2023 is a season to remember primarily because of bad things, many bad things... but it is also one with a few very bright spots! I had a surprising amount of fun despite a lot of things, following this team wasn't the worst experience. Sure there was chaos, disarray, underperforming, regressions, bad umping, whiny misguided fans, a mostly horrnedously brutal campaign from a retiring fan favorite, ugly defense, questionable coaches, and murphy's law on display in full effect.
As is a time honored tradition, I will grade these moments from best to worst using our wonderful letter based grading system often used for different things... like an annoying college professor.
Grade A (the Saga of the 3 Jordans and Tommy Edman's center fielding)
My favorite part of 2023 were the 2 exciting Jordan Walker hitting streaks The 20 year old debuted by giving us a 12 game hitting streak to start the season. Expectations were very high and he did not disappoint. There wasn't as much home run hitting as many would've wanted but he impressed nonetheless by tying an MLB streak which dated back to 1912! for players aged 20 or younger debuting their career...
Then Jordan had ANOTHER impressive hitting streak that lasted 16 games in June. He posted a 1.115 OPS during this streak! In a year that he arguably should've had another year of seasoning in the minor leagues, basically skipping a step in his development, he posted a .342 OBP and a 116 wRC+ at the major league level, while showing both power and speed on the basepaths. His throwing arm is also an A as far as I'm concerned.
And don't forget Tommy Edman's 2023 center field defense! Tommy played 310 innings in center and was a plus defender. More importantly he was one of the most fun things to watch on defense during this cursed season and he made it a little more entertaining, and proved he is truly a super utility man.
And lastly, but sadly enough, Jordan Montgomery, who had to leave the team via trade for restocking the pool. Hopefully he will be back again because he could be a solid #2 or amazing #3 pitcher in the rotation: his 2023 season stats ended up being 4.3 fWAR/3.56 FIP/3.20 ERA in 188.2 IP. It could very well have been his career peak, but still, bring him back! He is a very consistently "quality starting" pitcher. And well, Jordan Hicks.... damn. Don't even look.
Grade B (a couple of Veteran Hitters carry the offense plus the Young Players are establishing themselves)
B being well above average and below A grade, the first thing I think of is Contreras and Goldschmidt who lead the slightly above average overall offense, which was not nearly enough to overcome the bad pitching and shoddy defense. Contreras and Goldie were the best hitters on the team and did not disappoint in that aspect. Nootbaar was also a B grade player who could've been A grade impact if he wasn't injured off and on. And don't forget Gorman's team leading 27 home runs while showing he could play second base! He really wasn't that bad of a defender there either, and I expect him to be Grade A in 2024. I might throw him in the Grade A tier if he wasn't injured, so I'll call it a B+. I would ignore injuries but it does effect things, unfortunately. It would have been more entertaining to see what Gorman and Noot could've done over the course of a full season.
Many would rank the Cardinals overall defense lower than C, so I will give it a C- and here's why... 4 postseason teams have a worse defense than St Louis did in 2023. And 3 of them were significantly worse: the Marlins, Phillies, and Braves. Turns out, a defense a tick below average isn't necessarily a huge liability. Sure, with this pitching staff and lack of Yadier Molina it is more of a grade of D, but I just can't really complain TOO much about it, tbh. I give the Cardinals a C in handling Herrera, at least they brought him up before the season was over, and from what I saw I want him to be the starting catcher next season. Arenado also gets a C, I was hoping for better but he wasn't bad either.
Alec Burleson. At times he looked like a perfectly capable hitter, and I am certainly not writing him off. It's just that he hit like Oscar Mercado but he isn't a defensive replacement. If his luck turns around though, he could be a dangerous DH for someone who doesn't have Willson Contreras on their roster. Could be.
I would give the Cardinals starting pitching a big fat F but they were actually really unlucky this season, and had a confusing catching situation going on. If they had better luck with BABIP against, they would be more of a... D+ or maybe C- starting rotation. And yes, luck is a real world thing.
I would also give the Cardinals bullpen a D grade, it could've been worse. It did not do the job consistently, but there were some bright spots in Helsley, Romero, Hicks and Stratton, and King's shiny ERA.
D grades for Carlson and O'Neill as well. Too injured, and not hitting well either. They play pretty good D though!
Obviously the season was a failure, other than the tanking. What a mess! F is for Jordan Walker's defense, Masyn Winn's hitting, Adam Wainwright's season (other than the 200 wins! of course), Juan Yepez, Taylor Motter, Andre Pallante, Genesis Cabrera, Drew VerHagen, and Jake Woodford. I give the whole coaching staff an F as well.
Well let's hope things turn around for next year. The offseason quest for redemption begins, and I hope Mozeliak and crew can be more interesting than they have in years. The pitching really does need help, they now realize.