Grab your pitchfork, musket, or unopened box of Willie McGee Cookies, it’s time to band together and stand up to one of the bigger insults of our time: the 2017 PECOTA projections. The Cardinals, our Cardinals, are projected to win a mere 76 games. That’s out of 162, I believe. The last time a year passed without the Cardinals logging at least a 78 in the “W” column was a year that saw Star Wars: A Phantom Menace take home honors as the top grossing movie. I refuse to return to those days. I can’t. I won’t.
Before we figure out how we’re going to fight this, let’s take a look at how PECOTA arrived at this wretched conclusion. First, they’re not seeing a lot of upside in the eight position players who will be regularly taking the field at Busch Stadium. This was touched on in my column on the 2017 Baseball Prospectus Annual, but PECOTA, and by extension Baseball Prospectus, thinks Yadier Molina will be the Cardinals’ most valuable player by WARP at 2.5. The only other players rated at least two wins above an AAA lifer, an assembled cast of which would win around 40-45 games (otherwise known as the 2003 Detroit Tigers), are Matt Carpenter (2.4), Stephen Piscotty (2.3), Kolten Wong (2.1), and Aledmys Diaz (2.0).
Meanwhile, PECOTA projects six Chicago Cubs to be worth 2.5 WARP or better, as well as three Pirates. Even the Reds and Brewers have a player (you can probably guess who they are) rising above the coveted three-win mark. Stack up the Cardinals and Cubs side-by-side and the good guys only come out ahead at the catcher position (Molina – 2.5 vs. Willson Contreras – 2.2) and center field (Dexter Fowler – 1.9 vs. Jon Jay – 0.9).
As for the pitching, well…
Want to know why PECOTA thinks the #StLCards will win 77 games? It prefers Anthony DeSclafani to every Cards SP by at least half a win.— Matthew Trueblood (@MATrueblood) February 7, 2017
Mike Leake is projected to be the Cardinals’ most valuable pitcher (1.8 WARP) mainly because he’s the only starter pegged to come within earshot of throwing 200 innings. Carlos Martinez, our recently extended golden boy, will have an ERA of 4.20, so says these PECOTA monsters. I can hardly bear to look at the rest.
So how shall we rise against? For starters, there’s the Cardinals’ perpetual “high floor.” Oh, how the Cardinals love their high floor. In my head John Mozeliak lives in the penthouse of the tallest building in St. Louis only with ceilings so low he moves from room to room on the train from Silver Spoons. But seven of the Cardinals’ eight non-pitching spots are projected to be worth at least 1.3 WARP. That doesn’t sound like much but take a look at the low end for some of the other teams in the NL Central and it plays pretty well. The outlier is third base, but I think a combination of a healthy Jhonny Peralta and Jedd “I’m here to hit bombs” Gyorko will hold their own. On the pitching side, the lowest projected Cardinal starter is Tommy John recoveree-Lance Lynn at an even 1.0. Every other club in the NL Central has a starter pegged to be worse.
Also, these are PECOTA projections. It’s the Cardinals business to outperform their PECOTA projections. Last season the Cardinals were picked to win 82 and they won 86. In 2015, PECOTA said 89 and the Cardinals won 100. In 2014, PECOTA projected zero games in which the Cardinals would get four hits by the way of the bunt and lo and behold they pulled it off. The list goes on.
There’s more. The Reds and Brewers should still be lousy in 2017 and the Cardinals play them a combined 38 times. The Cardinals held their own against a 103-win juggernaut in 2016, so there’s no telling what sort of damage they’ll do against a hungover Cubs team projected to win only 90 measly games. And in what universe could the Pirates have recovered from this by now? Not this universe.
So mark my words, PECOTA will rue this day. The Cardinals will own the Central in ’17. The Phantom Menace will continue to be bad. Order will be restored. Viva el Birdos!