St. Louis Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates Part 1 – Hitting

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In this piece comparing The Kansas City Royals to the Cardinals, David Schoenfield noted at the end that he was picking the Pirates to finish in first place over the Cardinals, projecting the Cards to finish with 88 wins. He followed that up in his pre-season rankings here where he ranked the Cards fifth and the Pirates third.

I thought I’d take a look at how the Pirates and Cards compare against each other. Today we’ll focus on the position players and, starting with the core lineup followed by the bench. I’ll be using the Steamer predictions for each player. Pittsburgh’s can be found here, while St. Louis’ can be found here.

Catcher:

Yadier Molina (STL) vs. Francisco Cervelli (PIT)

MolinaBatting AverageOn Base PercentageSlugging PercentageHome Runs
2014.282.333.3867
Steamer.284.335.41810
CervelliBatting AverageOn Base PercentageSlugging PercentageHome Runs
2014.301.370.4322
Steamer.246.312.3424

I won’t go into too much detail on this one, as the answer is obvious. Molina had a down year (for him) last year as a hitter, a year the Pirates fans would happily take from Cervelli. They won’t get that, or the .400 OBP Russell Martin provided them last year. I think people are underestimating just how much Martin’s loss will hurt the Pirates. Cervelli only projects to get 363 plates appearances, with the rest going to Chris Stewart, who’s  only projected to hit .235 with a 301 OBP himself. Plus, if you think last years numbers look good, keep in mind he only had those numbers over 162 AB’s. In fact he’s never played a full season. The most plate appearances he’s ever gotten was 317 in 2010.Then of course, there’s the defense. Cervelli is a good defensive catcher, but Yadi’s only the best in the game. Cervelli might surprise offensively, but this one goes to Yadi.

Edge: Molina.

First Base:

Matt Adams (STL) vs. Pedro Alvarez (PIT)

AdamsBatting AverageOn Base PercentageSlugging PercentageHome Runs
2014.288.321.45715
Steamer.268.312.45519
AlvarezBatting AverageOn Base PercentageSlugging PercentageHome Runs
2014.231.312.40518
Steamer.242.316.44724

This is one is more interesting. By every measure, Adams had the better year last year. He had a higher average, only a few less home runs (in admittedly 118 more plate appearances) less strikeouts, a higher slugging percentage, a higher OBP, etc. Plus Pedro is shifting to first base full time while Adams has been doing it for a while. Yes Adams made 9 errors at first base last year, but Alverez made 25 at third, which makes me think he won’t do much better than Adams did this year. Overall, Adams was worth 2.3 WAR, whole Alvarez was worth 0.8 WAR. Plus Adams has hit over .280 the last two years, while Alvarez has hit .233 and .231 the past two years. Yet I feel many would pick Alvarez here, based on his two 30 home run seasons. The only advantage Alvarez has, in my mind, are those two seasons. People remember those home run totals and automatically think he’s better, forgetting the fact that he struck out over 180 times both years, and that his average had declined steadily from .244 to .233 to .231. In my mind, Adams is the better overall player, even if he has struggled versus lefties.

Edge: Adams

Second Base: Kolten Wong (STL) vs. Neil Walker (PIT)

WongBatting AverageOn Base PercentageSlugging PercentageHome Runs
2014.249.292.38812
Steamer.257.305.38310
AlvarezBatting AverageOn Base PercentageSlugging PercentageHome Runs
2014.271.342.46723
Steamer.273.343.43916

Walker has the edge right now – he was the Silver Slugger winner at second in the NL after all – but Wong’s developing power added to his good speed creates a tantalizing mix. He could be a 20/20 guy someday soon. What’d help is if he develops a little better plate discipline, as he only had 21 walks in 433 plate appearances. Still, there’s a ton of upside here as Wong is nowhere near his peak yet, as last year was his first full season. Walker, by contrast, has reached his peak, and it’s a pretty good one. He’s a good player and likely to be a key player in Pittsburgh for years to come. In fact, I think his steamer numbers are a bit conservative, which will be a trend throughout this series, as he’s a good candidate to hit more than 20 homers again.

Edge: Walker, for now.

Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta (STL) vs. Jordy Mercer (PIT)

PeraltaBatting AverageOn Base PercentageSlugging PercentageHome Runs
2014.263.336.43121
Steamer.256.323.40214
MercerBatting AverageOn Base PercentageSlugging PercentageHome Runs
2014.255.305.38712
Steamer.255.308.38311

Mercer is a good defensive shortstop, who had a career high in homers, doubles and rbi’s. But this one is no contest, as Peralta had a great season, exceeding expectations both offensively and  defensively, the latter really surprising everyone. Can he repeat it? Steamer doesn’t think so. While I think some offensive regression may be likely, I don’t think he’ll regress as much as steamer predicts, as I think he’ll jack 18 or more home runs after hitting 21 last year. As for the defense, quite a bit of it was due to smart positioning, something I think he can easily repeat. In the end Mercer is solid but I think Peralta will be quite a bit more valuable, and these two will almost surely not be as close as Steamer predicts.

Edge: Peralta.

Third Base:

Matt Carpenter (STL) vs. Josh Harrison (PIT)

CarpenterBatting AverageOn Base PercentageSlugging PercentageHome Runs
2014.272.375.3758
Steamer.276.368.40410
HarrisonBatting AverageOn Base PercentageSlugging PercentageHome Runs
2014.315.347.49013
Steamer.278.317.42111

This one is a little tougher. Harrison had a breakout year, and his all around numbers were better than Carpenter’s, save for his OBP, which was .028 points lower. This was due to Carp’s league leading 95 walks. Harrison’s year came out of nowhere though, whereas Carp, if anything, regressed a little (if a .395 OBP can be considered a regression.) He was, after all, 4th in MVP voting in 2013. If Harrison, the Pirates starting 3B heading into this season, repeats his performance or stays close to it, this one could be close, but I expect regression from Harrison and a rebound from Carp. Therefore I’m giving the edge to Carp. However, I could very well be wrong here.

Edge: Carpenter

Left Field:

Matt Holliday (STL) vs.Starling Marte (PIT)

HollidayBatting AverageOn Base PercentageSlugging PercentageHome Runs
2014.272.370.44120
Steamer.277.365.45520
MarteBatting AverageOn Base PercentageSlugging PercentageHome Runs
2014.291.356.45313
Steamer.274.331.43014

Here we have a case of youngster vs. veteran. Holliday projects to be slightly better this year than last year. Marte projects to regress. Looking at Marte’s trends, I’m not sure I agree with that. He’s had two straight years over .280, and his average increased from .280 in 2013 to .291 last year. I think he’ll remain a .290 hitter. That said, I think Holliday with have a higher slugging percentage and OBP. Marte has the edge in speed, as he stole 30 bases last year. Still, Holliday’s numbers last year were a sudden drop off from the previous year’s .300 average,and he’d hit .296 and .295 the years before that. I realize he’s getting older, as this is his age 35 season. If his decline had been more gradual, I’d agree with Steamer, but the sudden drop makes me think it was simply a bad season, and that he’ll rebound. Even with Marte’s speed, I give Holliday a slight edge here, but this is another position that could easily go to the Pirates if Holliday’s drop last year was in fact a sign of an age related decline.

Edge: Holliday

Center Field:

Jon Jay (STL) vs. Andrew McCutchen (PIT)

JayBatting AverageOn Base PercentageSlugging PercentageHome Runs
2014.303.372.3783
Steamer.277.344.3795
HarrisonBatting AverageOn Base PercentageSlugging PercentageHome Runs
2014.314.410.54225
Steamer.301.393.50423

Jon Jay surprised quite a few people last year, including me. Even if he repeats his numbers though, this one is McCutchen all the way.

Edge: McCutchen

Right Field:

Jason Heyward (STL) vs. Gregory Polanco (PIT)

JayBatting AverageOn Base PercentageSlugging PercentageHome Runs
2014.271.351.38411
Steamer.270.355.44620
HarrisonBatting AverageOn Base PercentageSlugging PercentageHome Runs
2014.235.307.3437
Steamer.250.310.38113

This is another easy one. Heyward is better across the board, and when you add in his gold glove caliber defense, it’s no contest.

Edge: Heyward

That’s six positions the Cardinals have an edge in. A couple of positions could swing the other way, like 3B and LF, but right now we have the advantage.

Bench:

I won’t go into as much detail on the benches. I’ll simply list the bench rosters for each team and compare the benches as whole units, which’ll consist of five players as I’m going with the standard seven man bullpen. I’ll use the five players Steamer projects to have the most at bats for each team. Of course, benches can be pretty fluid, so chances are there’ll be a bit of fluctuation during the season, so keep that in mind when looking at these benches.

St. Louis:

Peter Bourjos OF
Pete Kozma 2B/SS
Randal Grichuk OF
Mark Reynolds 1B/3B
Tony Cruz C

Pittsburgh:

Corey Hart 1B/RF
Chris Stewart C
Sean Rodriguez 2B/SS/LF
Andrew Lambo RF
Pedro Florimon

Both teams have options coming off the bench. Each team has a power hitter (Reynolds for the Cards, Hart for the Pirates) that have seen better days but still have power. Both have middle infield glove men (Kozma for the Cards, Rodriguez for the Pirates) that can’t hit much, though Rodriguez did thump 12 homers in 237 AB’s last year. Both have backup catchers, admittedly a standard feature on every team, though these guys both project to have over 200 plate appearances (over 300 in Stewart’s case) so they may be doing more than just spotting the starting catcher on occasion. Where the Cards have an advantage is outfield depth. Grichuk has a high power ceiling and is still developing, while Bourjos is a premium fielder. He’d be a gold glove candidate if he played regularly. Florimon played for Minnesota a few years, didn’t do much, and has a career average of .204. Lambo is still young, and he showed some power in the minors. Still, I think this one goes to the Cards, as I think we’ll get more from our bench than the Pirates will from theirs.

Pitching will be covered in the next post.

As always, thanks for reading.

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