Five Reasons the 2014 Cardinals Could End Up Like the 2013 Nationals

Many expected the 2013 Nationals to roll through the National League East and contend for a World Series. Some even suggested they had potential to win 100 games.  The Nationals ended up winning 86 games and losing the division by ten games amidst injuries and poor production. The 2014 Cardinals begin Spring Training with similarly high expectations. They just won the Nationals League pennant and by most accounts, had a great off season. But just like the Nationals of last year, the Cardinals are not without their flaws and susceptibilities. I concede that the Cardinals are far more likely to have a great season than not. They are probably one of the five best teams in all of baseball. But for the fun of it, let’s consider the factors that could make 2014 a challenging year for Cardinals’ fans.

RISP regression

The Cardinals famously hit .330 with runners in scoring position (RISP) in 2013. It was the highest RISP average in baseball history topping the 2007 Tigers (.311). The Cardinals had a number of above average to excellent hitters, so we would expect them to hit well in these situations. But .330? When the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011, they led the league in hitting with RISP with a .290 average, 40 points off their 2013 mark. The 2012 team hit .264 with RISP. The Cardinals are likely to return to earth and hit somewhere between their 2011 and 2012 versions. This drop in hitting with RISP will probably reduce their run totals.

Matt Carpenter is how good, again?

I can’t believe my eyes every time I look. Matt Carpenter accumulated 7.0 WAR last year? I know he was good. I know he was VERY good. But is Matt Carpenter a superstar type player? He very well may be. We would be foolish to rule it out. But Carpenter may also turn out to be a 3-4 WAR player with one monster year. He was poor defensively in 2012 (-7.8 Def) but solid in 2013 (1.3 Def). We still don’t know what kind of defender he really is, and he is moving back to third base this year. Carpenter hits extremely well but .318/.392/.481 are difficult numbers to duplicate. The Cardinals probably aren’t counting on Carpenter to put up those numbers again, but they need to make up that lost WAR somewhere.

Young guys not ready

The Cardinals will likely give a large number of at bats to Kolten Wong and super prospect Oscar Taveras. By all accounts Taveras has star potential, but young players often struggle to adjust to the Major Leagues. Even Mike Trout struggled to a .220/.281/.390 in his first 135 plate appearances as a 19 year old. Taveras is a couple years older than Trout was at that point, but he is also replacing Carlos Beltran. Beltran is a poor defender at this point, but he still hit well in 2013 with a .296/.339/.491 slash line. Taveras may become a star one day, but in 2014, he may not be an upgrade over last season.

Kolten Wong has the inside track to play second base every day. He hit well in the minors but struggled mightily in his short stint in the big leagues. While we can’t make predictions based on 62 plate appearances, Wong did nothing to inspire confidence with a .153/.194/.169 slash line and 4.8% walk rate. He won’t be that bad, but the Cardinals must have some concerns about his ability to hit every day at the Major League level.

Old guys declining

Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday combined for 10.1 WAR in 2013. They will be 32 and 34 during the 2014 season, respectively. Neither player is ancient, but they are both due for some decline soon. Holliday has remained steady the last three years as a 4.5-5 WAR player. His defense has been poor the last two years and won’t get much better. He derives his value from his bat. In the last two years, Holliday’s ISO has dropped from .229 in 2011 to .190 in 2013. Holliday’s numbers may not fall off a cliff, but he certainly may regress some.

Molina had an excellent year in 2013. He recorded a career high .319 batting average. His defense is impeccable and probably better than we can quantify at this point. BUT, his batting average was a result of a career high .338 BABIP, 32 points higher than his previous high. His ISO also dropped from .186 in 2012, to .159 in 2013. Molina had an ISO of under .100 for four straight years from 2007-2010. As he gets older, his ISO could drop back into that range. Catcher is a tough defensive position and Molina’s offensive decline may be accelerated due to the strain of catching every day. Molina and Holliday will likely both be good players in 2014. However, producing over 10 WAR again will be difficult.

Good (but not great) pitching

This factor is the hardest one for me to see. The Cardinals certainly have plenty of talent. Nonetheless, Adam Wainwright turns 33 this season and had a career year in 2013, something he isn’t likely to replicate. Jaime Garcia is coming off shoulder surgery on his pitching arm. Michael Wacha was impressive in a small sample size, but he has started only 26 regular season games as a pro and 17 of those were in the minor leagues. The league hasn’t had time to adjust to Wacha yet. These factors could cause problems for the Cardinals pitching staff in 2014.

Conclusion

Are all these things likely to happen? No. But any combination between these things and bad injury luck could cause a fate similar to the 2013 Washington Nationals. The Nationals 2013 season proved once again that any team is vulnerable regardless of perceived talent and/or expectations. The Cardinals are no exception.



Print This Post

newest oldest most voted
Lol
Guest
Lol

Wainwright had a career year in 2013? Did you miss his 09-10 years? Jesus Christ this article is a reach

Dan
Guest
Dan

I kind of agree, but I don’t think Jesus Christ wrote it, as you suggested

Steve Holden
Guest
Steve Holden

BFIB member, but don’t always drink the Kool-Aid like the rest. I remember 1986 and 1988 quite clearly. The 1970’s also.Stuff happens.Not just injuries, but have witnessed seasons where nearly entire team had career BAD performances.This is entirely possible, although unlikely. We’ll see how it goes.

Joe Carver
Guest
Joe Carver

I may crap hundred dollar bills or learn to fly, what a lousy article.

Gregorio
Guest
Gregorio

…wish I could crap out hundred dollar bills. I would drink more coffee in the morning.

olethros
Guest
olethros

You could, if you ate them first.

Jon L.
Guest
Jon L.

And both those events are just as likely as rookies struggling, older players declining, and RISP regression? Being a Cardinals fan is not a valid criticism of the possibilities raised in the article. Some teams expected to excel didn’t reach expectations in 2013 – as some don’t every year – and this was an object lesson about the assumptions we make following a good year and good individual performances.

Joe Carver
Guest
Joe Carver

No talk of all the guys that will be entering their prime. Adams, Caraih, Bourges, Martinez, Shelby. This Cards team is deeper than sny MLB, currently have 7 guys that could start anywhere else. The moron that wrote this shouldn’t be allowed to ever write another story in their life.

semperty
Member

That’s just wrong….the A’s are way deeper than the Cardinals (it’s not even close…our bench is actually pretty thin when you realize that we’re still going to utilize Descalso for 150+ PA and we’re taking our only real power bat off the bench and into the line-up. Not saying I don’t like this team, but it’s not nearly as deep as you think. Any talent that makes this team deep is either in the line-up or in the minors – not on the bench, which thins the team out more than you think.

Bret
Guest
Bret

Agree with Lol — it’s not that the Redbirds are impervious to decline, but the “analysis” conveniently forgets a lot of the mitigating improvements the Cardinals made. First and foremost, the offensive black hole that was SS in 2013 is going to be a strength in 2014. (The projections here have him at 2.5 WAR, while Kozma was a total zero in 2013. That should take care of a bunch of the regression anticipated.) Secondly, as you noted, the gripe about pitching is a long stretch. Their pitching is great, not good, and they will be adding depth to their already deep bullpen when Jason Motte returns — or is cashed in for something else. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind seeing them experiment with a 6-man rotation to space out the innings for the younger guys who are likely to be limited a little. Thirdly, you worried about all of these offensive issues without once noting that Matt Adams has an everyday job now, and while he has some platoon challenges, will almost assuredly hit better with regular AB.

The general point is fair — seasons don’t unspool like they’re drawn up on the flip chart in February. But I would suggest that, of the potential contenders in the NL, the Cardinals are the LEAST likely to pull a Washington because of their talent at all relevant levels for the year ahead. (Think LA is a lock with the drama queens in that clubhouse?)

Cheers, and looking forward to you being wrong and me being right in 2014 :-)

Jay
Guest

I am a die hard Cardinals fan who lives here in St Louis. This writer is just doing his job. There is some potential for regression with this team, and a few variables. Do I see these things as a total possibility, no. But the batting avg. with risp is the one thing that will likely regress. And that can be huge. But the positives here are endless, 2 starters that can step in and play and doesnt hurt the team is huge, with Kelly and Martinez. You dont feel like your season is over if you lose any of your 5 starters. Tavares upside is a big plus for us, this guy can take over in the outfield and have a Matt Adams off the bench and as a spot starter. The definate upgrade at short, man that was such a weak spot for us last year. It was like having 2 pitchers spots in the lineup.The defensive upgrades in center field. David Freese had a ton of issues both at the plate and on the field, so moving a guy like Carpenter there fills a huge hole in both line up and field.I dont think he is a .318 hitter, i feel he falls into more of a .290 guy, which ill take. The doubles are legitimate, as is his hustle and heart. As an opposing team, I would least like to play the Dodgers and Cardinals teams. And I would not like to face any of those five starters in any series.

BVHeck
Guest
BVHeck

Apologies, Mr. ncarrington. Joe Strauss led his team of idiots here. This is going to turn into the Post-Dispatch comments section in a hurry.

Carl grey
Guest
Carl grey

Every year I back away from the nitrous gas and wonder, are they as awesome as we think they are going to be?
Who knows? Seriously, that’s why we buy MLB, read all these sites, etc., and then we just have to watch and see.
That’s what’s fun about baseball, it’s a long season.

RedBirdDynasty
Guest
RedBirdDynasty

Let’s get real, guys. St. Louis is going to be good, but they aren’t going to repeat last year. Adams is a platoon 1b, Craig isn’t going to play a full season, peralta is a poor defensive ss, wong is unproven, garcia’s shoulder is hurting, and miller lived off of two pitches. there will be regression. lord forbid someone point that out. no need to freak out, though, this team is still going to win ballgames. they’re just not invincible.

semperty
Member

Peralta’s basically been a league average SS over the last few years, so expecting him to suddenly become bad is a bit extreme. We’re not relying on Wong at all (just hoping he does well), and we’ve got the OF that would allow us to platoon Adams/Craig if necessary (though I think you’re unjustly claiming he’s a platoon 1B. His SLG/BA weren’t bad, but he didn’t walk a single time vs. LHP in 2013, which seems unlikely to repeat).

I agree about the pitching, though you’re also overlooking that our bullpen was completely awful for the first month and a half of 2013, until they called up all of our relievers. They’ll regress some, but we won’t be dealing with a crapshoot pen every game for 1/3 of the season.

Bad Bill
Guest
Bad Bill

Regression is very likely. The absurd RISP success of 2013 is reason enough to expect it, even though the team itself may be even stronger now than it was at this point last year. I don’t see anyone disputing that. What people are saying is that the “analysis” in this article is slipshod, because it treats those “things that could go wrong” in isolation, when mitigation strategies are already in place for most of them — RISP regression and Molina age/injury excepted. That’s all. I would also dispute several of your assertions (and at the same time, could identify some other things that could go wrong), but it’s no longer worth the effort to do that.

semperty
Member

I think this article over looks a LOT of things from 2013, as well. While the Cardinals are extremely likely to massively regress w/ RISP they’re also likely to improve on their power. The Cardinals are a line drive heavy team, and there were many balls last season that just didn’t go over. From 2011 to 2013 the Cardinals lost almost 40 home runs as a team per season. I think the regression w/ RISP and HR outweigh each other, for the most part.

You’re also completely overlooking Carpenter’s positions. There’s nearly a 5 run difference between his 2012 positional adjustment and his 2013 positional adjustment (was mostly a 1B/corner OF in 2012). The difference in his UZR was about 4 runs, which is much smaller than his defensive value would suggest. He’s also moving back to his natural position at 3B, which could suggest an uptick in defensive ability (it’s the only place he’s got a positive UZR, albeit in 500 innings).

As for the young guy, you’re over looking roster construction. The Cardinals are in the position where Taveras will be putting someone on the bench. They’re not relying on him at all (heck, the plan was for him to take CF from Jay in 2013, and we ended up making the World Series without him). Taveras will be an extra piece, that’s great if he works, but if he doesn’t we still have three starting capable OF and a pretty good fourth OF in Jay. The Cardinals also have insurance on Wong in Mark Ellis. I’ve heard rumors of them platooning Wong, though that’s probably unlikely, but they’ve already got a guy capable of playing 2B every day if things don’t work for Wong. It’s not like the Nats with Espinosa where if he works he works. If Wong doesn’t work Matheny’s made it clear that he’ll look to Ellis to play more.

I think the regression you mention with Yadi and Holliday will happen, as well, but if you’re expecting more than a win total I think you’re looking for something to go wrong. It’s absolutely possible, but they’ve been two of the more consistent players over the last few seasons and expecting massive regression on either of them seems more like you’re looking for trouble than just looking for normal trends.

I could see the last one, a bit, but not like you’re suggesting. Garcia’s already experienced a set back, and is unlikely to start the season in the rotation, Wainwright will probably regress some (though not a ton), but I think the pitchers with the most room for regression are Miller and Lynn. Miller was dominant through the end of August, and I think simple regression is due for him. Lynn’s pretty famous on here for being a platoon starter, and I’m not sure how long he can last like that in a rotation. I think Garcia’s injury could open the door for CarMar.

Ultimately, I think the article is pretty well written (don’t let the critiques cover that up). The language was conversational, but still written well enough to seem like you were pretty competent in the area. My only suggestion to you, on this, is to dig a little deeper into the numbers. Don’t just take them at face value (like with Carp) but try and figure out why numbers are what they were. Are the Cards likely to drop in situations w/ RISP and their LD% (doesn’t seem likely), why did the Cardinals pitchers do well (and is that way off career norms or following the trends), why might the older players regress (and what signs do they show of doing so), etc. I think the ideas are solid, but I think the reasoning behind it is where the point falters a bit.

PSopko
Member
PSopko

As a Card fan, I see the probability of RISP regressing and young pitchers are always a crap shoot. But I think the Yadi pitcher handling could help with the latter. Whatever, it’s going to be a fun team to watch.

Ron Smith
Guest
Ron Smith

ncarrington is a Cubs fan.

Analyst
Guest
Analyst

Is everyone commenting sure that the team won’t see major injuries? I absolutely agree that this team is better positioned to absorb injuries than almost any other team in the league. Heck, forget “almost,” it is better positioned.

But a Molina injury (as some have acknowledged) would hurt — a lot — on both offense and defense. I’m not sure how they compensate if Carpenter goes down for very long — Craig was atrocious in the field at 3B, and he’s probably intolerable by now. Bourjos is a frequent injury-flyer, but that’s one area where the Cards can easily compensate; Holliday, not so much, unless Taveras is ready. And how do you plan for the loss of Wainwright if it happens? Sure, one of the prospects could take up the slack, but I’d bet against it. Any of these injuries could happen … even several are possible. Not saying they will, but probably better than 50% chance that one or more will occur.

Leo Walter
Guest
Leo Walter

Thank you RedBirdDynasty. God forbid anyone would bring up possible negatives regarding the Cardinals ….the horror ! Why,they almost won a World Series !

Frank
Guest
Frank

This was a great article, it should have been featured at the top of the page. So many analytical experts were big on pointing out the Orioles should regress because they won so many one run games, simple to see and understand, but completely miss out on the very lucky year the Cardinals had (which I guess is sort of almost difficult to understand?). Unfortunately even in non-stupid sports media (like Fangraphs) people have a hard time comprehending the difference between performance and player, which is why every year in every sport pre-season predictions tend to just be people assuming the team that won the championship last year will do it again.

jibbers
Guest
jibbers

People are pointing out the Cardinals’ good fortune with RISP all over the internet, Fangraphs and otherwise. I’ve seen like 5 articles about that this offseason. It’s no secret, and it’s not hard to understand. But the Cardinals, despite having very good fortune with RISP, still had the NL’s best offense last year. The fact that they’ll lose runs from their RISP regressing doesn’t change the fact that they have a very good offense (that likely improved this offseason with the addition of Peralta). Similarly, the defense and perhaps pitching look to have improved as well. There are obviously areas in which the team will regress, such as the performances of Carpenter and Wainwright, but when you project the roster it still looks like the best in the Central and quite possibly the best in the NL. You’re not giving Fangraphs, or the “non-stupid” baseball community nearly enough credit here.

Maty I
Guest
Maty I

I live here in ST louis and I have to hear all this garbage everyday from the so-called Best Fans In Baseball. If you even try to speculate that they wont win 145 games they get all butt-hurt like you tried to steal their first born child. The fact is if you really know baseball you’ll know everyone eventually comes back to the mean. Cardinal fans aren’t very bright so Ill translate: Aside from a few exceptions, you are going to be what you always are. So a 330 risp avg is unrealistic to expect and impossible to do twice in a row. Every card carrying member of the self described bfib is ready give the Cy young to Michael Wacha. Wait until every MLB team gets a book of business on him and the rest of the young pitchers and we will see how good they are. The one thing the Cardinals have going for them is the one the thing they’ve had for the most part of the last decade: a weak division. With a few seasons aside, the NL central has been the weakest division in baseball over the last decade and a half. This fact typically escapes the BFIB. In fact outside of Cardinal baseball the BFIB dont really pay attention to anything else going on in baseball. I once told a season ticket holder that Molina wasnt the best catcher in baseball and he told me I was stupid and asked me who I thought was better. I replied Buster Posey and he then asked me what team he played for. It was the year Posey won the MVP. So the writer of this article can rest easy knowing he has written a good, solid piece of objective analysis and can ignore the negative blow-back from an over-hyped, entitled and hypersensitive fanbase..

RedBirdDynasty
Guest
RedBirdDynasty

“an over-hyped, entitled and hypersensitive fanbase..”

I actually agree with you on this. I’ll be the first to admit our fans are obnoxious.

RedBirdDynasty
Guest
RedBirdDynasty

loyal… but obnoxious