Remember back in the offseason when we were all discussing the possibility of the St. Louis Cardinals having the best offense in baseball? It turns out, that may not have been too far from the truth. Or it may have been. I guess it all depends on which stat you want to use.
And that’s exactly the point of this open thread. Which stat do you want to use? Are you generally a positive person who sees everything through rose colored glasses, or, I guess, Cardinal red colored glasses in this case? Then you will prefer a different set of numbers than the more pessimistic fan.
But either way, there’s no denying how weird the Cardinals start to the season has been and the numbers fully support that.
We’ll start with the offensive numbers because they’re bizarre. The Cardinals rank 4th in wRC+ at 115. That’s pretty good, right? Not quite best-in-baseball numbers but still in the elite tier and just 3 points behind the second placed Cubs. First off, that’s weird. The Cubs. But, anyways, if we look at wRC+, the Cardinals have a great offense. Or do they?
The team also ranks 18th in runs per game at just 4.44 and that gives them the worst offense in the entire division. Worse than the Cubs. Worse than the Brewers. Worse than the Pirates and the Reds. The. Worst.
So that’s weird. And unexpected. At least, unexpected in terms of pre-season expectations. But you may think there’s a simple answer. The Cardinals don’t hit well with runners in scoring position. That makes sense, right? Theoretically, a team could hit as well as they want but then go ice cold when it really counts and that could create a huge divide between wRC+ and runs per game.
The only problem with that theory is that it’s not true.
The Cardinals have a 109 wRC+ with runners in scoring position, which is just 6 points behind their overall wRC+. So, what’s the problem with the offense? Why can’t it score runs? My answer - baseball is weird.
That’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I do think that extreme weirdness plays a role. Weird lineup construction may also have an effect, but ultimately I think the Cardinals offense is elite and the run-scoring will rebound. We can only hope it happens soon.
The pitching isn’t any less weird. No one expected it to be as good as the offense this year, but it simply hasn’t been good.
The staff has a 4.60 ERA and 4.34 FIP which ranks 22nd and 18th, respectively. The expected FIP figure is much better, though, and at 3.95, the team ranks 5th in the league. That’s almost laughable.
This club has the 4th ranked wRC+ and the 5th ranked xFIP and yet has a 10-18 record.
Baseball is simply weird. I don’t know how else to say it. We can call it bad luck, we can call it underperformance, or we can call it the team playing poorly, but the entire point is that this team’s record doesn’t match the numbers on the stat sheet. But what matters is wins, regardless of how they come and this team needs to find some wins soon.
After an uninspiring 1-0 loss to the Dodgers, this team has a .357 winning percentage and sits in last place in the NL Central. That’s not great. Now, let’s say this team needs 90 wins to claim the division crown. That means they need to go 80-54 the rest of the way, which is a high mark. That’s a .597 winning percentage. That may seem high but I will point out that 5 teams had a winning percentage higher than that last year - the Yankees, Astros, Dodgers, Braves, and Mets.
A winning percentage that high represents about 96-97 wins over a 162 game season. That’s a lot but it’s doable. In fact, at the beginning of the year, I predicted the Cardinals would win 95 games, so they pretty much need to play at that pace the rest of the year to put themselves at 90 wins and a chance at a division title. That’s not so bleak, even if it does mean the team needs to play significantly better down the stretch.
But let’s go further. I predicted 95 wins so what do the Cardinals need to do to reach that mark? Oh, you know, they just need to 85-49 the rest of the way. That’s a winning percentage of .634, which only the 111 win Dodgers and 106 win Astros managed to maintain over a full year last season.
A winning percentage of .634 is a 102-103 win pace. It would be a lot to expect the Cardinals to do that.
Anything can happen but a semi-reasonable, semi-optimistic projection is now 90 wins for the Cardinals and they will still have their work cut out to get there. This is a good team, and the stats confirm that, but it’s also a team that needs to start winning, and start winning soon, before it digs itself too deep of a hole.
My apologies for the lack of a full length article. Between the Cardinals playing uninspired baseball and a business trip in New York all week, it’s been a tough week for my writing efforts. I’ll be back on Tuesday with a more in-depth and full length article, so be on the lookout for that.
Thanks for reading, VEB. Have a great Sunday and, as this is an open thread by name, feel free hit the comments to discuss the Cardinals, the first place Pirates (something I never thought I would write), or anything else related or unrelated to this weird little sport that we all enjoy.