Tuesday, February 21, 2012

2012 Outlook: St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals are coming off of a season where the won the world series, unfortunately they also lost one of the best players off all-time to free agency. Their offense was one of the best in all of baseball, and was led by Albert Pujols, but since he's gone Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman will be the offensive leaders. With the loss of Adam Wainwright in spring training their pitching was middle of the pack.

After everyone thought his career was trending downwards Lance Berkman joined the Cardinals, and posted 5 WAR.  He batted .301/.412/.547 (159) which was slightly above his career average. As a reward for his outstanding season he received a new two year contract to stay in St. Louis. While regression is certain, if he can stay healthy he should be able to produce 2.5-3.5 WAR while playing first base for the Cardinals. At third is world series hero and St. Louis native David Freese. He's never exceeded 360 plate appearances in a season, but during his time in the majors last year he showed solid potential. He showed average power, and a decent eye at the plate, but his offense was largely a product of a .356 BABIP. He's had a high BABIP during his minor league and pro career so a .330 BABIP may not be out of the question. There isn't a ton of a defensive info about him, but he does have a plus arm.

Skip Schumaker is scheduled to play second base. Offenively he rates as below average. He has a great eye at the plate, he walked 7% of the time, and only struck out 12.5% of the time. The problem is that he offers literally no power, his career ISO is .088. He is also a poor defender, more then likely the Cardinals will be searching for his replacement throughout the season. Raefal Furcal will return as the starting second basemen. After two straight solid defensive seasons Furcal fell off quite a bit. His days as a solid offensive contributor are all but done, and if his defense doesn't improve he may be better used as a bench player. If either were to struggle Tyler Greene would get some time.

At catcher the Cardinals have one of the games best in Yadier Molina. Offensively last season was the best of his career. He had a .305/.349/.465 (123) line.  He had a .160 ISO, power that he hadn't displayed before, and while that likely isn't sustainable it's certainly a plus. For the most part he isn't known as an offensive catcher anways, it comes from his above average defense. We don't have any good statistics to measure catcher defense, but his hands, release, and arm strength are all well above average.

In left perennial all-star Matt Holliday will need to have a big year. His power increased from 2010, other then that everything else remained similar. Defensively he saw a slight decrease though, so if he can get that up he should have another 5-6 WAR season. In Jon Jay's first full season in the majors he  was roughly a 3 WAR player. He showed great discipline at the plate, only striking out 16% of the time.  Due to the low strikeout rate he managed to have a solid.344 OBP.  Offensively he has shown that he can be a good contributor, but defensively he may be somewhat of a liability.  Carlos Beltran siged a two year deal worth twenty six million dollars during the offseason. If his power is able to return he should easily live up to the two year deal he signed.

With the return of Adam Wainwright the Cardinals pitching staff will receive a much needed boost, assuming he stays healthy of course. Before his injury Adam Wainwright was one of the best pitchers in baseball. He struck out over 23% of the batters he faced, and walked only 6%. He had a 2.42 ERA, but his 3.02 xFIP and 3.13 SIERA tell us he probably isn't as good as his ERA. A 3.15 ERA is still dominant though. He may not be as dominant this year, but a 3.30-3.50 ERA is certainly plausible. Chris Carpenter had another outstanding season, his overall line was similar to his career average. As he gets older he as to start regressing eventually, even if it starts this season he can still be an upper 3 ERA pitcher, with 2-3.5 WAR. After his rookie year in 2010 Jaime Garcia's ERA regressed by almost a full run. According to xFIP he regressed right to where he should have been. His HR/FB% increased slightly, but he also saw a decrease in walks. Going ahead he's a 3-4 WAR pitcher, as it looks right now he could be the future number two pitcher for the Cardinals.

At the fourth spot Kyle Lohse makes for a nice pitcher. He doesn't do anything spectacular, but he can eat up a handful of innings. It's likely that his ERA will be in the 4s with low strikeout rates, and low walk rates. At the fifth spot Jake Westbrook makes for a solid final pitcher. Like Lohse he doesn't strike a lot of batters out, but he also limits walks. He can eat up innings, and will likely have an ERA in the mid 4s.

Jason Motte is expected to be the closer, he likely won't be as good as last year. His xFIP was 3.39 so expect his ERA to increase. On a positive note he strikes a lot of batters out, and prevents home runs. An interesting name to keep your eye on is Marc Rzepczynski. He had a high ERA, but his xFIP was 2.75. One final pitcher that could contribute is Fernando Salas.

This team can get right back to the playoffs if Carlos Beltran and Lance Berkman have big years, replacing Albert Pujols won't be easy, but they can at least try. Adam Wainwright needs to come back and prove he's healthy. With him in the rotation they get a big boost. If needed top pitching prospect Shelby Miller could get the call and make some starts. The loss of Pujols will surely be felt though.

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