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The fifth annual Cardinals VEB predictions contest results show

The Cards were different and somehow better than we thought they would be in 2015: A look back at when we looked ahead.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

As we sit at the gates of yet another Cardinals post-season adventure, it's fun and instructive to think about what we thought the season would bring way back in late March. In some ways, 2015 had more surprises in store for me than any year I can recall. The Cards reaching 100 wins for the first time in a decade probably qualifies as a mild surprise for most of us, but the way they got there is pretty shocking.

Recall your thoughts about the upcoming season back in spring training. As a whole, we were relatively confident the Cardinals would win the division, but only 14% of us thought our favorite team would clear 94 wins.

Let's take that 92ish win prediction we made as a group and add in the following glimpses of what was ahead:

-Adam Wainwright will only make four starts before an injury costs him nearly the rest of the year.

-Michael Wacha will be replacement-level after the All-Star break, unfortunately over more innings than you expect.

-Lance Lynn won't be all that much better than Wacha in the same period.

-Matt Holliday will miss over half the season and hit for very little power when he is healthy.

-Ditto for Matt Adams, but worse.

-Kolten Wong will not break out offensively.

-Neither will Jason Heyward.

-Yadier Molina will finish with a .287 wOBA

-Jhonny Peralta will finish with 1.8 WAR

-Pete Kozma will take 111 PA without an extra base hit. This will drop his career wRC+ to 58.

-Jon Jay will register 245 PA with a wRC+ worse than Kozma's new career number.

-By the way, the Pirates and Cubs will be 98 and 97 win powerhouses.

What would our March selves have predicted with this bit of knowledge of the road ahead? Would .500 be asking too much of this nightmare of a season? Even if we also knew that John Lackey and Carlos Martinez would be excellent and that Jaime Garcia would be even better over, somehow, nearly 130 innings, and even if we also knew that Matt Carpenter would find a surprising amount of power and that Jason Heyward's all-around excellence would be in full flower and that Grichuk and Piscotty would be worth a combined 4.3 WAR over 600 PA's, I don't think many of us would have predicted topping the Pirates and Cubs to such an extent that the final series of the year was irrelevant. Well, here we are.

I'll go over our responses to the predictions contest and then reveal the two winners and the worst loser after. We had just under 200 entries this year.

Question 1: What team will win the NL Cental in 2015?

St. Louis Cardinals: 93.4%

Pittsburgh Pirates: 5.1%

Chicago Cubs: 0.5%

Milwaukee Brewers: 0.5%

Cincinnati Reds: 0.5%

This was the question VEB as a whole did best on, though given how good the second and third place teams in the division were, we should have been less certain.

Question 2: How many games will the Cardinals win in 2015?

Under 83: 0%

83-88: 8.6%

89-94: 76.3%

95-100: 12.6%

>100: 1.5%

Somehow, it was better than we thought it would be. I wish I had made the final cut-off at 99 wins. We'd have missed the mark even worse.

Question 3: Will Jason Heyward sign a contract extension with the Cardinals during the 2015 regular season?

Yes: 54.5%

No: 45.5%

There were some rumblings early on, but nothing serious ever materialized here during the season, though the player and the organization seem to be happy with one another. I wonder what we would have said then and would say now if I asked if Heyward will be a member of the Cardinals on opening day of 2016.

Question 4: Who will hit the most home runs among Matt Adams, Matt Holliday, Jhonny Peralta, and Jason Heyward?

Adams: 30.8%

Holliday: 36.9%

Peralta: 14.1%

Heyward: 18.2%

With 17 dingers, Bonny Jhonny finished tied with Randal Grichuk for second on the team behind Matt Carpenter's 28. Our top two choices here combined for 9. Just like we drew it up.

Question 5: How many starts will Carlos Martinez make in 2015?

<12: 6.1%

7-13: 25.3%

14-20: 49%

21-27: 18.2%

>27: 1.5%

Martinez made 29 starts in 2015. It's unfortunate a late shoulder injury at the close of an outstanding season will make this question relevant again next season. As we'll see when we get to question 8, Martinez didn't just pitch more than we thought he would, but also better.

Question 6: Rank Randal Grichuk, Mark Reynolds, and Peter Bourjos according to games appeared in, most to fewest.

RG, MR, PB: 22.2%

RG, PB, MR: 16.7%

PB, RG, MR: 12.6%

PB, MR, RG: 12.6%

Mark Reynolds, Peter Bourjos, Randal Grichuk: 12.6%

MR, RG, PB: 23.2%

We basically had no idea here. The rub here is that had Grichuk been healthy all year, he would have easily been the leader. Since he wasn't, this question on its own didn't reveal much of interest. Bourjos had more game appearances, but far fewer PA's than Grichuk, and Reynolds played a lot because of injuries to Adams. In retrospect, the two most common choices were probably smarter answers than the one that turned out to be correct.

Question 7: Which reliever among the following will be the most useful in 2015 per fWAR? (with the caveat that I could pick the winner if the WAR was close):

Carlos Villanueva: 10.%

Matt Belisle: 40.9%

Seth Maness: 30.3%

Kevin Siegrist: 18.7%

Siegrist won easily with a healthier season than many of us would have predicted. He wasn't 2013 good, but he was easily the Cardinals' second most valuable reliever after Trevor Rosenthal.

Question 8: Who will have the lowest FIP with at least 130 IP?

Adam Wainwright: 32.3%

John Lackey: 1.5%

Michael Wacha: 38.4%

Jaime Garcia: 4%

Lance Lynn: 21.7%

Carlos Martinez: 2%

Adam Wainwirght was as good as ever in his brief season, but while understanding his injury was not predictable, our guesses here were a disaster. Martinez is our winner at 3.21, but Jaime Garcia (3.00) would have been correct had he recorded just one more out on the season to qualify with 130 IP. The outstanding contributions from those two did a lot to offset the loss of Wainwright. Lynn was next, but Lackey wasn't far behind. Wacha fell far off the pace the group set in the season's early months after a dreadful post-break performance.

Question 9: Trevor Rosenthal: over/under 39.5 saves

Over: 51%.

Under: 49%

Rosie cut his walk rate from 13.6 to 8.7%, while holding his K rate steady and continuing to keep the ball in the park at an elite level. Trevor Rosenthal is now the Cardinals single-season saves record holder with 48.

Question 10: Jordan Walden: over/under 10% BB rate

Over: 31.3%

Under: 68.7%

Early in the season, Walden looked like he would be a key part of the back end of the bullpen, but an injury limited him to just twelve appearances. He ended the year with a 9.5% BB rate in a meaningless sample size. Hopefully he can pitch next season and we will see if he can keep his walks down.

Question 11: How many games will Yadier Molina start?

<100: 1.5%

100-115: 10.6%

115-130: 53.5%

>130: 34.3%

Despite missing the last two weeks of the season, Yadi started 131 games. Had he not injured his hand, the 33 year-old likely would have set a career-high (136 in 2009) in starts behind the plate.

Question 12: How many innings will Marco Gonzales pitch in the majors this year?

<41: 4.5%

41-70: 38.9%

71-100: 43.9%

101-130: 11.6%

>131: 1%

After a strong showing late in 2014, the young lefty battled injury and ineffectiveness in what turned out to be a lost season in 2015. He recorded just eight outs for the big league club, all in a single start gone awry.

Question 13: Rank according to fWAR, most to least: Jon Jay, Matt Adams, Kolten Wong

JJ, MA, KW: 2.5%

JJ, KW, MA: 6.6%

Kolten Wong, Jon Jay, Matt Adams: 30.3%

KW, MA, JJ: 41.4%

MA. JJ, KW: 6.1%

MA, KW, JJ: 13.1%

At 2.3 fWAR, Wong easily paced this trio. Adams and Jay were both injured for much of the year and ineffective when on the field. Jay's good defensive rating in a limited sample size gave him 0.3 fWAR against Adam's 0.1, a meaningless difference in a meaningless stat in this context.

Question 14: Rank according to fWAR, most to least: Jason Heyward, Jhonny Peralta, Matt Carpenter

Jason Heyward, Matt Carpenter, Jhonny Peralta: 54.5%

JH, JP, MC: 23.7%

JP, MC, JH: 0.5%

JP, JH, MC: 4.5%

MC, JH, JP: 13.6%

MC, JP, JH: 3%

Jason Heyward reached 6 WAR for the second time in his career, Matt Carpenter's surprising power was a big component that helped him to 5.2 and Jhonny Peralta saw a decline in all phases of his game. He did not grade out  well defensively for the first time since 2010. He will be 34 next year so it's hard not to wonder if this is the beginning of a trend.

For the-breakers, our average predictions were 24.5 SB for Kolten Wong and 18.9 for Jason Heyward. We had it backward. Heyward finished with 23 and Wong with 15. Notably, Heyward was only caught thrice. Wong was not nearly so efficient.

Winners, loser

With 11 correct answers, the winner this year is longtime member of the VEB commentariat, VolsnCards5. Congratulations. You have your choice of the master set of the Cardinals included in this year's Topps heritage series (26 cards) OR an autographed Carlos Martinez card from 2013. Email me at the address in my profile with your choice and your address and I'll ship it out to you.

Second place goes to Rod Farva, whose tie break error of just two put him at the top of 11 entries with nine correct. Let me know your address and I'll ship out the second place prize, whichever of the two above VolsnCards declines.

Others with nine correct include b, praxpop, avs19fan, tf inked, redbirds34, Catapults, amiesner, Cardsfan7575, Red Whitey, and Hats for Matts. You all can send me your address if you like, but you're not getting anything, Good job, anyhow.

And that brings us to the grand loser who had just three correct but had the misfortune of doing well on the tie-break (as in years past, the tie-break works normally even at the bottom to prevent tanking for the first pick in next year's predictions contest). San3Zone, send me your address if you see this and I will send you the booby prize for this year's contest. If you do not see this in the next week, the horrible, horrible prize I have selected will instead go to someone else who got just three correct and was only slightly worse at the tie-break: VEB moderator mojowo11.

Special thanks to Robth for his help in sifting results from all the entries. I'm pretty sure he somehow rigged the formula to knock my entry down to 194th place, but I can't prove anything yet.

You can find your responses and check out scores in the summary tab by clicking here.

See you next year in the sixth annual VEB predictions contest (with prizes!)