb 4.8  $28.8  $2.5  $0.6  $26.3  $28.2
2015 Arb-1 4.8  $28.8  $3.5  $11.5  $25.3  $17.3
2016 Arb-2 4.5  $27.0  $6.3  $16.2  $20.8  $10.8
2017 Arb-3 4.3  $25.8  $9.8  $20.6  $16.1  $5.2
2018 FA 4.2  $25.2  $13.5  $25.2  $11.7  $-
2019 FA 3.7  $22.2  $14.5  $22.2  $7.7  $-
Total 26.3  $157.8  $52.0  $96.4  $107.8  $61.4

As with Ben’s table, this has several assumptions, not least of which is that Carpenter will average at least four WAR per season over the next five years. But even if the team’s new third baseman averages more like 3.6, as we hedged, that still puts the Cardinals ahead, as the five-year free-agent value is around $108 million.

A couple other positives: Carpenter doesn’t merely give the Cardinals security for third base — he also serves as a possible cover for second base, if Kolten Wong flames out and another player emerges as a third base option. And as with other young players, in signing Carpenter now, the Cardinals are getting him at or just before his best, rather than after, as most free-agent contracts are.

So it’s fairly perspicuous that signing Carpenter ahead of his free agent and even a couple of his arbitration years was the way to go. But could the the team have waited one year? After all, with Carpenter still one year away from even arbitration, what’s the rush? Well, first it’s unlikely that they would’ve had to pay that much more, if any: From Carpenter’s standpoint, it’ll be hard for him to replicate a 7.0-WAR season in 2014, so the Cardinals may be buying high.  But the money they might’ve saved in 2014 — the difference between $600k and $2.5 million — likely wasn’t worth the goodwill they risked losing. Also, John Mozeliak probably gains some amount of intangible benefit from not having to worry about Carpenter going into next season; the fewer variables or unknowns, the better for focusing on remaining holes.

Mozeliak and the Cardinals are in a heady position of simply “don’t mess this up,” and clearly aren’t worrying about the margins. That is, rather than being penny wise and pound foolish, as the saying goes, they’re taking the broad view, willing to misspend a few million to potentially save many million. It makes sense for them to continue to spread their risk around by signing some of their lesser talent (we use that term only relatively), like Lynn, Miller and Rosenthal.

Cardinals Hall of Fame Voter’s Guide

March 6th, 2014 by Pip

Cardinals Hall of Fame Voters Guide | Create Infographics

Bloggers roundtable: What individual Cardinal feat do you want to see in 2014?

March 1st, 2014 by Pip

[Yesterday was our turn to pose the daily roundtable to the intrepid crew of writers known as the United Cardinal Bloggers. As usual, the wisdom of the crowd didn't disappoint.]

What individual Cardinal feat do you want to see in 2014? This can be as modest as “Jaime Garcia throws a pitch in a major-league game” to something as ambitious as “Matt Holliday wins the Triple Crown.” It can be a player breaking a team record. Feel free to list more than one player, as well as to give some explanation for your selection(s).

Since I grew up in the Whiteyball era, I truly miss the young guys making a huge impact.  I want to see a Cardinal win Rookie of the Year.  That’s my wish…

– Bill Ivie, i70baseball and Bleacher Report

Matt Carpenter hit 55 doubles last year.  In overtaking Stan Musial for the doubles record set by a left-handed hitter, Carpenter was still shy of Joe Medwick’s 2nd place record by one double and short of the franchise single-season record of 64 doubles.  I would like to see him set the new single-season franchise record.

Also, I want to see Yadier Molina take home the NL MVP Award.

– Daniel Solzman

I’d like to see Adam Wainwright win the Cy Young Award, because he’s been very close so many times and, if he’s having a Cy-worthy season, chances are the club is doing OK.

I’d like to see the Cardinals turn a triple play.

I’d like to see Tyler Lyons make 10-12 starts for the club.

And, finally, I’d like to see a record turnout at UCB Weekend, whenever that might be!

– Daniel Shoptaw, C70 At The Bat

I’d like to see Adam Wainwright become the first Cardinals pitcher to lead the National League in wins three times. He led the NL in wins in 2009 and 2013. The only other Cardinals to achieve that feat twice were Dizzy Dean (1934-35) and Mort Cooper (1943-44).

I’d also like to see Oscar Taveras become the first Cardinals player since Albert Pujols in 2001 to earn the NL Rookie of the Year Award.

– Mark Tomasik, www.retrosimba.com

What I’d like to see in 2014: Allen Craig, World Series MVP.

– Christine Coleman, AaronMilesFastball.com

To add to the list that people have already stated, I’d like to see Craig continue to lead the MLB with runners in scoring position. I think the team as a whole will regress, but maybe Craig can defy the odds.

–Ben Chambers, The View From Here

I would like to see Carlos Martinez pitch 140 to 150 innings this year, whether at the major league or minor league level or combined.  If the Cardinals are going to develop him as a starter, he needs innings to work on his secondary stuff and he’s not going to get them if he’s in the Cards pen all year or on the Memphis/St. Louis shuttle.

Martinez pitched only 120.2 innings last year (including the playoffs), 104.1 innings in 2012 and just 84.2 in 2011.  He needs to keep increasing that figure if he is going to be a major league starter.

– Mark Sherrard, Cardinals Fan in Cubs Land

The Cardinals’ lack of power in 2013 is concerning. I’d like to see Matt Adams hit 30 homers and be the power boost the big club needs.

– cards82forever

I want to see 4/5ths of the rotation have solid, but dependable seasons, with some progression for the younger guys. By that, I’m hoping it holds together and the young arms stay intact. And by this, these are the markers I hope to see:

Adam Wainwright: 230+ innings
Shelby Miller: 200 innings, 3.20 ERA
Michael Wacha: 185 innings, 14 wins
Lance Lynn: 30+ starts, 20 Quality S’s.
Trevor Rosenthal: 30 saves, 1.10 over lower WHIP.

– Matt Whitener, Cheap Seats Please

I would love to see Kolten Wong have a solid first season. I’m not talking about a rookie of the year first choice. Just a solid and dependable season that puts the kids nerves at rest and solidifies himself as a major league second baseman.

He’s got the talent and I hope Cards fans have the time. I’m hopeful for a line reading like .275 BA, .350 OBP, 25 steals, 145 hits and maybe 5-7 triples. Anything else is icing on the cake.

That’s what I’d like. The Waino Cy and Rosenthal 40 save season don’t sound bad either.

– Dan Buffa, Sports Rants