The St Louis Cardinals risk big setbacks in 2016. They need another starting pitcher and a better outfielder.
When a team wins 100 games, why not work to preserve that core and tweak a weaknesses? That plan drove actions to acquire David Price and try to keep Jason Heyward and John Lackey. The St Louis Cardinals worked to accomplish these signings, but failed. Interestingly, money did not end up being the issue as in past years. Some in Cardinals’ Nation seem to be happy that we lost out on Price and Heyward and their large contracts, although I contend they were fairly priced to the market.
I greatly appreciate the St Louis Cardinals working to include these players on the 2016 roster, but also understand that best efforts fail for all kinds of reasons – some of which we’ll never know. These rants now officially lie in the rear view mirror as the Cardinals-Cubs history will be written in seasons to come. While the Cubbies have not won the Central Division from these moves just yet (or the World Series as many are now predicting), we most certainly have a much stronger rival than we’ve had for the past several years.
To further complicate the situation, the latest reports indicate the St Louis Cardinals will not be working to sign Alex Gordon or Justin Upton and Johnny Cueto just signed with the Giants. While some of these players simply don’t fit the Cardinal organization, the worrisome fact remains that the list grows shorter each day and other teams still need the same talent. According to the Post-Dispatch, John Mozeliak says there will be no top tier signings in advance of the 2016 season, so what can we predict if we move forward with the team we have today?
If the Cardinals only depend upon the play of Randal Grichuk, Steven Piscotty, and Tommy Pham we may not like the outcome. Grichuk and Pham need to stay healthy and progress their offense as they posted 31.4% and 23.7% strikeout rates, respectfully. If Piscotty can keep his offensive numbers within 5% of last years .305 BA he will be fine, but we should not plan for that to occur. Matt Holliday’s health will be a concern throughout the year as we simply can’t afford to lose him for more than a few weeks total. The fifth outfielder, Brandon Moss contributed a low .226 BA and 28.1% K rate last year and while we welcome improvement in 2016, expecting more than .240 BA would be fool-hearty.
Fangraphs analysis on BABIP (a measure of defense, luck, and hitting talent) indicates some outfield offensive movement should be expected in 2016 – and it’s in the wrong direction. While BABIP is an odd stat, conventional thought places an average season and average batter around .300 with some hard-hitting, full-field batters able to rise to a .330 level.
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Piscotty’s very high .372 BABIP indicates a strong amount of luck and some weak defense contributed to his impressive .305/.359/.494 line in 2015. Steamer projections at .267/.327/.407 show a 10% decline next year with a more realistic .304 BABIP. Grichuk’s .276/.329/.548 stats should also get worse with his high .365 BABIP in 2015. If his .249/.296/.445 projection holds true, he will not help as much as we need in this coming year. The really bad news on Grichuk’s projected stats? His strikeout rate supposedly falls 7 points to 24.3% while his BA still drops. He’s got some significant off season work to do with John Mabry on making more and better contact. The prudent expectation would be to lower expectations for both players.
Sep 16, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; St. Louis Cardinals outfielders Stephen Piscotty (55), Thomas Pham (60) and Jason Heyward (22) celebrate following the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. The Cardinals won 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USATODAY Sports
Pham’s .268/.347/.477 numbers would seem ready for a fall with a .333 BABIP, but he’s been able to sustain those numbers throughout his career, albeit mostly in the minors. Forecasts show little change with him and Moss might rise a maximum of 10% to about a .240 BA clip, but expect no more. Net gains with the two players should be minimal.
Holliday has kept a consistent .330-ish BABIP for the past several years due to his hard-hitting line-drive style at the plate and ability to hit to the opposite field. We can depend upon him delivering similarly next year with a .279/.394/.410 line. The key need will be health and delivering consistent production each and every month of the season.
The Heyward loss will hurt in 2016 as the reduced defense accounts for several games when he saved runs at the plate or manufactured outs with throws into third. In addition, the decreased ability to score runs could cost us a total of 8-10 games from the difference between the 2015 and 2016 outfielders alone. Luckily, 90 wins should be playoff worthy for a wildcard slot, but wait, it gets worse.
How will the St Louis Cardinals fill the gaping hole with the loss of Lance Lynn and Lackey? That’s only 393.1 innings of a combined 2.88 ERA that accounted for more than 25 wins. One answer lies in the arm of Adam Wainwright who is expected to devour 200 innings of sub-2.88 ERA pitching instead of the 28 he posted in 2015. That leaves us with the need to fill 175+ innings with 3.25 ERA pitching (and have the subs to fill in when one of the top five inevitably go down).
Apr 30, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Tim Cooney (66) makes his major league debut pitching against the Philadelphia Phillies at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Cooney posted a 3.16 ERA and 1.213 WHIP in 31.1 MLB innings which appears to be the stats that could replace Lynn’s. Can he maintain those numbers in 2016 over a hundred innings? Not likely and projections say his numbers will fall to 3.94 ERA. Tyler Lyons posted a 3.75 ERA and 1.233 WHIP in 60 innings and has two more seasons of MLB appearances than Cooney. His numbers improved each year and hopefully he continue to progress. The Steamers projection has him posting another significant improvement to a .321 ERA in 2016. Lastly, while we all look for Marco Gonzales to make significant gains over his 2014 stats of 4.25 ERA and 1.529 WHIP, his entire body of MILB and MLB work says those were his best numbers. He’s got a way to go.
To truly fill the gap we need one more seasoned veteran. The young arms need to be managed and 200-250 innings for Cooney and Lyons combined would be a good target. This keeps us coming back to Mark Buehrle who threw 198.2 innings of 3.81 ERA ball in 2015 in the AL. His 1.243 WHIP didn’t include pitchers very often, so his numbers could be expected to remain the same in the NL or even better. That would most certainly fill the gap. Without this pitching move it would be prudent to drop another 6-8 wins from our 2015 total from the Lackey to Cooney/Lyons factor.
Does that really mean the St Louis Cardinals’ best possible outcome is 86 wins in 2016 as we lose eight more games due to a reduced outfield and six more from starting pitching decline? That’s a very difficult number to digest, but without some additional moves we should prepare for a season of disappointment. My worst case prediction due to outfield and starting pitching losses is only 82 wins. No games in October 2016? It could happen with the current lineup.
Is anybody ready for a .500 season? Not me and certainly not the players, coaches, front office and fans. Something will happen, something MUST happen and the Cardinal organization knows the current situation. Just look at their actions to keep Heyward and woo Price. While both initiatives failed, the effort cannot be dismissed. While our ability to remain patient gets tested, we can only trust in Mo to keep working to get this club positioned for the 2016 season.