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Revisiting Preseason Projections: Offense Edition

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Which Cardinals bats rose above exceptions and who floundered in 2018?

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

For as turbulent as 2018 has been for the Cardinals, they have, by and large, performed to expectations despite seemingly nothing (injuries, a midseason managerial change, etc.) transpiring as originally expected. They entered the season with a projected win total in the 85-90 window, enough to ensure them a spot in the thick of the National League wild card race. Fast forward to the final week of the regular season, and the Cardinals find themselves in the 85-90 win range and fighting to hold off the Rockies for the second wild card.

Although preseason projection models were generally accurate in predicting St. Louis’ overall team performance, the way in which those games were won differed greatly from how we would have anticipated back in March. What follows is a side-by-side comparison of projected versus actual playing time and value produced for the Cardinals this season. I used FanGraphs’ depth charts, utilizing a hybrid of the ZiPS and Steamer models, for the preseason projections and FanGraphs’ calculation of WAR for observed player value.

We’ll begin by reviewing the seasons of the eight position players who we expected to serve as everyday starters.

Projections Overview: Starting Lineup

Name Projected PAs Actual PAs Difference Projected WAR Actual WAR Difference
Name Projected PAs Actual PAs Difference Projected WAR Actual WAR Difference
Total 4773 3694 -1079 20.8 17.9 -2.9
Dexter Fowler 616 334 -282 2.2 -1.1 -3.3
Jedd Gyorko 597 381 -216 2.5 1.8 -0.7
Tommy Pham 612 396 -216 3.2 1.5 -1.7
Kolten Wong 560 396 -164 2.2 2.8 0.6
Paul DeJong 616 459 -157 2.0 3.0 1.0
Yadier Molina 547 480 -67 2.5 2.5 0.0
Marcell Ozuna 616 603 -13 3.4 2.5 -0.9
Matt Carpenter 609 645 36 2.8 4.9 2.1

Right off the bat, we see that the Cardinals lost five wins from their projection between the lack of production they received from Tommy Pham and Dexter Fowler. (As an aside, it should be noted that Pham’s 2018 fWAR stands at 3.5 when adding his recent tear with the Rays since being traded.) Matt Carpenter’s extended surge helped to compensate for some of this lost value while Paul DeJong and Kolten Wong have both been incredibly efficient in 2018 thanks in large part to superb defensive metrics. They both spent time on the disabled list this year, but thus far have combined for an additional 1.6 wins in 321 fewer plate appearances than initially projected. Jedd Gyorko is actually on pace to surpass his projected WAR had he stayed on the field enough to garner the requisite playing time and Yadier Molina has already matched his 2.5 WAR projection even after missing 32 games to injury.

Projections Overview: Bench

Name Projected PAs Actual PAs Difference Projected WAR Actual WAR Difference
Name Projected PAs Actual PAs Difference Projected WAR Actual WAR Difference
Total 995 1785 790 1.3 6.2 4.9
Jose Martinez 341 558 217 0.8 1.8 1.0
Harrison Bader 35 399 364 0.0 3.6 3.6
Yairo Munoz 271 310 39 -0.1 0.3 0.4
Greg Garcia 238 205 -33 0.4 0.3 -0.1
Francisco Pena 51 137 86 0.1 -0.6 -0.7
Tyler O'Neill 14 134 120 0.0 1.2 1.2
Carson Kelly 45 42 -3 0.1 -0.4 -0.5

The Cardinals recoup all the projected wins the starters didn’t amass and then some through the players who opened the season as prospective bench bats. Francisco Peña and Carson Kelly have provided virtually nothing at the backup catcher position, but Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill went from casualties of playing in an organization with three solidified starting outfielders in Ozuna, Pham, and Fowler to posting what could exceed five wins by year’s end. Steamer and ZiPS rather conservatively projected wRC+ marks of 106 and 104, respectively, for Jose Martinez (for context, 100 is league average hitting production), compared to his actual 125 wRC+, which trails only Matt Carpenter among Cardinals with at least 100 plate appearances.

Speaking in terms of playoff odds, last night’s loss paired with the Rockies’ win culminated in the most drastic single-day dip St. Louis has suffered all year long. But to paraphrase what A.E. Schafer wrote yesterday, it’s remarkable that the Cardinals even find themselves in this situation. Their 40-23 record–good for a roughly 103-win pace–since Mike Shildt took the helm is best in the entire National League. It will obviously sting, of course, if the Rockies overtake the Cardinals and pull away with the second wild card, but it has still been an amazing ride nonetheless watching this team transform over the past few months.

I’ll see you again when I review the preseason projections for the pitching staff, a.k.a. the one where the Cardinals pillage a Memphis Redbirds’ roster that somehow still wins the national championship.