Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Where Do the St. Louis Cardinals Go From Here?

After 104 games in 2014, the St. Louis Cardinals have a record of 56-48. Through this juncture in 2013, they stood at 62-42. That’s roughly two-thirds of a regular season schedule. In order to get a handle on what’s been going differently, it would be good to look at the core of the team, over time, using this table:

2012bWAR          2013bWAR                2014bWAR

Holliday                   4.5                          4.6                                 1.9

Beltran                      3.2                         3.1                                  -.8**

Carpenter                1.5                          6.1                                  2.7

Molina                     7.7                          6.8                                  2.6

Wainwright            1.1                           6.2                                  4.8

Lynn                         2.2                           1.8                                  1.6

Miller                         .5                           3.4                                    .2

Totals                     20.7                          32                                    13

Beltran**: bWAR total for Craig and Taveras

These are player values for batting and pitching respectively. Fielding is not accounted for, except in the case of Yadier Molina, whose defensive WAR was added in. Allen Craig and Oscar Taveras both have been -.4 WAR at the plate. (“b”=baseball-reference).

We can be confident of a few things: Yadier Molina has been the best all-around catcher in the game for at least the last two seasons. Molina, who averaged 7.25 WAR in 2012 and 2013, hasn’t quite been up to that level this year, and he will be out for several more weeks. Second, the St. Louis Cardinals are without the services of Michael Wacha, who is certainly considered to be a part of a new core of the club. He is out for an indeterminate period. These two important players are unable to add value during a time when the Cardinals are behind one team in the standings, and behind two others–Atlanta and San Francisco–for the second wild card berth.

Look at the core again: Matt Holliday, Matt Carpenter, and Yadier Molina have been a little worse than in the past. Lance Lynn has been a little better this year. Adam Wainwright was very good last year, and is even better in 2014. Shelby Miller has been decidedly worse than he was last year.

What about complementary players, or those that could form the new core? Jhonny Peralta has been a nice addition. Matt Adams has taken hold of the first base job, and is doing well. Kolten Wong has shown pop and speed, but he, and Peter Bourjos, have not played big roles on the team, as yet.

The core represented in the table are all fine major leaguers. They have bounced from inconsequential to great, from good to not so good, and from good to bad. Did they try harder last year? Did they want it more for some reason? Has someone “lost it”? Well, maybe, but the point is that baseball is an extremely difficult sport, and we just can’t say with any certainty what someone will do in the next two months. Very good players experience wide variances in their performance.

WAR can teach us that trade analysis is not a straightforward thing. Players will surprise–on the upside, and the downside. Where do the St. Louis Cardinals go from here, when they are close to the top?

Credit to Joe Sheehan of the Joe Sheehan Newsletter  for the idea for this story.

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