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Cardinal stock watch

A look at how much each Cardinal has raised or lowered his stock in 2017

St Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

While the Cardinals fate in 2017 is still to be decided, the season is getting pretty close to the end. It’s times like these where I like to size up the team, and see how things have changed since the start of the year. To do so, we’ll utilize the public projections.

People have a lot of hard opinions on the projections. I try not to rely on them myself. After all, I wouldn’t have much to analyze if I just took the projections for granted. I do however, see them as a great starting point. No other source really takes the time to estimate the value of each and every player in a systematic and objective way. Sure, each player is an unique snowflake with an unknown future, and no algorithm is going to fully appreciate that. They’re the best we have though, at least in the public sphere. They also update throughout the season, to take the newest information into account.

Fangraphs hosts the two best public projection systems, Zips and Steamer. They average the two to form their Depth Chart projections, and that’s what we’ll use today. Let’s start with hitters. Here is each Cardinal with 200 plate appearances in the majors this year, along with their preseason projected wOBA, their actual wOBA in 2017, and their projected wOBA the rest of the season. This table and the next two are both sortable, so you can play around if you want:

Cardinal hitter projections and results

Cardinal 2017 PA preseason projected wOBA 2017 wOBA ROS projected wOBA Over/Under performance Projection change
Cardinal 2017 PA preseason projected wOBA 2017 wOBA ROS projected wOBA Over/Under performance Projection change
Tommy Pham 497 .316 .397 .353 .081 .037
Paul DeJong 465 .291 .355 .318 .064 .027
Jose Martinez 288 .309 .377 .328 .068 .019
Dexter Fowler 465 .334 .366 .348 .032 .014
Kolten Wong 402 .314 .341 .326 .027 .012
Jedd Gyorko 459 .321 .340 .331 .019 .010
Matt Carpenter 600 .352 .361 .361 .009 .009
Greg Garcia 271 .299 .321 .305 .022 .006
Yadier Molina 538 .314 .318 .319 .004 .005
Stephen Piscotty 377 .333 .323 .332 -.010 -.001
Randal Grichuk 424 .323 .310 .319 -.013 -.004
Aledmys Diaz 288 .333 .293 .320 -.040 -.013

For extra context, the league average non-pitcher wOBA has raised .003 points this year, from .323 to .326. wOBA is not park adjusted, so average for a Cardinal is a few points lower than that.

The first three probably doesn’t surprise you. Tommy Pham, Paul DeJong, and Jose Martinez have all raised their stock considerably in 2017. I also provided the plate appearance numbers, so you can see how much time each player had to adjust expectations. That’s probably most of the reason Martinez’s projection has “only” raised .019 points despite doing .068 points better than expected.

2017 has seen Tommy emerge as a phorce: Going forward, he’s projected for the 38th best wOBA in baseball. Add on that’s he’s been worth 5 1/2 runs per full season’s worth of plate appearances, and the projections see him as a 3 12 to 4 win player over a full season.

DeJong is still projected as a below average hitter, but now he’s only seen as 5% worse instead of 20%. With seemingly at least cromulent defense at short, that makes him an above-average player overall, instead of the replacement level one they saw him as preseason.

And that brings us to Jose Martinez. Martinez overall now sits as a slightly above-average hitter according to the projections. He also has added positive value on the bases so far. The defensive value from Jose is a lot more questionable than Paul though, since he plays farther down the defensive spectrum.

It’s just not those three who have beat expectations though. The lineup is filled with players performing better than they expected. Dexter Fowler, Kolten Wong, Jedd Gyorko, and Matt Carpenter have all exceeded the projections’ expectations, and have thus raised expectations going forward.

Yadier Molina and Greg Garcia also earned a modest increase in expectations. While it’s not much, any increase from Yadi at this stage should be celebrated, considering he begins a new three year contract next year that will run through his age 37 season. I seemed to be higher on the new Yadi deal than most when it was signed, and I feel a little bit easier about it now that he’s held his own again this season.

The projections only see a very small drop in Stephen Piscotty’s stock, though that’s largely because they didn’t believe he was as good as his results implied. Piscotty held a .350 wOBA going into the season, but that was largely propped up by a .334 BABIP. The projections expected a .313 BABIP preseason, above-average but quite the dip from his career numbers. He’s also featured an increased walk rate this year, which helps cancel out some of the poor results on-contact.

The biggest drop unsurprisingly comes from Aledmys Diaz. After posting a 79 wRC+ in 288 plate appearances at the big league level, things haven’t turned around. In 187 plate appearances at Triple-A, he’s struggled to a 77 wRC+, despite facing worse competition. Honestly, I’m surprised the drop isn’t larger.

The projections currently see Diaz and DeJong as roughly equal. That they still have that much faith in Diaz is surprising, as things looked really bad the last time we saw him in MLB games. My first reaction is to think the projections are being conservative, but they also have a much better understanding than myself of how players like him rebound. The data suggests he isn’t completely toast. There is some bounce-back value there.

Starting pitcher projections and results

Starting pitcher IP preseason projected FIP 2017 FIP 2017 xFIP ROS projected FIP over/under performance Projection change
Starting pitcher IP preseason projected FIP 2017 FIP 2017 xFIP ROS projected FIP over/under performance Projection change
Luke Weaver 47 2/3 3.85 2.21 2.24 3.55 -1.64 -0.30
Michael Wacha 159 2/3 4.01 3.63 3.90 3.89 -0.38 -0.12
Adam Wainwright 121 1/3 3.85 4.28 4.34 3.95 0.43 0.10
Carlos Martinez 200 2/3 3.59 3.91 3.61 3.71 0.32 0.12
Lance Lynn 180 2/3 3.96 4.76 4.72 4.46 0.80 0.50

For extra reference, average starter FIP in 2017 is 4.49, up from 4.30 the year before. FIP isn’t park adjusted, so a Cardinal would have to be a few points lower than that to be average.

No surprise that Luke Weaver is the leader here. The stats and the scouts continue to clash on Weaver. The projections already thought he was an above-average starting pitcher going into the year, but a lot of scouts still don’t think the breaking ball is MLB ready, and fastball/change-up guys don’t get much love from prospect evaluators.

He’s spent a lot of time in Triple-A thanks to good health from the rotation, but once promoted he struck out more than 11 hitters per 9 and walked less than 2 per 9, all while calming worries about some homeritis he suffered in 2016. Obviously it’s a small sample size, but he’s also been dominant: among 199 pitchers with 40 or more innings as a starter this year, Luke Weaver has the best FIP and the best xFIP. Truly amazing.

On the other end of the spectrum, Lance Lynn has tumbled in 2016. While his ERA continues to look fine, this is an illusion. His strikeout rate is at a career low and his walk rate is at a career high. Lance has been one of my favorite Cardinal pitchers for a long time, but it looks like the Cards are ending their relationship with him at just the right time. OK, the right time would have been right before Tommy John Surgery, but you know what I mean.

With average FIP raising 0.19 points this year, just holding ground would be admirable. Wacha did that and more, lowering his expectations 0.12 points of FIP in 2017. He’s also only one start away from his second 30 start season in three years. All pitchers are constantly at risk of an injury, but for a while there it looked like Wacha was doomed to a Jaime Garcia-level injury risk. Perhaps he and the Cards have found something that works for him.

Carlos Martinez and Adam Wainwright have both raised their projected FIP, but in the face of an increased run environment, they’ve actually about stood pat. I know it’s been a frustratingly inconsistent year for Carlos, because we can all see the ace inside of him. He’s still been very good though, and with better home run numbers would be bordering on great.

Mike Leake wasn’t included here, as he’s no longer a Cardinal. His projection is rather strange though. He entered the year with a 4.04 projected FIP, and answered that with a 3.89 FIP and similar 3.92 xFIP. However, his projection has went up to 4.24. The projections see something in his profile that suggests that Leake has declined this year, despite his FIP beating expectations. Did the Cardinals notice that same something, and did that influence their decision to essentially salary dump him to the Mariners?

And finally, we’ll look at the relievers:

Relief pitcher projections and results

Name 2017 IP preseason projected FIP 2017 FIP 2017 xFIP ROS projected FIP Over/under performance Projected change
Name 2017 IP preseason projected FIP 2017 FIP 2017 xFIP ROS projected FIP Over/under performance Projected change
Seung Hwan Oh 57 1/3 2.89 4.15 4.85 3.56 1.26 0.67
Brett Cecil 62 1/3 2.90 3.22 3.71 3.27 0.32 0.37
Tyler Lyons 52 3.65 2.92 3.72 3.66 -0.73 0.01
Samuel Tuivailala 36 1/3 3.72 4.01 4.25 3.97 0.29 0.25
Matt Bowman 56 1/3 3.73 3.72 4.32 3.84 -0.01 0.11

Average reliever FIP has raised from 3.99 in 2016 to 4.16 in 2017. Again, FIP is not park-adjusted.

You might notice that there’s only five pitchers listed, quite a bit less than the current major league bullpen or the total relievers used throughout the year. Trevor Rosenthal isn’t included, as their didn’t seem to be much of a reason to do so. Many of the other relievers weren’t projected by both systems before the year, or have contributed too few of innings at the major league level to warrant inclusion.

Woof. You probably didn’t need to see the numbers to know the main pieces of the bullpen has been bad, but there you go. Brett Cecil, Seung Hwan Oh, and Samuel Tuivailala have all lowered their stock considerably. The one other bright spot besides Rosenthal - Tyler Lyons - has really only looked great thanks to a really low home run rate. Holding his projection despite the increased run environment is an improvement though. The bullpen is a mess right now, and fixing it should be at or near the top of the front office’s to-do list this winter.

Overall, what does all this mean? The Cardinals’ offense as a whole has increased their stock considerably. The Fowler deal looks a little more justified according to the projections. I personally thought they’ve been low on Dexter for a while, so it’s good see him bumped up. They have a much improved outlook on DeJong, along with the rest of us, but the current projection still spells caution. They also haven’t completely given up on Diaz. It’s hard not to see shortstop as DeJong’s to lose going forward, but he could, and it’s nice to have Diaz around in case he can turn it around.

While scouts still differ on Weaver’s future, the data-centric models continue to like him. You’d have to be way lower than the projections to believe he isn’t fit to be at least a 5th starter for a team with playoff aspirations. Weaver is here to stay. The current version of Lance Lynn just isn’t the same one that was 20th in fWAR from 2012 to 2015. The projections would also have us believe that Waino is still likely to be an above-average starter in the majors going forward.

The projections are just that though, objective but not perfect. Everyone is free to differ with them, as I’ve done throughout this process. Where do you think the projections are off? Whose 2017 is closer to his true talent level going forward than the projections suggest? Who is going to regress harder than the projections believe? Let me know, VEB.