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Revisiting the myth of the Cardinals aging core

Just like in 2015, the Cardinals are relying on young players to succeed.

The Cardinals are seen as a veteran team, and they are written about that way as well. We see Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, and even Matt Carpenter and see a group that has been around for a while, had some playoff success, and of the Cardinals players, they are the most well-known. That feeds into the aging narrative. The reality, just as it was last year, is far from the narrative of the aging core.

Last season, the Cardinals led Major League Baseball in WAR by players 25 and under with 22.8 WAR. They ranked first in pitching and fourth among position players. Adam Wainwright missed the season while Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday struggled with injuries. Yet when the offseason came around the aging Cardinals narrative came back with a fury when Jason Heyward signed with the Cubs after contributing a bunch of that 25 and under WAR to St. Louis in the 2015 season.

Heading into the season, it was clear that the Cardinals were going to need contributions from young players and their projections indicated they would. With some disappointing performances and demotions of Randal Grichuk and Kolten Wong, it might be time to revisit the situation with the Cardinals youngsters and see where they stand right now, ignoring where they might be next season.

First, let’s take a look at the position player side. The Cardinals have nine players who have contributed at least one win above replacement.

Name PA HR wRC+ WAR Age
Matt Carpenter 517 19 138 3.1 30
Aledmys Diaz 421 16 136 2.6 25
Stephen Piscotty 599 21 116 2.5 25
Jedd Gyorko 396 26 107 2.2 27
Yadier Molina 532 7 106 2.1 33
Greg Garcia 241 3 109 1.8 26
Randal Grichuk 425 22 103 1.5 24
Brandon Moss 419 27 116 1.5 32
Kolten Wong 347 5 87 1.1 25

Only Molina, Carpenter, and Moss are on the wrong side of 30, and more than 60% of the production comes from players 27 and younger. Moss has had a very good season with the bat, but has also given some back due to defense and base running. Molina is having a season defying his age and the wear he has gone through over the years, while Carpenter is still just 30 years and producing at a high level.

On the pitching side, seven Cardinals pitchers have made more than one start. Their numbers:

Adam Wainwright 30 181.2 4.51 3.72 3.1 34
Jaime Garcia 29 166.2 4.7 4.42 1.4 29
Carlos Martinez 28 177.1 3.15 3.68 2.9 24
Mike Leake 28 168.1 4.54 3.89 2.3 28
Michael Wacha 23 132.1 4.62 3.76 2.1 25
Luke Weaver 7 33.2 3.21 3.41 0.7 22
Alex Reyes 3 35 1.03 2.77 0.9 21

You’ve got Wainwright there at 34 years old, but after that nobody is above the age of 30, and half of that WAR comes from players age-25 or under. While Wacha’s future is uncertain and no pitcher’s future is a guarantee, the Cardinals have an impressive collection of young pitchers. Last season, the Cardinals topped MLB in WAR from younger players so let’s see how they are doing so far this year.

First, from a position player side:

The Cardinals are at the edge of the top 10. A surprising performance by Aledmys Diaz helps, but the struggles of Wong and Grichuk as well as their loss of playing time keep the team lower than they were last season. The Cubs, to nobody’s surprise, top the list by a decent amount.

Now, the pitching:

Let's combine them:

25 and under WAR

The Marlins actually take the top spot as the Cubs have had virtually no young pitchers do anything for them this season. The Cardinals and the Marlins are the only teams to get at least 5.0 WAR from both position players and pitchers this season. Consider the lineup from Sunday:

Player AGE
Matt Carpenter 30
Aledmys Diaz 25
Brandon Moss 32
Stephen Piscotty 25
Yadier Molina 33
Jedd Gyorko 27
Randal Grichuk 24
Kolten Wong 25
Alex Reyes 21

Five of the nine starters on Sunday were 25 and under. Gyorko is somehow just 27 years old. That they are young in and of itself means little. They need to be young and good. While this season has not been great record-wise, the team has gotten some very good performances from young players and several players seem like they could deliver more.

The Cardinals didn't get full seasons from Aledmys Diaz, Randal Grichuk, or Kolten Wong, but Stephen Piscotty has held his own. Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver have shown promise. Carlos Martinez is still establishing himself, but has emerged as the Cardinals best pitcher over the last two years. We shouldn't ignore the contributions of players like Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina. They are both an important part of the team this year, and have shown enough to believe that they can contribute in future years, too.

However, if you are looking for reasons the Cardinals will or will not succeed, do not look at the Cardinals advancing age. This was a young team last year. It is a young team again this year. Contending teams can rarely rebuild on the fly, and Cardinals fans have been very fortunate that this Cardinals team is as good as it has been given the tear-downs we have seen in places like Houston and now in Philadelphia and Atlanta--teams that had success overlapping with the Cardinals but could not keep pace. The Cardinals won 100 games with a young team last year, and they are fighting for a playoff spot with a young team this year. They are going to be young next year, too. That's a good thing.