The St. Louis Cardinals are in denial about their offense in 2016.
Before we dive into the upcoming season and what potential disaster it might hold, I want to go all the way back to 2011. In that championship year, the St. Louis Cardinals were an entirely different team from the one we have now.
Not only has there been a lot of turnover, but the overall strategy was different. Back then, we scored runs, now we keep the other team from scoring them.
I don’t want to argue that one way is better than the other, and I really like the pitching St. Louis has now, but it’s fascinating to look at the past five years. Why? Because of the trend in offense:
As a reminder, wRC+ sets 100 as its average. Maybe I’m crazy, but that seems like a pretty easily identifiable downward trend. In 2011, the Cardinals’ offense was the best in baseball, and three of the top fifteen hitters in baseball were prominent features of our lineup (Lance Berkman, Matt Holliday, and Albert Pujols).
Last year, we had one player in the top fifteen hitters (Matt Carpenter), and the next best came in at 39 (Jason Heyward). Since Heyward won’t be on the team in 2016, the next best hitter was Jhonny Peralta at 83 — he was the only other hitter on our team in the top 100 and the only other hitter above average.
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Now, before you berate me for excluding some other hitters, let me note that those numbers are for qualified hitters only. If we drop the limit to, say, 200 plate appearances, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, and Matt Holliday pop up between Carpenter and Heyward. That’s a little bit better, but let’s look at what the St. Louis Cardinals have as their starting lineup heading into 2016:
Catcher: Yadier Molina
First Base: Matt Adams/Brandon Moss
Second Base: Kolten Wong
Third Base: Matt Carpenter
Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta
Left Field: Matt Holliday
Center Field: Randal Grichuk
Right Field: Stephen Piscotty
That’s an aging, oft-injured catcher; a first baseman who has struggled to produce so far or a first baseman who hasn’t been the same since hip surgery; a solid second baseman who hasn’t made a big splash with the bat yet; a great third baseman.
Not to mention an aging shortstop with streaky production; an aging left fielder who missed most of 2015 with injuries; a young, unproven center fielder who can’t stay healthy; and a promising young right fielder who is probably more “solid” than “great” with the bat.
By my count, that’s one great position, two solid ones, and five question marks. Could Wong and Adams figure it out with the bat, and could Grichuk and Holliday stay healthy and productive? Could Molina look as good as he did in 2012, and could extra rest help Peralta stay sharp? Sure!
Space aliens could invade from space tomorrow, too. Personally, I wouldn’t bet on either of those scenarios, but that’s just me. As it stands, the Cardinals have had back to back years of slightly above average offense, and the loss of Jason Heyward probably means that everything gets worse in 2016.
Does this mean that the St. Louis Cardinals are doomed? Not at all. Pitching will keep the Cardinals afloat, just like last year, but championship teams don’t usually have average or below-average offenses. Perhaps St. Louis still has plans to improve their hitting, but as things stand right now, don’t expect a lot of punch out of 2016’s lineup.