NL Central Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals

Manager: Mike Schildt (1st Full-Season)

2018 Record: 88-74 (3rd in NL Central)    2019 Payroll: $153,876,666 (9th in MLB)

Additions: 1B Paul Goldschmidt, RP Andrew Miller

Losses: Luke Weaver (Diamondbacks), C Carson Kelly (Diamondbacks), 1B Matt Adams (Nationals), RP Tyler Lyons (Pirates)

The Cardinals fans are restless. Three straight years with no playoffs after being knocked out by the rival Cubs in 2015. The Cardinals added Ozuna before last season and got substantially better on offense. They didn’t get where they needed to be last year and fired Mike Matheny mid-season. The NL Central is absolutely loaded this year and the Cardinals made sure their fans knew they are all-in this year. They traded Luke Weaver and Carson Kelly for Paul Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt only has one year left on his contract, but what a talent he is; 33 home runs and 83 RBI last season for Arizona. He has power, but also has a very good eye with a 13% walk rate last year. Combine that with Matt Carpenter’s patience and 15% walk rate and you have a recipe for Paul DeJong and Marcell Ozuna RBI situations and some high opponent pitch counts. Goldschmidt was also 5th in the MLB (2nd in NL behind Christian Yelich) in WPA- Win Probability Added. This means his plate appearances increased his team’s chances of winning more than almost anyone else in baseball. As for what they gave up, a mid-rotation starter in Luke Weaver, but they have pitching depth and a young backup catcher (Kelly) who makes a lot of contact and is very good behind the plate. As for 2019, the Cardinals still have Yadier Molina inked through 2020 so it’s unlikely Kelly would have gotten much time.

Not only did they add a big bat to the lineup in Goldschmidt, but they added a big arm to the bullpen by signing Andrew Miller for 2 years at $25 million with a vesting option for a third year. Andrew Miller is a tall lefty who has dominated with his nasty fastball-slider combination. From 2014-2017, only Aroldis Chapman had a higher strikeout rate than Miller. However, Miller was not the same pitcher in 2018 and eventually landed on the DL with shoulder impingement. As you can see in the chart below, Miller’s 2018 was not even close to the level of dominance as before. Many fear the Indians may have overworked Miller and his arm could be done.

Andrew Miller From 2014-2018

Year ERA G IP H WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9
2014 2.02 73 62.1 33 0.80 4.8 2.5 14.9
2015 2.04 60 61.2 33 0.86 4.8 2.9 14.6
2016 1.45 70 74.1 42 0.69 5.1 1.1 14.9
2017 1.44 57 62.2 31 0.83 4.5 3 13.6
2018 4.24 37 34 31 1.38 8.2 4.2 11.9

Everything was worse last year. He gave up just as many hits in half as many innings. His strikeout rate fell, ERA, WHIP and walks all shot up. Cardinals’ fans can be hopeful that he returns to form, but he is really a big question mark coming into 2019.

Now, let’s look at what the batting order could look like in 2019, with some projected stats from Fangraphs.

2019 Cardinals Lineup (Projected Statistics)

3B Matt Carpenter 25 70 0.251 0.373 0.459 0.831 -7.6 3.6
RF Jose Martinez 11 48 0.288 0.351 0.441 0.792 -2.2 1.3
1B Paul Goldschmidt 27 90 0.277 0.385 0.489 0.875 2.5 4.3
LF Marcell Ozuna 27 94 0.289 0.346 0.493 0.838 2.4 3.6
SS Paul DeJong 23 75 0.254 0.311 0.449 0.76 2.2 3.1
C Yadier Molina 15 61 0.267 0.317 0.415 0.732 5.1 2.8
CF Harrison Bader 17 61 0.245 0.308 0.398 0.707 4.6 2.1
2B Kolten Wong 9 45 0.262 0.342 0.406 0.748 1.1 2.0
IF Jedd Gyorko 10 36 0.248 0.321 0.422 0.743 -1.6 0.7
IF Yairo Munoz 5 23 0.259 0.313 0.398 0.711 -1.1 0.3
OF Dexter Fowler 9 40 0.240 0.341 0.390 0.731 -3.3 0.7
OF Tyler O’Neill 10 28 0.243 0.306 0.471 0.777 1.1 0.7
C Andrew Knizner 2 12 0.263 0.312 0.380 0.692 0.0 0.5

The top of the order is scary and will get on base a ton. Carpenter and Goldschmidt will always get on base whether they are hitting well or not. Marcell Ozuna seemed to get used to being in St. Louis as the season went on at the plate and he creates a scary duo with Goldschmidt in the middle of the order. The Cardinals have kept Jose Martinez around for his offense. He will add to that strong top of the order, but is an absolute liability defensively. Maybe if they hide him in a corner outfield spot, Harrison Bader can help negate the liability. Bader will finally get a full year in St. Louis with Tommy Pham now in Tampa Bay. Bader will be solid with the bat, but where he is special is on defense and on the base paths. Bader is the 9th fastest player in the MLB according to sprint speeds and he is the third best defensive outfielder according to outs above average (probability Bader will make a catch compare to league average). Dexter Fowler may be the odd man out of the starting lineup. Fowler was terrible last year hitting just .180 with 8 HR, 31 RBI and a -1.2 WAR. There was talk that Fowler did not get along with Matheny so maybe Fowler can be more successful with manager Mike Schildt.

Yadier Molina was solid last year and his best attribute is always working with the pitching staff. Yadi will almost always put the ball in play and Yadi had the lowest strikeout percentage on the team last year. Cardinals’ number 2 prospect Andrew Knizner will be expected to fill in the shoes of Carson Kelly. Knizner isn’t near as good defensively, but he has a better chance to make an offensive impact. The Cardinals also invited veteran Matt Wieters to spring training to contend for the backup catcher role as well. Tyler O’Neill is another intriguing young player. O’Neill hit 9 homers with 23 RBI in 130 at bats in 2018 and already has 4 homers in spring training. He has big time power. However, he also strikes out a way too much. In fact he struck out 40% of the time in 2018! He kind of reminds me of a Randal Grichuk, big power and big strikeouts.

2019 Cardinals Starting Rotation (Projected Statistics)

Carlos Martinez 4.05 29 29 180 165 1.37 8.28 3.55 2.3
Miles Mikolas 4.04 32 32 198 161 1.24 7.31 1.72 2.7
Jack Flaherty 3.69 29 29 164 180 1.24 9.89 3.28 2.8
Michael Wacha 4.20 18 18 100 88 1.35 7.87 3.21 1.0
Adam Wainwright 4.20 18 28 110 90 1.35 7.41 2.97 1.3
Alex Reyes 3.81 18 18 101 114 1.28 10.21 3.86 1.4

The Cardinals starting rotation has some question marks. Cardinals’ top prospect Alex Reyes’ return from Tommy John (missed all of 2017) lasted only four innings before Reyes left the game and needed season-ending surgery to repair a tendon attached to a strained latissimus dorsi muscle in the upper right side of his back. After missing just about two full seasons Reyes is a complete wild card for 2019. Maybe he’ll make 20 starts, maybe he’ll be moved to the bullpen, maybe he’ll end up on the DL again. Carlos Martinez had an interesting year between struggling as a starter, dealing with a right shoulder injury and being used in the bullpen late in the season. Martinez does have some really nasty stuff when he’s right and he doesn’t allow much hard contact (8th lowest average exit velocity allowed in MLB last season).

Miles Mikolas was a great surprise for Cardinals’ fans last season. With a 2.83 ERA and 18-4 record, Mikolas was the workhorse of the rotation. The Cardinals front office knew what they were doing when they signed him following his three-year stint in Japan. It will be interesting to see if hitters can see him better in his second year, especially within the division. Jack Flaherty is only 23 years old and led Cardinals’ pitchers in strikeout percentage last year. With a 3.34 ERA, Flaherty put together a really impressive first full season in the majors. Michael Wacha only started 15 games last season (oblique), but had a 3.20 ERA and was really pretty good in those starts. Adam Wainwright has been on the decline for a while, but he’s still a competitor and may be able to be the Cardinals 5 starter. I don’t think there’s any way Wacha, Wainwright and Reyes stay healthy for the whole season so there will be spot starts for guys like John Gant, Austin Gomber, Daniel Poncedeleon and maybe even Dakota Hudson, Ryan Helsley or Griffin Roberts. The Cardinals have the luxury of having plenty of young pitching options.

2019 Cardinals Bullpen (Projected Statistics)

Andrew Miller 2.95 65 65 83 1.13 11.43 3.09 0.9
Jordan Hicks 3.74 65 65 67 1.42 9.25 4.65 0.2
Dakota Hudson 4.01 58 73 60 1.41 7.34 3.51 0.3
John Brebbia 3.85 55 55 59 1.21 9.74 2.91 0.4
Luke Gregerson 3.78 45 45 41 1.3 8.2 3.03 0.2
Brett Cecil 4.35 40 40 32 1.41 7.27 3.54 -0.1
Dominic Leone 3.96 35 35 34 1.32 8.83 3.49 0.1
Chasen Shreve 3.81 30 30 33 1.33 9.97 4.16 0.1
John Gant 4.18 31 60 55 1.37 8.13 3.55 0.3

As I mentioned before, Andrew Miller is a big question mark in this bullpen. If he’s good, the Cardinals could have a solid bullpen come October, but the last big bullpen signing in St. Louis didn’t go so great with Greg Holland last season. Fireballer Jordan Hicks is back and will continue to get a lot of ground balls with his sinker. Another late inning young arm will be Dakota Hudson. Hudson has a sinker (93-96 mph) that will generate A TON of ground balls and he pairs that with a nasty cutter. His command and other pitches are still in the works, but Hudson and Hicks will be inducing a high number of ground balls at the back of the bullpen. John Brebbia is an intriguing option too; he had the highest strikeout rate of any Cardinal reliever last year (10.66 per 9 innings) and also one of the lowest walk rates (2.61 per 9 innings).

Brett Cecil is one of the lefties Mike Schildt will have, but his 6.89 walks per 9 innings were the highest of any Cardinal not named Greg Holland. In addition, Cecil allowed the second highest home run percentage. However, there are reports Cecil has lost 42 pounds in the off-season so it’s possible he comes back a different pitcher. Dominic Leone, acquired for Randal Grichuk before last season, never really got to show what he could do because of a nerve issue in his right biceps. Don’t be surprised if Leone ends up in the late-inning mix. John Gant made 19 starts and 7 relief appearances for the Cardinals last season and was sort of average, but he has the ability to fill many different roles. John Gant and Mike Mayers are all out of options so if any of them do not make the opening day roster, they would be available to the other 29 teams on waivers. Another name to look out for is Cardinals 8th best prospect, Ryan Helsley. He doesn’t have great command, but he has an effective four-pitch mix, throws 93-97 mph and can touch 100, which can make up for some of his mistakes. He also can execute both his slider and curveball and with that ability he could be someone the Cardinals use as a starter in the future.

Finally, a look at the Cardinals future.

St. Louis Cardinals: Top 10 Prospects

Rank Player Age Highest Level Position ETA
1 Alex Reyes 24.2 MLB RHP 2019
2 Andrew Knizner 23.8 AAA C 2019
3 Nolan Gorman 18.5 A 3B 2021
4 Dylan Carlson 20.1 A+ RF 2020
5 Dakota Hudson 24.2 MLB RHP 2019
6 Jhon Torres 18.6 R RF 2023
7 Elehuris Montero 20.2 A+ 3B 2021
8 Ryan Helsley 24.3 AAA RHP 2019
9 Edmundo Sosa 22.7 MLB SS 2019
10 Griffin Roberts 22.4 A+ RHP 2019

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