I’ve learned a lot about the Cardinals in 2017.
In case you’re curious…
1. I learned that the organization’s minor-league talent and depth was stronger than anticipated. With call-ups from the farm system contributing so much to this team, the Cardinals got above .500, and stayed in contention.
2. Even though the minor-league reinforcements did a great job, it wasn’t enough. As much as I appreciate their valuable performances, it doesn’t change the reality: the Cardinals must improve by adding pieces from outside the organization. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak and GM Michael Girsh have work to do.
2a. I learned that Mozeliak and chairman Bill DeWitt have maintained their pragmatic, methodical approach to roster building . And though it’s a successful philosophy that’s produced consistently winning baseball, they’ll have to be more aggressive during the coming offseason.
3. I learned that Paul DeJong can play shortstop. He’s a plus 3 in Defensive Runs Saved, which ranks 11th among MLB shortstops.
4. I learned that what I believed was true about Tommy Pham: after he finally received a full-time opportunity as an outfield starter, Pham proved to be an outstanding all-around player that can help his team with onbase skill, power, speed, and defense.
5. I learned, again, that Dexter Fowler is a defensive liability in center field. His brutal metric of minus 14 Defensive Runs Saved ranks 33rd among MLB center fielders. If Fowler played a corner outfield position, he’d be a lot more valuable. But will the manager have the stones to move Fowler out of center next season?
6. Learned that a terrible record in one-run games has been severely damaging to the Cardinals. Consider the records one-run games: Cubs 22-15, Brewers 21-20, St. Louis 20-28. The Cards’ .417 winning percentage in one-run games ranks 26th in the majors.
7. I learned — or was reminded — that slugging and power are important components. The Cardinals rely too much on their ability to deliver timely hits with runners in scoring position. That performance tends to fluctuate, and can’t be counted on. The Brewers have flaws offensively, but they’re able to power up to compensate. Same with the Cubs.
8. I’ve learned I shouldn’t be too quick in assuming that an impressive rookie season or early-career success ensures long-term success. Re: Aledmys Diaz and Stephen Piscotty.
9. I learned that in his sixth season as manager, Mike Matheny still struggles to run a bullpen.
10. And I learned that six years into the gig, Matheny still decreases his team’s chances of winning by not putting his best players in the lineup on too many occasions.
11. Learned that Matheny probably needs to take advantage of information supplied by the Cardinals’ analytics department. Over the last two seasons the Cardinals have only 4 Defensive Runs Saved by deploying shifts. (No team has saved fewer runs via shift over that time.) For perspective, consider these Defensive Runs Saved (Shift) totals for the current season: Brewers + 22, Cubs +15, and the Cardinals +3.
12. Goodness … have we learned that Luke Weaver can pitch or what? Makes you feel more positive about the 2018 rotation.
13. I learned that if you want to win the division, you’d better take care of business inside the division. The Cardinals are 28-35 in division games, a horrendous record that put them at an extreme disadvantage in a three-team race. The Cubs (38-27) and Brewers (34-30) have winning records in division play.
14. If you lose 103 runners on the bases via unforced errors — the highest and worst count in the National League — then all you are doing is blowing up your chances of winning. In comparison to the Cardinals’ 103 runners lost, the Cubs have lost 81 runners; the Brewers 88.
15. I learned that lefty Tyler Lyons is just as effective against RH batters as he is against LH batters.
16. I learned that Cardinals have not come close to freeing themselves from the Cubs’ domination. With one four-game series remaining between the rivals in 2017 the Cardinals are 4-11 against the Cubs, and have lost four of five series. The Cardinals lost eight of nine games at Wrigley Field this season. And in the last 15 series of competition with the Cubs, going back to July 2015, the Cardinals are 2 and 10 with three splits.
17. The Cardinals have made decent improvement defensively in 2017, ranking 14th in the majors in defensive efficiency. But that doesn’t mean they’re a smart baseball team, or a fundamentally sound team. For the second consecutive year the fundamentals were an issue, and a considerable factor in a
18. I learned that his glossy minor-league batting stats really did mean something, because Jose Martinez can flat-out rake. One of the most delightful surprises of the season.
19. I learned, sadly, that too many people around here still fail to realize that Carlos Martinez is a helluva starting pitcher. This season there are only three MLB starting pitchers that have thrown at least 194 innings, have at least 20 quality starts, and have an ERA of 3.57 or less: Chris Sale, Jacob deGrom, Carlos Martinez.
19a. I learned, through research, that since the start of the 2015 season, only six MLB starting pitchers have delivered on this combination of at least 564 innings pitched, at least 60 quality starts, and with an ERA of 3.22 or better: Sale, Jake Arrieta, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Corey Kluber, and Carlos Martinez.
19b. I just learned (by checking) that Sale is 28 years old. Arrieta and Kluber are 31. Scherzer and Greinke are 33. Martinez, the youngest of the group, turns 26 on Sept. 23.
20. I learned that I will miss Lance Lynn when he moves on as a free agent.
21. Kolten Wong has played so well this season — but I’ve learned it’s hard to count on him because of minor injuries that keep him off the field too often.
22. I’ve learned that Michael Wacha — cursed with having to live with that stress reaction in his right shoulder blade — has made progress in maintaining his stamina for the duration of the season. But this will always be an area of concern.
23. I’ve learned Matt Carpenter’s excellent .416 onbase percentage and very good .482 slugging percentage as a leadoff hitter isn’t enough to satisfy the fan base. Carpenter’s leadoff OBP is 86 points higher than the MLB average for leadoff men, his .482 slug is 60 points higher than the MLB average for leadoff men, and his .898 leadoff OPS is 146 points higher than the MLB average for leadoff hitters. And Carpenter has been doing this while limited by a chronically sore shoulder.
24. Learned that the Cardinals have more to worry about than catching the Cubs next season. The Brewers (80-70 right now) should be better and more dangerous in 2018.
25. I learned this about catcher Yadier Molina: he doesn’t recognize birthdays … specifically his own birthday. At age 35, Molina’s OPS+ is virtually identical to his OPS+ at age 25.
25a. I am trying to learn to have a more reasoned perspective. After winning more regular-season games than any NL team and winning more postseason games than any MLB team from 2000 through 2015, the Cardinals have had a two-year downturn. And over the last two years they still have the ninth-best winning percentage in the majors. And fourth best winning percentage in the NL. Not exactly a baseball apocalypse, with the franchise spiraling into the abyss … but yeah, the Cardinals need to get better.
Thanks for reading…