NL Central Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

Last Year:

Most thought that the Cardinals had all the pieces to run away with the NL Central, but somehow it never came together. Their offense dipped by 4 points from their 2009 rate to a .321 wOBA, good for 7th in the NL. Their pitchers posted an excellent 3.57 ERA (4th) and a 3.85 FIP (7th), and their defensive numbers were all over the place (+61 by DRS (1st), +18 by FSR (4th), and -14.2 by UZR (11th)).

The Cardinals started off strong out of the gate, winning their first game and remaining in first place until mid-May. They traded the top spot with the Reds for the next three months before the Reds finally pulled away in mid-August. They were desparate to fill the hole caused by Brad Penny’s injury in mid-May, which resulted in his missing the rest of the season. SP Kyle Lohse went down a week later and missed about three months. At the trade deadline, they moved RF Ryan Ludwick and picked up SP Jake Westbrook, who posted a 3.48 ERA / 3.52 FIP down the stretch for the Cards. They also picked up the finally-released Jeff Suppan from the Brewers and somehow managed to get him to post a 3.86 ERA (despite a FIP near 5) in 70 or so innings.

Offseason Moves:

The Cardinals re-signed Westbrook to a 2/16.5 deal in December. Given that he’s a sinkerballer, he should fit in just fine with Dave Duncan. Just after Thanksgiving, they traded for Dance Fever (dying laughing) in exchange for Blake Hawksworth. A few days later they sent their incumbent defensive-specialist SS Brendan Ryan to Seattle. They signed Lance Berkman to a 1/8 contract to be their primary RF, despite the fact that he hasn’t played there since 2007. We’ll get plenty of enjoyment out of his misadventures in RF, as well as the added opportunities for Mercurial Outfielder to bust out his embarassing Berkman pic collection. The most important offseason development wasn’t a front office move — top pitcher Adam Wainwright required Tommy John surgery on his elbow after an injury in early spring training.

Players To Watch:

All eyes will be on Pujols as well they should, but with Wainwright out the Cards need their young starters McClellan and Garcia to step up. Garcia was incredible last year, posting a 2.70 ERA in 163 innings. He had some luck with respect to HRs, but the projection systems agree that he’ll be pretty good. We’ve seen a lot of McClellan in the Cardinals pen for the last three years, where he’s been fairly effective, but it’s a big question mark whether his stuff will translate to the rotation or how many innings he’ll be able to pitch.

Projections:

Here’s a rough look at their team headed into the 2011 season. Since we don’t know a ton about not the Cubs, we used Baseball Prospectus’s depth charts to estimate playing time. The players OBP/SLG are a simple average of their PECOTA and Oliver projections. The defensive numbers are from the players’ 2010 Fan Scouting Report, and baserunning was ignored unless a player was especially good or awful on the basepaths.

Hitter Pos PA OBP SLG Fld WAR
Yadier Molina CA 500 0.335 0.352 1.9 2.71
Gerald Laird CA 120 0.288 0.318 0.5 0.01
Albert Pujols 1B 650 0.425 0.601 0.8 7.84
Lance Berkman 1B 74 0.382 0.458 0 0.34
Skip Schumaker 2B 450 0.338 0.358 -0.9 0.14
Nick Punto 2B 209 0.317 0.300 0.5 -0.09
Ryan Theriot (LOL) SS 600 0.332 0.326 -0.6 0.14
Nick Punto SS 90 0.317 0.300 0 -0.04
David Freese 3B 550 0.325 0.424 0.1 1.65
Nick Punto 3B 106 0.317 0.300 0.5 -0.05
Matt Holliday LF 650 0.384 0.503 0.1 4.46
Allen Craig LF 58 0.329 0.439 -0.1 0.11
Colby Rasmus CF 600 0.330 0.425 0 1.89
Jon Jay CF 74 0.324 0.375 0 0.1
Lance Berkman RF 495 0.382 0.458 -0.5 2.27
Jon Jay RF 126 0.324 0.375 0.5 0.08

 

Pitcher S/R IP ERA WAR
Chris Carpenter S 180 3.30 4.58
Kyle McClellan S 120 3.76 2.28
Jaime Garcia S 176 3.87 3.09
Jake Westbrook S 186 4.31 2.25
Kyle Lohse S 157 4.79 1.06
Miguel Batista S 120 5.26 0.25
Ryan Franklin R 65 3.97 0.73
Jason Motte R 60 3.78 0.68
Trever Miller R 60 3.80 0.51

Win talent: 85.5

I was quite surprised to see this – I thought the Wainwright injury would easily send them down the ladder in the division. There are a few things I would quibble with – Berkman is probably going to be pretty awful in RF, “Big Puma” or not. I also suspect that McClellan’s projection is based more on relieving than starting, so that ERA should probably be higher. On the other hand, I have no idea how Colby Rasmus ended up with a zero in the FSR. Given how lousy they are likely to be in the middle infield, their groundball-tilted pitching staff might see a lot more problems this season. Overall though I think my prediction above is what the season hinges on – if McClellan can pitch well in the rotation and Garica avoids a sophomore slump, they’ll be in good shape.


berselius

About berselius

How appropriate. You fight like a cow.

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