As the Cardinals uneasily lurch towards the All-Star break, it’s hard to get a handle on the team. Every time you think you have them pigeonholed, they change the narrative up a bit. Think them through in your head. Before the season, they were an outfield-led team with two potential MVP candidates in left and center. The biggest question mark in the lineup was probably Paul DeJong- he’d had such an odd batting line in 2017 that there was some fear that the league would figure him out. Fast forward to today- the outfielders have all disappointed to one degree or another, and DeJong lit the world on fire before breaking his hand and spending a few months on the DL. Starting pitching felt kind of like the opposite. There was Carlos Martinez, and then a lot of guys with question marks. This hasn’t exactly worked out as expected either- the starting pitching has been stellar despite the unfortunate Alex Reyes injury and Martinez’s time on the DL. The bullpen… okay fine, we had the bullpen pretty pegged.
In any case, with half the season in the books, I thought it would be a good time to take a quick look at how much projections have changed across the roster. To do so, I’m going to take preseason and rest-of-season ZiPS projections and compare. I’m using ZiPS only because it’s the most convenient projection system to run comparisons with due to the way the data is presented. That said, projection systems mostly tended to agree on the Cardinals this year, so it should be a reasonably representative sample. Let’s get started!
Yadier Molina (.317 vs .303 wOBA)
Jose Martinez (.345 vs .331 wOBA)
Yairo Munoz (.291 vs .280 wOBA)
Harrison Bader (.309 vs .301 wOBA)
Paul DeJong (.328 vs .320 wOBA)
Matt Carpenter (.367 vs .360 wOBA)
Mostly, just some hitters off to good starts. Two names really stick out here- first, if you’d asked me what would happen to Matt Carpenter’s projections a month into the season, let’s just say I would have been off by a little bit. His return to form has been nothing short of amazing, and ZiPS thinks he’ll keep it up- his rest-of-season projection is higher than his career average, pretty remarkable for a 32-year-old. Yairo Munoz sticks out for the opposite reason- he’s ridden a .363 BABIP to a somewhat acceptable line this year, but he’s still projected to be the worst hitter on the team (aside from Francisco Pena) going forward. His projection has improved because he was projected to be REALLY BAD.
Hitters Holding Steady
Tyler O’Neill (.335 vs .331 wOBA)
Greg Garcia (.301 vs .298 wOBA)
Luke Voit (.329 vs .326 wOBA)
Jedd Gyorko (.336 vs .335 wOBA)
Not much to see here, aside from the fact that Greg Garcia continues to produce at a better level than the projections, and they continue not to care. He’s running a .310 wOBA so far this year, the lowest of his career, but the projections STILL think he’ll do worse going forward. We’ll see, projections. We’ll see.
Tommy Pham (.342 vs .348 wOBA)
Kolten Wong (.316 vs .324 wOBA)
Marcell Ozuna (.340 vs .349 wOBA)
Francisco Pena (.269 vs .280 wOBA)
Dexter Fowler (.320 vs .343 wOBA)
Ah, the starting outfield. Pham and Ozuna have just been marginally disappointing, but Fowler’s projections have taken a tailspin. While he’s still projected to be a better hitter than Bader, it’s not by very much anymore, and he’s projected to just be straight up worse than O’Neill going forward. What’s truly remarkable about this is that it’s not coming from strikeouts and walks, where he’s held fairly steady. It’s all BABIP and ISO- essentially, the projections just don’t think he will hit the ball very hard going forward. I want to disbelieve them, but it’s getting harder and harder as the weeks go by.
This was not nearly as bleak as I expected. It feels to me like the Cardinals have had a pretty disappointing offensive season, but they sit more or less middle of the pack in wRC+ on the year, and their overall projections have actually improved. The infield’s sneaky, nearly across the board improvement has more than made up for declines across the outfield. When you add in the fact that Fowler has been more or less phased out, things could be looking much worse for the Cardinals offense going forward. Even marginally worse versions of Pham and Ozuna are pretty good hitters, and the infield looks quite solid.
Jordan Hicks (3.92 vs 5.05 ERA)
Miles Mikolas (3.9 vs 4.13 ERA)
John Brebbia (3.74 vs 3.91 ERA)
Mike Mayers (4.87 vs 5.02 ERA)
John Gant (4.56 vs 4.67 ERA)
Bud Norris (4.27 vs 4.37 ERA)
Greg Holland somehow (3.53 vs 3.61 ERA)
Well, you’ve got some highlights and some lowlights here. Jordan Hicks started out with so little fanfare that he literally did not have ZiPS projections- I had to use Steamer (another Fangraphs projection system) for him. Now he’s a firebreathing dragon. Miles Mikolas and John Brebbia have been excellent this year, and have seen their projections improve. Greg Holland- wait, what?? I have to admit that I don’t exactly understand this one. ZiPS has him striking out 10.5 per 9 and walking only 5 per 9 the rest of the way, which doesn’t look very much like what we’ve seen this year at all. I do think that there’s some aspect of Coors Field that made his projections coming into the year look ‘too high,’ but this projection still looks like nonsense to me. A lot of pleasant surprises aside from him, though.
Pitchers Holding Steady
Jack Flaherty (4.02 vs 4.04 ERA)
Carlos Martinez (3.39 vs 3.36 ERA)
Austin Gomber (4.79 vs 4.71 ERA)
Sam Tuivailala (3.5 vs 3.4 ERA)
Honestly, I expected to see Flaherty in the ‘pitchers rising’ section. The thing is, though, he already had a great projection- there just isn’t that much room to improve. He was projected to be roughly the third-best starter on the team this year, with Weaver and Martinez ahead of him. He’s still projected to be roughly the third-best starter- Mikolas passed him while Weaver went the other way (oooooh, foreshadowing). Carlos remains excellent, and is essentially unchanged versus the preseason, bouts of wildness and all.
Michael Wacha (4.22 vs 4.02 ERA)
Luke Gregerson (3.61 vs 3.34 ERA)
Tyler Lyons (3.89 vs 3.62 ERA)
Luke Weaver (4.05 vs 3.77 ERA)
Matt Bowman (3.91 vs 3.54 ERA)
Brett Cecil (3.74 vs 3.26 ERA)
Sigh. Having two legitimate starters on here doesn’t feel great. It also doesn’t feel wrong- Weaver and Wacha have generally disappointed this year, though they both project to be at least decent going forward. The rest is basically what you’d expect- an island of misfit relievers. Brett Cecil has long been a projection system oddity, projected to be a valuable reliever despite career ERA and FIP in the 4’s. Matt Bowman is Matt Bowman at this point- he exists, but that’s kind of the best you can hope for.
The pitching staff’s projections, on the whole, are a bit less rosy than the hitting projections. That really surprised me at first- if you asked me, I’d say the Cardinals hitters were doing their best to implode while the starting pitching held the team together. The starters have been good, no doubt. They haven’t been overwhelming, though- they’ve basically been what projections expected, give or take a Weaver or a Mikolas. The bullpen, on the other hand, is all over the place. Hicks, Brebbia, and Mayers are steaming along (and Mayers’ projections are going to be light for quite a while given his conversion from starting to relieving), but the back end of the bullpen has been plagued by underperformance so far this year, and projections think those relievers have all gotten worse.
Where does this leave us overall? Well, honestly, you’ve heard this narrative before. The Cardinals hitters are projected to be a little better than league average going forward, just like they were before the season started. The Cardinals pitchers are projected to be a little better than league average going forward, just like they were before the season started. The Cardinals fans are projected to be a little more ornery than league average, just like they were before the season started. Thrilling!
Programming note: I’m going to be off this Saturday and next Tuesday. I have a pretty good excuse- I’m getting married on Saturday! I’ll be back a week from Saturday for more of the same self-doubting analysis you know and hopefully love.