I would love to comment on the important series win against the 2nd place Milwaukee Brewers, but I missed every inning of every game. I worked 20 hours on Friday and Saturday combined and then attended a surprise party on Sunday that did not have a TV with the game on. I am thankful for the off-day and my MLB TV subscription so that I can visit those games for the first time later today. So I will be having a good Monday.
In the meantime, I was perusing the stats of Cardinals’ players and ended up laser focusing on a particular stat, which gave me the idea for this post. What exactly am I looking for in the final month and a half of baseball from each player on the Cardinals? What is the question that will be answered by the end of the year? And this question is really easy to come up with for some players, ridiculously hard for others. But most players have something that I want answered. Let’s get to the questions.
1-2. Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado
Will they win MVP?
I guess this won’t be answered by the end of the year, but it might be clear at the end of the year if either will win it. While Arenado has the edge in fWAR (6 to 5.6), an important thing to remember is to pay attention to the defensive values. For reasons having to do with small sample size and the unreliability of defensive stats over a full season, Goldschmidt is not rating well at defense this year. The same stat that gave him +6 last year has him as a -5 defender this year. And making Goldy even an average defender - which is extremely reasonable in this writer’s opinion! - makes up the difference in fWAR.
3-4. Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright
Will they reach 200 innings pitched?
Maybe a little while ago the question for Wainwright could have been “Will he reach 200 wins?” but I doubt that happens even though it’s theoretically possible. But it would be cool for the Cardinals to have two pitchers reach 200 innings. No team had two pitchers reach 200 innings last year. If both were to make 32 starts, Wainwright is on pace for 199.4 innings and Mikolas for 199.1, which is just wild. The Cardinals feature two pitchers in the top 5 for innings pitched and aside from them, you have to go to the 13th place in innings to reach a repeat team.
5-6. Brendan Donovan and Andrew Knizner
Can they show more power?
Weird players to group together, to be clear, but they both have kind of the same question mark in my mind. Brendan Donovan has everything you want in a hitter except power, and it wouldn’t be as big of a deal if he showed even a modicum of power, but he has a .088 ISO. Pitchers are going to challenge him if he’s not going to do any more damage than hit a single. I think it will be difficult for him to maintain a 10% walk rate going forward with the power he’s shown so far, longer term. Certainly don’t see him running his current 13% BB rate. Same issue with Andrew Knizner, who has a good walk rate, strikes out about average and.... runs a .051 ISO. It’s the entire reason he’s a bad hitter. He hit 12 homers in 66 games in AAA in 2019 so I don’t know what happened.
7-8. Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery
How big of additions will they be, exactly?
It was a little ridiculous, frankly, that people expected the Cardinals to get Juan Soto so much at the trading deadline that when they merely got two good starting pitchers instead, their trading deadline was viewed as a disappointment by some. So I’m very excited to see just how impactful they will be. They’ve already been hugely impactful. They’ve won four games in their four starts and you can make an argument they don’t win at least two of them without whoever pitches in their place (both Montgomery starts) and would have a more difficult time winning the other two (Quintana didn’t get a win against the Cubs and while the Cards blew it open in later innings, who knows what happens if they get a bad performance from the starter, plus Coors where any starter can really be exposed.)
9-10. Tyler O’Neill and Paul DeJong
Will they finish the year with a 100 wRC+ or greater?
O’Neill has his work cut out for him to reach this goal. He’s currently has just an 83 wRC+ in 267 PAs. DeJong isn’t that far ahead of him, but with less plate appearances, he doesn’t need to be as good. O’Neill is a matter of curiosity, as whether or not he reaches this goal would not impact my plans for the 2023 squad. For DeJong though, it could. It’d be a lot easier to go into next year with Paul DeJong as part of the plan if you can see a nice 100 or better in the wRC+ department. And it’d probably be a lot easier to trade him, if the Cardinals want to take that path in the offseason.
11-12. Genesis Cabrera and Jake Woodford
Can they raise their K%?
Again, probably not a duo you expected to be grouped together, but it makes sense. Last year, Genesis Cabrera struck out 26% of batters he faced. This year, it’s just 19.3%. It hasn’t come without benefits. For the third straight year, he’s cut his BB% and raised his GB%. But it has left him prone to blow-ups when he can’t miss bats. Woodford has a different issue in that he can’t seem to strike anyone out. His K% is a measly 14.6% which is not a lot lower than his career K% of 16.9%. He doesn’t walk few enough people nor get enough groundballs to be a good pitcher when striking out that amount of batters.
13-14. Yadier Molina and Jordan Hicks
Can they improve their BB%?
Now I’m just being silly. Yadier Molina has a career low BB% and aside from the shortened season has never posted a BB% below 5%. It’s currently at 2.3%. I’m interested to see if he can reach 5% by the end of the year. Hicks meanwhile has one major issue: walks. His strikeouts and groundballs can easily coexist to make him a good pitcher if his walk rate wasn’t 15.7%. He walks a ridiculous amount of batters. I think Oli Marmol needs to give up on the idea of Hicks as a multi-inning reliever as a starting point. It seems like he never pitches good past one inning of work (which makes the decision to try him as a starter even more absurd in hindsight and it was pretty damn absurd in the first place)
15-16. Chris Stratton and Lars Nootbaar
Can they improve their BABIP?
So in Stratton’s case, it’s less “improve” and more can he simply be moderately unlucky instead of insanely unlucky. He has over a .400 BABIP against this year and as a Cardinal specifically, it’s .706. He is actually a high BABIP pitcher, though not like this: his career is .324 (though a lot of that is this year actually as it was .314 prior to this season).
Nootbaar is a separate story. If you look at Nootbaar’s career stats, you notice the .275 BABIP. He has an elite walk rate, strikes out about an average amount, and has better than average power, especially playing at Busch. But his BABIP is pretty low. He’s reasonably fast and seems to make good contact so I can’t think of a reason he’d be a low BABIP guy. If he maintained his current BB rate, K rate, and ISO, he wouldn’t only be a legit starter with a .300 or greater BABIP, he might be a borderline All-Star.
17-18. Jack Flaherty and Corey Dickerson
How long will they be on the MLB active roster?
In Dickerson’s case, I’m wondering if he will survive Juan Yepez returning to the big leagues. I kind of think he won’t. I was wondering if they’d just send Yepez down, but they’re talking about activating him as early as Tuesday, which makes it sound like they absolutely plan to bring him to the majors. And that means he takes someone’s spot. And the options are Nolan Gorman, Nootbaar, and Donovan. Nootbaar is the starting RF at this point and Yepez has clearly worse offensive stats than both Donovan and Gorman for the season, so it’d be weird if any of them were chosen, which pretty much leaves you with DFA’ing Dickerson.
In Flaherty’s case, well I’m wondering if he will return at all. Not much explanation needed. Which directly leads me to
19. Dakota Hudson
Will he remain in the rotation?
The Cardinals are skipping Hudson’s start on Wednesday which means they don’t want to start him if they don’t need to. Clearly if Flaherty returns healthy and effective, Hudson leaves the rotation. But I also wonder if there’s a chance that if Flaherty doesn’t return, he still loses his spot to Andre Pallante at some point. Or someone. Marmol seems kind of done with Hudson. Which leads me directly to
20-21. Andre Pallante and Packy Naughton
What will their role be?
One of the reasons, I imagine, that Pallante lost his spot in the starting rotation is innings. I’m not sure it’s a great explanation given he threw 99.1 IP plus 20 in the AFL last year, but it’s one possibility. Pallante currently has 89 innings pitched. He has been used in three different ways since losing his rotation spot: He split a start with Hudson against the Yankees, he was a multi-inning reliever against the Rockies, and he was the 7th inning one inning man against the Brewers. Packy meanwhile has been used somewhat bewilderingly after seemingly getting some high leverage appearances. Shortly after the All-Star break he threw a 1.1 IP appearance against the Reds on the 24th. Packy then threw 0.2 innings total until August 7th. He threw 0.2 innings again and then two days later, threw 55 pitches in mop-up duty.
22-24. Tommy Edman, Albert Pujols, Ryan Helsley
Will they reach milestones?
Edman’s career high in stolen bases was achieved last year, with 30 stolen bases to 5 caught stealing. He’s currently at 24 stolen bases and 3 caught stealing. I wonder if he can surpass last year in both stats. I’m also curious if Helsley can reach 3 fWAR as a reliever, which will be more difficult to do after last night’s game. No reliever reached 3 fWAR last season. And of course, with Albert Pujols, can he surpass Alex Rodriguez on the all-time home run leader list? That actually seems possible, I’m not as enthusiastic about 700 though.
25. Nolan Gorman
Can he lower his K%?
There are enough examples of high strikeout batters that Gorman can still be a good to great hitter with his current 31.1 K%. However, that is truly the last piece of the puzzle with Gorman as a hitter. A Gorman with a 25 K% is probably a superstar. Assuming a Gorman with a 25% K rate doesn’t also come with a 2% BB rate or something.
26. Juan Yepez
Can he improve his approach?
This is sort of a ‘feel’ thing more than a specific stat, but the Yepez who walked nearly 12% of the time while striking out just 19% of the time in AAA last year (similar walk rate and 16% K rate in AA) and the Yepez I have seen in the big leagues seem like they had to involve different approaches. There is no world where Yepez with the approach I’ve seen could even come close to a 12% BB rate. So I’m just kind of hoping for better plate appearances from Yepez.
27. Dylan Carlson
Can he hit the ball harder?
This would probably be a defense-specific stat if I could remotely trust defense in a month and half. But this might be more important. It is truly astonishing how weakly Carlson hits the ball. He’s in the 8th percentile for exit velocity, 2nd percentile for hard hit%, and 22nd percentile for barrel%. He doesn’t hit the ball hard. He doesn’t hit the ball hard to an alarming degree. His BABIP is just .273. Despite that his xwOBA suggests he isn’t really getting unlucky because he doesn’t hit the ball very hard. His homer yesterday was an encouraging start.
28. Giovanny Gallegos
Can he improve his GB%?
Fun fact about Gallegos: he’s not actually pitching worse this year. He’s just had high profile blown saves. There is absolutely nothing about his numbers, not a single thing, to suggest he’s gotten worse. His K% is marginally better with an identical BB%. He has about the same xERA, about a 20 point gap in FIP related to worse HR luck, and a 20 point improvement in both SIERA and xFIP. But for some reason, his GB% is way down. It’s clearly not affecting any of the stats above - even accounting for the difference in GB%, the FIP difference is explained away from a higher HR/FB%. Similar HR/FB%, he’d have about the same FIP.
Never anything close to a groundball pitcher, he should still probably get more groundballs than he’s gotten. His career rate is 32.5% and his 2022 rate is just 24.8%. So hopefully that improves.