A little over a third of the way into the season, the Cardinals have not played up to expectations. Although yesterday's game was pretty exciting and the team showed excellent resolve coming back in the ninth against a decent closer, the fact of the matter is that given a Chris Carpenter vs. Edwin Jackson matchup and a healthy lineup this was a game the Cardinals were heavily favored in yet lost.
This seems to have happened a lot over the past month. The Cardinals were 15 and 8 in April, but have gone just 19 and 20 since. They were swept by the Dodgers, losing both Adam Wainwright's and Chris Carpenter's starts, and lost two out of three to the very bad D-Backs. Now the teams winning percentage is still .540, which puts them on pace for 88 wins, but that seems a bit underwhelming for a team with this kind of talent. Before the season started I was cautiously envisioning a 90+ win season and after witnessing the first few fantastic weeks of play I was reminded of 2005.
This team isn't as good as we thought they were in the beginning of the year, but they aren't as bad as they have played over the past month. Thus, when faced with a bi-polar team that invokes a similar reaction in it's fans, it pays to step back and objectively examine the big picture. Using The Hardball Times' excellent projections, I'd like to take a look at how good this team projects to be the rest of the way.
We'll start off with the starting 8 (or at least what I'd like it to be). The stat I'm using is called wOBA, basically an all purpose offensive stat that takes most of the important aspects of hitting and puts it on an OBP scale (so .330 is average, .370 is very good and .430 is Pujolsian):
|Name||Position||2010 wOBA||Rest of season projected wOBA|
As you can see, our two big boys in the heart of the order should improve markedly in the future. Pujols is having a historically bad season (still a .300/.417/.543 slash line for what it's worth) while Holliday is having his worst year since he was a rookie. There is no reason to expect this to continue. Neither of these players are past their primes nor have had any recent injuries and before this season have consistently put up excellent numbers. The projections reflect that as both Albert and Matt should be excellent going forward. And as frustrating as Holliday's RISP fail is, again, it's not something that has plagued him in his career before. His career OPS is .013 points lower with runners on base than with the bases empty in his career. I'm not convinced that he has suddenly become a choker based on a 3rd of a season worth of at bats.
On the downside, the rookies are both playing much better than their past stats suggest. Rasmus has been our best hitter so far, and while I certainly think he's better than that wOBA projection, he's not this good. Ditto with Freese. Ludwick is hitting like Studwick this year and projects to continue to hit very well. Brendan Ryan has been hitting like crap... and projects to continue to hit like crap, although slightly better. Felipe Lopez has hit very well, more than earning his contract and should continue to be a solid player. Overall, our staring lineup projects to do just as well (.349 wOBA) in the future as they have thus far (.344 wOBA). A .349 wOBA is well above average and has some predictability to it depending on how Rasmus and Freese (mostly Rasmus) progress as hitters. Onto the bench!
*13 at bats, **Includes his time with the Yankees
Okay so this is pretty bad. Stavinoha has actually played very well this year, providing league average hitting despite the massive offensive buzzkill of being a pinch hitter, but projects to revert back into his terrible self. Aaron Miles should not be on the roster - plain and simple - and Jason LaRue is actively trying his best to force Tony to overwork Yadi. On the bright side Randy Winn looks like a solid player - passable offense combined with good defense in the outfield and a switch hitting veteran presence (whatever thats worth to you), and Skip Schumaker projects to be a roughly average hitter. Overall, the current bench projects for an unweighted .300 wOBA, but if you consider that Skip and Winn, the two best hitters, will get more playing time than the others and the inevitable recalls of Allen Craig, Tyler Greene and Joe Mather, the bench could actually turn out into a solid unit. Besides, nobody's bench is any good.
Making some guesses about playing time for each player and accounting for the call ups gives the Cardinals a projected wOBA of .342 going forward. That would rank the Cardinals the 4th best offensive team in baseball this year a tad bit ahead of the Brewers, as offense has been down across the board this year. A .342 wOBA translates into roughly 5.1 runs per game, which is of course pretty damn good.
Pitching wise the Cardinals have been excellent this year:
*with the Brewers. Also, holy shit.
Jaime, Wainwright and Carp have all pitched like aces, with Jaime putting up one of the best seasons ERA wise in a long long time. The bullpen has been excellent, with Boggs and Motte become the flamethrowing strikeout pitchers that we never seem to be able to have. Ryan Franklin is rocking a 6.0 K/BB ratio and hasn't allowed a home run yet. The two lefties aren't allowing very many runs, and only Hawk and Ottavino and the now injured Lohse were performing poorly. On the season, the Cardinals have a 3.24 ERA which is somewhat amazing.
Unfortunately, they don't project to keep it up. Carp and Waino still project amongst the best pitchers in baseball, but Jaime looks to regress hard. Every single pitcher in the pen projects to pitch worse than they have so far this year, with the exception of Hawk. Plugging in some estimates for innings pitched, the Cardinals project for a 4.2 ERA which translates to around 4.6 runs allowed per game. The Cardinals defense is very good across the board, so you can probabaly shave .2 runs per game off of that number.
At 5.1 runs scored per game and 4.4 runs allowed, the Cardinals would be around a .570 winning percentage team, which translates to about 93 wins over a full season. The Cardinals are only 1.5 games back of the Reds, and I don't really think they are anywhere as good as the Cardinals going forward, so we still remain the playoff favorites in my opinion.
Keep in mind that these projections are just an estimate of each players future performance using historical stats. In other words, the Cardinals should win around 57% of their remaining games i f everyone plays like they always have. However, if Rasmus' breakout is for real and Freese and Jaime can continue to shine, while Mang and Lego revert back to their normals selves, this team is the class of the National League. On the other hand, if an injury occurs to Carp or Wainwright and the young guys can't keep up their level of performance, we are still looking at a solid team, but one that will have to kick and scratch their way into the playoffs.
The Cardinals play the Mariners today. They have scored 221 runs this year and as a team their slugging percentage is lower than Yadier Molina's on base percentage. Wainwright had his worst start of the season on Wednesday against the Dodgers (ironically, the first start I've ever seen of his in person) and should be able to rebound in a nice way against the Mariners. We also get to face Luke French - he of the 87 MPH fastball and the left hand. We might be in trouble.