clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Cardinals' lineup lacking elite hitters

New, comments

The Cardinals figure to put forth a very balanced lineup top to bottom in 2015, but the team lacks the top-level hitting they have had in previous years.

Cardinals will have to get dirty in 2015
Cardinals will have to get dirty in 2015
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals starting lineup in 2015 should be one of the better lineups in the National League. From top to bottom, the team contains no holes. Almost every player in the lineup projects as average or above, and the team's weakest link, Kolten Wong, figures to be close to average as well. Depth is the team's strength. What they have in depth, they lack in high-end production on the hitting side.

Matt Holliday, long one of the games very best hitters, is likely to be the Cardinals' best hitter once again in 2015. Holliday's .272/.370/.441 line produced a wOBA of .360 and wRC+ of 132, both numbers leading the team by a comfortable margin. Both Steamer and ZiPS project Holliday as the Cardinals' best hitter for next season. However, Holliday declined slightly in 2014, and should maintain or slightly decline again as he plays the 2015 season as a 35-year old. After Holliday, the team projects a lineup full of above average hitters but lacks the elite players they have produced in past years.

In 2009, the MV3 years had faded and the Cardinals offense was Albert Pujols and not much else. Enter Matt Holliday. The Cardinals traded for a great player in Holliday, giving the Cardinals more firepower and someone to pair with Pujols at the top of the league leaderboard. Since that time, the Cardinals have consistently had performers at the top of their game. 2014 saw some erosion to that consistency. Below is a chart showing the Cardinals top three hitters every year as well as their wRC+ and NL ranks (min 400 PA) for wRC+ (roughly 100 players exceeded 400 PA every year).

min 400 PA 1st wRC+ NL Rank 2nd wRC+ NL Rank 3rd wRC+ NL Rank
2009 Albert Pujols 180 1 107 49 106 51
2010 Albert Pujols 164 2 Matt Holliday 149 3 130 18
2011 163 3 Matt Holliday 154 6 Albert Pujols 147 10
2012 Matt Holliday 140 11 138 13 137 14
2013 Matt Holliday 147 9 146 11 Allen Craig 134 20
2014 Matt Holliday 132 21 120 33 Matt Carpenter 117 35

From 2010 to 2013, the Cardinals placed at least three hitters in the top 20 of the National League in wRC+. In 2014, no Cardinals player ranked in the top 20 with Holliday falling just short. Offense is not necessarily dependent on having star players drive the lineup. Here are the Cardinals' team ranks during those years.

Cardinals wRC+ Rank Runs Rank
2009 98 4 730 7
2010 99 5 736 6
2011 112 1 762 1
2012 106 1 765 2
2013 104 1 783 1
2014 95 6 619 9

Even with Holliday and Pujols, the Cardinals were a middle of the pack offense in 2010. The Cardinals put forth great offensive seasons from 2011-2013 before dropping off last season. Much has been made of the Cardinals offensive woes last season. Clearly, the Cardinals had a drop in offense from prior years. However, the Cardinals offense was still average. Kolten Wong was learning at the major league level and Mark Ellis could not produce, coming up with a wRC+ of 72 at second base last season for the Cardinals. Right field produced just a 73. With Molina's injuries, the catcher position managed just an 89 for wRC+.

The Cardinals had three solidly below-average positions in 2014 and could not make up for these deficiencies as the team lacked enough players producing elite-level numbers. The Cardinals do not need any players to produce outstanding numbers if they can get at least average production at every position. Having stars helps, but if there is a scrub at the other end of the spectrum, the result is not significantly better.

Jason Heyward, Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams, and even perhaps Yadier Molina could return to or move to an elite level in 2015. The team is not devoid of upside. Matt Holliday is still a very good hitter, regardless of his age. Even if Yadier Molina and Jason Heyward are not star-level hitters, that does not mean they are not star players. A healthy Molina is an MVP candidate, and Jason Heyward has been one of the best players in baseball over the last few seasons.

The Cardinals' deep offense should be better at scoring runs than its most recent predecessor because the team should not have any holes. Kolten Wong's ZiPS projected wOBA of .310 is the worst of the Cardinals position players (major league average in 2014 for non-pitchers was .315). Six of the Cardinals eight projected starters have projected wOBA exceeding .329. The Cardinals might not have the power hitting they desire, but good hitters produce good results. In 2015, that should be enough to improve.