When its all said and done Tony La Russa will be considered one of the all time great managers. Despite his many flaws (strong anti-Boog tendencies being among the most prominent) his career record is impressive, and it's unlikely that he was able to guide his teams to so many wins without having a positive impact overall. That being said, in his last few seasons Tony had far too much influence over front office decisions. GM Mozeliak made moves under obvious coercion, and it was nice to see him gain more freedom going into the 2012 season.
By and large, Mo had a great offseason. He made some poor minor decisions, such as giving contracts to both Skip Schumaker and Kyle McClellan, which seemed to be rusted with some of Tony's old influence. But those were dwarfed by his competent handling of the big issues going into 2012. Although I will miss Pujols, not offering him a 250 million dollar contract was definitely the right move considering future wins and losses. And replacing the void left by Pujols' salary and production with Carlos Beltran and Rafael Furcal were inspired moves (more so Beltran) and right in line with my cursory desires for the offseason.
Payroll now sits at around 110 million, more or less the same as last year, and by all indications the Cardinals are done spending. Curiously enough, despite seeing the departure of my favorite player, I'm more excited about the 2012 season than I have been about any other in recent memory. Maybe the fresh blood on the roster has perforated my baseball apathy, or maybe it's just awesome to see Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman and Rafael Furcal all on the same team. In any case, in an attempt to pass the time until opening day, I thought I would take a look at how the Cardinals 2012 roster stacks up.
Dan Szymborski recently published his ZIPS projections for the Cardinals, which you can find here. ZIPS has been one of the more accurate projection systems publicly available over the past few seasons, and I think its projections offer a fine outlook into 2012. Here is how ZIPS sees the position players shaking up:
I eschewed ZIPS playing time estimates in favor of my own, as I think I have a better understanding of the roster than Szym's computer. The playing time estimates are based on a weighted mean of all potential outcomes for next year (Matt Holliday, if healthy, will likely have more than 600 PA, but there is a not insignificant chance he gets injured and misses a large part of the season), so they are going to seem somewhat conservative. Really though, they are just guesses and shouldn't be taken too seriously.
I calculated wOBA based off OBP, SLG and also made an adjustment for SB and CS. In most cases, the SB adjustments didn't effect the numbers much, but in Tyler Greene's case they raise his value by about .007 points of wOBA. Greene is one of the best basestealers in the game. I also estimated defensive runs above/below average per 150 games. I referenced UZR and other objective measures, but quantifying defense is still an inexact science and like with the playing time estimates, those numbers shouldn't be taken as gospel. And for players like Beltran who are expected to play multiple positions, the Def/150 reflect that (Beltran might be a -10 run defender in CF, but an average defender in RF, so assuming he plays half the time at each, he'll be a -5 run defender overall).
Finally I calculated WAR - a total value stat based off offensive value, defensive value, positional value and playing time. WAR tells us that the Cardinals are a juggernaut on the positional side of the ball. Holliday is the best player on the team now with Pujols gone, and while he's not quite as good a 4.7 WAR projection makes Holliday one of the best players in the game. Furthermore, the supporting cast is by far the best its been in a long time. League average WAR is 2 per 600 PA, so every single one of the Cardinals starting 8 projects to be above average. Interestingly enough, Yadier Molina is our second best position player now - mostly on account of his defensive and positional value - and Berkman, Beltran and Furcal are close behind. Going on gut, I would say that Freese and Craig are better than their ZIPS projections.
The bench looks like a very solid unit. Jay's offensive projection is perhaps a bit too high, but its not too far out of line with expectations. Greene should get plenty of playing time platooning with Descalso at second and spelling Furcal at short, and he projects very well. A .308 wOBA is a bit below average, but he has high defensive value and projects to be around a league average player (2 WAR) over a full season. Matt Carpenter is the most interesting player here to me. Even with an offensive projection that is pessimistic considering his minor league performance over the past few seasons, he still projects to be a ~2.5 WAR player over a full season. With the high likelihood of a David Freese injury, Matt Carp should definitely get some solid playing time next year.
Schumaker still projects rather poorly (around .5 WAR per 600 PA), but he's not much worse than Chambers or whoever else would conceivably replace him. So as long as his playing time is kept to a minimum, I don't have a problem with him being on the roster. Matt Adams is a guy to watch in the minors this years. While he projects at around replacement level for 2012, a strong season in AAA could raise his projections significantly going into 2013.
If you add it all up, the Cardinals should expect to get roughly 27.5 WAR out of their position players next year. That would have placed them 5th in the NL last year, and remember that the spread in end of year performance is always going to be much higher than the spread in preseason projected performance. Not knowing exactly how well the Reds look for next year, I would guess that the Cardinals have the best offense in the NL.
Their pitching is good as well, but not quite as strong as the offense. I'll look at the rotation first:
Once again, I estimated GS and innings pitched myself. Again the projections are conservative to account for injury odds. I also adjusted the ZIPS ERA and FIP projections slightly to account for role (ZIPS projected about half of KMac's innings to come in the pen next year, so when considering his likely performance in the rotation, I adjusted ERA and FIP in those by 125%). To calculate WAR, I took an average of each players FIP and ERA projections. More information on pitcher WAR here.
ZIPS is ignorant of Wainwright's surgery, so I used my own projection (wild ass guess) for him. ZIPS projects him to have a 3.12 FIP and ERA, which would make him a 5.1 WAR pitcher. Feel free to formulate your own opinion as to how well Wainwright will do next year. Even if his performance drops off a lot, he should still be a valuable pitcher. So Carp is probably the best pitcher next year, although his age and recent work load are a bit scary. I projected him to make 28 starts, but that might be a little optomistic.
ZIPS sees Jaime having another great season, and Lohse falling back a little bit. Westbrook is projected to be around league average next year, but ZIPS thinks that Lynn will be better. I'm assuming Lynn will be in the minors and make spot starts, although he could very well start the year off in the pen. Either way, Lynn should get plenty of starts, whether filling in for injury or replacing Westbrook.
Shelby Millers is projected to be the clubs 4th best starter and is only 21 and hasn't yet seen AAA. I'm pretty excited to see what he can do and wouldn't mind seeing him come up at the end of the year. Brandon Dickson, Mikael Cleto and even Kyle McClellan comprise perfectly cromulent depth for next year.
The performance of the bullpen is usually much more of a crapshoot compared to that of the rotation, and in that sense the Cardinals very leveled construction of the pen is admirable:
No one is projected to be much better than than anyone else and no one is being paid much of anything. I would be happy to see save opportunities portioned out around the pen. Scrabble is a legitimately good LOOGY and should easily outperform that projection if used primarily against lefties. I would still like to see him in the rotation at some point in the future, but for next year the bullpen seems like a good home.
The Cardinals pitching projects at around 18.2 WAR for next year, which would have made it the 4th best staff in the NL in 2011. And again, the spread in end of the year performance is higher than the projected. So the Cardinals likely have a top 3 pitching staff next year.
Add up total WAR for the club (a replacement level team will win around 48 games), and the Cards projected to be around around a 94 win team next year, which is pretty fantastic. Probably right behind the Phillies for the best club in the NL. Honestly that's much higher than I thought it would be, but I think all of the projections are reasonably conservative. Perhaps I am underestimating the volatility of the projected performance (the Cardinals are an older than average team for sure). But we're definitely the favorites going into 2012.