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Cardinals Report Card: Position Players

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If Jeff Gordon can do this, so can I.

Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Jeff Gordon graded the Cardinals players and I’m here to comment on them. In years’ past, I’ve quoted him and said something in response, but I don’t think that’s very productive. Instead, I’ll look at his grade and his comments, respond to it and only quote when I think it merits special mention.

So I’m going to essentially react to the grades Gordon gives Cardinals players for their 2018 season. I have not currently looked at the grades yet so whatever I write down is my literal first reaction to it. I will comment on it, perhaps look at his reasoning, and offer my own take. I will try to be nice.

Matt Carpenter - A-

To me, here’s where the grade format gets confusing. Carpenter was the Cardinals best player and over the whole season, he exceeded expectations. I understand he had two bad months. I’m sure that’s why it’s a minus. But if Carpenter isn’t getting an A, I’m not sure anyone else deserves to get one. He played better than what we predicted. This isn’t a case of expectations bringing the grade down. By any reasonable measure, Carpenter deserves a straight A. But anyway, I’m sort of getting preemptively frustrated for whatever player does get an A instead of Carpenter than having too much off a beef with this particular grade.

My grade - A

Patrick Wisdom - B

This is actually pretty fair. All things considered, he didn’t have that great of a season in AAA. He had a 120 wRC+, but needed a .371 BABIP to do it. His previous career high was .346, which happened in 2012 at Batavia. That’s right, he did it so long ago that the Low A affiliate is now State College. But his MLB performance exceeded my expectations. I didn’t even know he was capable of a 141 wRC+ stretch in 58 PAs.

My grade - B+

Paul DeJong - B

I would probably have given DeJong a straight A for his season. It’s arguable DeJong had a better season than last season, and I am not making that argument purely by WAR (3.3 this year to 3 last year). No, DeJong became just a better, more sustainably good hitter despite putting up a worse line. He improved his walk rate from 4.7% to 7.3%, and his K% went down from 28% to 25.1%. He also was obviously hampered from a broken wrist for a good part of the season that artificially weighed down his numbers. His BABIP was only .288 and I expect it to be higher than that going forward. While I don’t really trust his specific UZR number of +9.3 this year, we now have more data that says DeJong is an above average shortstop. If he’s anywhere near +9.3, wow do we have quite the player on our hands. If you are like me and think his power was affected by his wrist, you also think he can have an ISO greater than .193. He had 490 PAs and 3.3 WAR and I think he can seriously improve on that. God I am excited for Paul DeJong. Anyway, Gordon gave him a B and I thought it would be lower (because of the .241 average) and it probably would have been, but Gordon rationalized the B because of his average with RISP, which ok.

My grade - A

Yairo Munoz - B-

Again, this is pretty spot on to me. Munoz ended up with a 106 wRC+ with a .338 BABIP, which I consider very encouraging considering he had a learning curve of 20-30 PAs where he was absolutely awful to start the season. I also don’t really think he’s as bad as the defensive numbers indicate and make no mistake, they are baaaad. But the sample is really short. It is such a small sample that you’re basically better off ignoring it. Granted, I do think he’s below average at defense, at least right now. But I doubt he’s a contender for worst defender in the league at every position he plays (which is what the numbers say). Put it this way. A good sample of innings at a particular position is 3,500 innings. The most innings Munoz has at any position is 300. That is 8.6% of a good sample.

My grade - B-

Kolten Wong - C+

Oh I got beef with this one. Let me just note one particular quote he says about Wong. “His uncommon defensive range allowed him to slay the defensive runs saved metrics.” Don’t try to be hip Jeff please. Gordon appears to give him a C+ based off his low average of .249 and the fact that he got injured multiple times. But fun fact about Wong’s 2018 season. It was his second best offensive season of his career with a 98 wRC+. That’s right. I would really like to see Wong put all of it together for one season. Hopefully his defense is here to stay for next year. He is also capable of an offensive breakout. His 98 wRC+ was with a .275 BABIP, which is 12 points lower than his career BABIP. Duplicate his defensive and offensive season, but give him a more favorable BABIP instead (say above .300), and keep him healthy for 600 PAs, and Wong is quite a dangerous player.

My grade - A-

Jedd Gyorko - C

In baseball terms, I tend to think a C is more indicative of a bad player than an average one. Over 402 PAs, Jedd Gyorko was a 1.4 WAR player, or 2.1 per 600 PAs. Gordon notes that Gyorko’s power sort of evaporated and it kind of did to be fair. Gyorko was a 112 wRC+ hitter his first two years in St. Louis and he was a 110 wRC+ hitter this year, so I’m not sure a C is justified by expectations either. He very nearly played up to expectations, except injuries got in the way. Is Gordon penalizing players for injuries? I really can’t tell.

My grade - B

Matt Adams - C-

Not entirely fair, but you could easily argue Adams deserves a lower grade than this. He was very bad with the Cardinals.

My grade - D-

Greg Garcia - D

It’s appropriate this follows Adams, who most definitely deserves a lower grade than Greg. Not only was Greg a better hitter than Adams this year, but he plays middle infield and 3B competently while Adams plays 1B and he does so in the most average way possible. Ironically, I think you can give Garcia a C-. Anyway, Garcia was not nearly as bad on the Cardinals as you probably think.

My grade - C

Yadier Molina - A+

Uh okay. Of all players, Molina’s 2.2 WAR gets an A+. Now you could of course argue he deserves higher because WAR doesn’t capture catcher defense well, and I do agree with that. I also don’t really think Molina is a good defender at this point in his career (hot take alert). I’m not saying he’s unplayable or anything, but he just very clearly has declined as a defender in my opinion. So injuries do not appear to factor into grades (or they do and he’s giving Molina extra credit for it, which is fair enough really)

My grade - A-

Francisco Pena - C

Alright let’s break down what he said to give him the same grade as Jedd Gyorko. “With Molina shelved through most of May, Pena stepped up to hit .254 with two doubles and two homers that month while getting most of the fill-in starts.” First off, really? Good god how bad did he do the rest of the year? For what it’s worth, that .254 average translated to a 78 wRC+. If, like me, you think his defense is horrible, he was still a very bad player in May. “Although he hit .203 in very limited action overall, he did a nice job handling pitchers as Molina’s on-field extension.” It’s possible he did. It’s not something you can prove and I certainly can’t refute that point. I doubt he was good enough at it that it outweighed the fact that he was bad at literally everything else at catcher.

My grade - F

Carson Kelly - D

I think I’ve accepted that people think 131 career major league plate appearances means more than the fact that Kelly had as many walks as strikeouts in AAA, walking and striking out at a 13.8% rate, both of which are pretty elite. If he ever got a serious look at the big leagues, we might see this. He got 42 PAs in 19 games, which is somehow less of a look than he got last year. Kelly is still 24, and in fact turns 25 in the middle of July next year, which means next season is still his age 24 season. At this point, it seems like you either trade him or make him Yadi’s backup and just play him more than Yadi’s backups usually play, because I don’t really think more time in AAA is doing anything.

My grade - Incomplete

Jose Martinez - A-

This, I did not expect. Given the grades for Wong and DeJong, and now Martinez, I’m sensing that Gordon barely factors in defense with these grades. He credits Martinez for never batting lower than .262 in a month (I’m struggling at this point to keep reading. I can only read about how important batting average and RISP is for so long). Anyway, I do not actually have a problem with the A-, because this is probably close to the best version of Jose Martinez.

My grade - B+

Harrison Bader - B+

Jeff you’re just laying these on a tee for me. Right after I mention that you clearly don’t care about defense, you support that point further by giving Bader, who was a better player than Jose in 2018, a lower grade than Jose. Not only was he a better player, he vastly exceeded expectations. Nobody, and I mean nobody, expected Bader to accumulate 3.5 WAR this year. Unfortunately, his offense seems eh (106 wRC+ with a .358 BABIP is not particularly promising for the future unless he can make improvements), but fortunately that doesn’t seem to matter as much with his defense.

My grade - A

Tyler O’Neill - B

I completely agree with this grade. I have no further comment.

My grade - B (I wasn’t kidding)

Marcell Ozuna - C+

I think this is a little harsh. His September redeemed him a little. Though Jeff’s comment about Ozuna’s September is rage-inducing. “Ozuna was slightly better in September after getting a cortisone shot in the joint, hitting .309 with seven homers and 19 RBIs.” Ozuna hit 16 homers over the first five months and 7 in the sixth and that’s slightly better? I’ll pull out the wRC+ in a second, but even by traditional stats, that is a vast improvement over what he did before. Anyway, he had a 144 wRC+ in September. He ended up having a 106 wRC+, which clearly is a disappointment, but given his 2.7 WAR over the year, he at least warrants somewhere in the B range.

My grade - B

Dexter Fowler - F

Harsh, but fair.

My grade - F (sorry Dex)

Field Staff - C-

I don’t know how to comment on this, because he bewilderingly combines both Shildt and Matheny’s tenure as one in his grading. I don’t know why he didn’t give separate grades to Matheny and Shildt since basically the entire field staff outside of Mike Maddux was different in the 1st and 2nd halves.

1st half field staff - D+

2nd half field staff - B

Front Office - D

“While the Brewers aggressively went for it, other teams, like the Cardinals played it safer.” Well yeah. One unfortunate side effect of having a great second half that falls just short of the postseason is people then point to the fact that if we added someone, we could have made it. You want to know the Cards record on July 31? It was 54-53. You know what the Brewers record was? 63-47. Why are we comparing the two teams at the deadline? Giving up assets for the chance that the team will go on a hot streak is not very smart. Anyway, the Tommy Pham trade wasn’t good, so I’ll give them an in-season C.

My grade - C

I expected worse. To be clear, giving Jedd Gyorko and Francisco Pena the same grade makes me question your baseball intelligence. Giving Jose Martinez a better grade than Harrison Bader also makes no sense at all. Everyone seems to hate Greg Garcia now, so maybe I only have a problem with him getting a lower grade than Matt Adams. I do not blame Adams for being bad, but the fact is that he was. Again, combining the field staff’s 1st and 2nd half makes no sense! I feel like he wanted to give Shildt a bad grade because of the last week, couldn’t really justify the C- on him alone and combined him with the 1st half.

Gordon also graded the pitchers, but frankly, this post would be double the size of what it is right now, and that’s about double the size this post should be. I will probably get to the pitchers next week, but I can’t promise anything, because that’s making a promise that I will voluntarily read more Jeff Gordon and that’s not something I’m currently willing to commit to at the moment. Which grade of Gordon’s makes you the most frustrated?