How Will the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals Offense Compare to Last Season's Run-Scoring Juggernaut?

ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 26: Lance Berkman #12 of the St. Louis Cardinals high-fives Matt Holliday #7 after hitting a two-run home run as Ryan Doumit #41 of the Pittsburgh Pirates looks on at Busch Stadium on August 26, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)

The St. Louis Cardinals taking an offense-first approach entering the 2011 season is well-documented. This approach to roster construction resulted in one of the best offensive clubs in franchise history. The Cardinals led the National League in runs scored, batting average (BA), on-base percentage (OBP), slugging (SLG), and on-base plus slugging (OPS). Previous incarnations of the Cardinals have had very good offenses that have largely been more middle-heavy with the heart of the order producing at such a high level that it lifted up the below average production from other positions. The 2011 Cardinals had a very good heart of the order but also received average-to-above-average production from nearly every position. From top to bottom, it was perhaps the best offensive team of the La Russa era, if not franchise history.

Today we will take a look at how the 2011 Cardinals compare to previous Cardinals lineups and what fans can expect from the club's offense in 2012.

As you know, OPS is the simple combination of a player's on-base percentage and his slugging percentage. A variation of the stat is OPS+, which measures a player's OPS relative to the league average with a park adjustment. An OPS+ of 100 is exactly average. The further above 100 an OPS+, the better that player hit relative to his peers in the league that season; the further below 100, the worse that player hit relative to his peers.

Baseball-Reference has taken OPS+ a step further with sOPS+, which is OPS+ for a given split. For this post, we are going to look at sOPS+ by position to see how the Cardinals' production at each position compares to the league average for that position. Certain positions on the field have different offensive profiles. The corner outfield positions are typically where sluggers are found while the middle infield typically produces less offensively. In 2011, for example, the OPS for National League right fielders was .794 while the OPS for second basemen was .699. sOPS+ helps put a player's production in context of the player's peers at the same defensive position.

At first, we will look at the Cardinals' team sOPS+ by position--not by individual player--so the sOPS+ includes every plate appearance (PA) taken by every player at a given position. For example, in 2011, the St. Louis Cardinals second base sOPS+ includes the collective production of Skip Schumaker, Tyler Greene, Ryan Theriot, Nick Punto, Daniel Descalso, Allen Craig, Pete Kozma, and possibly other players that I'm forgetting (after all, anyone can play second base and, in 2011, it felt like nearly everyone did). Thus, the Cardinals's 2011 sOPS+ for second base is a cumulative total of all these players' numbers while playing the keystone.

The following graph looks at the Cardinals sOPS+ by position from 2001 through 2011. The darker the red, the better; the darker the blue, the worse; and white is exactly league-average for the position.

Season

C

1B

2B

SS

3B

LF

CF

RF

2001

76

96

109

90

116

116

150

123

2002

90

89

88

119

105

119

148

97

2003

82

107

88

137

136

130

141

96

2004

78

165

88

97

148

82

163

97

2005

72

148

88

113

85

110

126

101

2006

63

146

89

94

130

91

95

95

2007

86

132

78

93

83

104

97

86

2008

100

148

103

78

115

98

122

123

2009

105

150

100

104

75

99

87

90

2010

95

146

87

74

79

134

122

101

2011

123

122

102

98

106

162

100

118

While these numbers reflect all the players who played a given position in a given season, some are bolstered by individual players having great seasons and taking the vast majority of plate appearances at a given position. The dark red segments for center field in the early aughts are due by and large to one Jimmy Edmonds. The dark red string of seasons at first base is attributable to the ridiculous Albert Pujols, who hit so well that he was head and shoulders above his slugging first baseman peers. Some other fun individual position seasons: The Edgar Renteria-heavy 2003 at short, the Rolen/Spiezio 2006 at third, 2008-wick, Ankiel's 2008 in center, and the majority-Rasmus 2010 in center. The MV3 2004 season shows just how reliant that club was on the lineup's heart as the Cards received production that was below-average for every other position.

In 2011, the Cardinals received production that was at or above-average for each position except shortstop. Even with Ryan Theriot and his shorstop sOPS+ of 84 dragging down Rafael Furcal and his 112 sOPS+ as a Cardinal (despite a .250 BABIP), the club's sOPS+ at shortstop is still 98, just a hair below average for the position. I found it interesting that the Cardinals' catchers produced at a level that was as much above that of their catching peers as the Cardinals first basemen. The club's second basemen, third basemen and center fielders all produced at a level essentially on par with their peers at those positions. The Allen Craig and Matt Holliday combination in left produced at a very high level, blowing other left fielders out of the water. The sOPS+ numbers for right field and catcher are great examples of why WAR uses positional adjustments. The .855 overall OPS from the St. Louis right fielders comes in at a 118 sOPS+ while the .708 OPS from the Redbird catchers is good for a 123 sOPS+. Offensive production is easier to come by in right than behind the plate.

As the 2012 season approaches, general manager John Mozeliak has openly discussed the club's shift from an offense-first approach to one that focuses a bit more on run prevention. If we use the ZiPS projections for the 2012 season, however, it seems that the Cardinals are not necessarily going to be sacrificing that much offense in order to improve on defense. I calculated the sOPS+ for the players I believe most likely to be the primary players for the Cardinals in 2012 at a given position. For this chart, the players are: Molina, catcher; Lance Berkman, first base; Descalso, second base, Furcal, shortstop; Freese, third base; Holliday, left field; Jon Jay, center field; and, Carlos Beltran, right field.

2012

C

1B

2B

SS

3B

LF

CF

RF

ZiPS Projection

124

136

111

123

113

143

119

138

Going by ZiPS, Furcal is a decided offensive upgrade at shortstop. Berkman at first base ought to produce at a level relative to other first basemen higher than that of Pujols relative to league-average first base production in 2011. Beltran in right field is projected to produce at a level relative to his peers higher than that which Berkman put up in 2011 (largely due to ZiPS being conservative on its right field projections for whatever reason). Holliday in left is likely to be closer to his peers in left this season but still head-and-shoulders above them. Jay's production is projected to be healthily above the center field average, as is Molina's. Even Descalso is projected to be an above-average bat at second. By ZiPS, the Cardinals are a potent collection of regulars.

Obviously, the players listed above are not going to be taking every PA at their listed position this coming season. The Cardinals would be incredibly lucky if those players take the majority of the PAs at their respective positions in 2012. Because of this reality, let's look at the players who may find themselves playing a different position (for whatever reason) this season and how ZiPS projects their production to compare to the projected average level of production at each position.

Player

C

1B

2B

SS

3B

LF

CF

RF

Greene

101

109

97

Descalso

111

119

107

Carpenter

101

112

107

103

104

Schumaker

103

95

103

96

Chambers

91

99

92

Jay

111

119

111

Beltran

137

147

138

Komatsu

95

102

95

Craig

115

132

122

131

122

Berkman

136

143

143

Cruz

94

87

Anderson

103

The average ZiPS OPS projections for right field (.701) and left field (.701) seem a bit closer to the average second base OPS projection (.671) than one would expect. For comparison, in 2011, National League left fielders posted an OPS of .748; right fielders, .794; and second basemen, .699. Rui suggested that I use the ZiPS top 50 average by position to make the stats more in line with what will likely happen in 2012, but I decided that, if I'm going to be looking at fringe player projections in context of sOPS+, I should include these fringe players in my calculations of league-average projections.

If we go by the ZiPS projections, the Cardinals bench ought to be fairly strong in the infield and outfield (if Craig is healthy). If an injury lands Holliday and/or Beltran on the disabled list while Craig is also injured, the Cardinals will struggle to fill the void. If Craig returns from the disabled list without missing a beat, ZiPS foresees the Cards as being able to receive average-to-above-average production at each position from the bench players most likely to fill in.

Even though the front office shifted from an offense-first philosophy this Hot Stove to one with a greater emphasis on run prevention, the club should still boast a strong lineup with good production at each position. The starters are all projected to produce at a high level and, like last season, even if the injury bug does bite, the Cardinals appear to have bench players who will be able to fill in adequately at the plate should they be called upon to do so. This season's Cardinals could once again be one of the top run producers in the National League.

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