The Chicago Cubs are currently the team to beat in the National League Central. The St. Louis Cardinals have made some significant moves to try to catch them. If the season started today, how would the Cardinals look compared to the Cubs?
It is no secret the St. Louis Cardinals must improve their team to get back to the playoffs. In order to get back to the postseason, most would agree that they need to better one team – the Chicago Cubs – the team that has won the National League Central the past two seasons and won the World Series in 2016.
The Cardinals have made some major improvements to the club this off-season. The team traded for Marcell Ozuna to play left field and hit in the middle of the order. The team signed Luke Gregerson to sure up the bullpen. And, the team signed Miles Mikolas to serve as a starter for the back-end of the rotation. I think all of these are good moves that have made the team better. But, as the team stands today, on paper, are the St. Louis Cardinals better than the Chicago Cubs?
Before I dive into the projections for 2018, let me clarify that these are in fact projections. Players can obviously perform much better or worse than what they are “supposed” to. Here’s how we stack up in each position group. These projections are according to Depth Charts and can be found here:
- At catcher, Yadier Molina and Carson Kelly project to be worth 3.0 WAR. The Cubs’ catching group, led by Willson Contreras, is worth 3.4 WAR. Advantage = Chicago.
- Matt Carpenter and Jose Martinez are supposed to be worth 2.9 WAR at first base. The Cubs have Anthony Rizzo. He is projected to be worth 4.9 WAR. Advantage = Chicago.
- Both teams’ second base groups are expected to be worth 2.5 WAR. Kolten Wong accounts for most of that with 2.3 projected WAR. Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist both account for most the Cubs’ WAR at the position. Advantage = neither
- The Cubs once again have the advantage at shortstop, with Addison Russell and Baez projecting for 3.7 WAR. The Cardinals’ shortstop group, led by Paul DeJong, is supposed to be worth 2.7 WAR. Advantage = Chicago
- Kris Bryant plays third base for the Cubs. He is one of the top players in all of baseball and is projected to have another monster year with 6.2 WAR. The Cardinals’ third basemen, led by Jedd Gyorko, are projected at 2.4 WAR. Advantage = Chicago.
Overall, the Cubs have a big advantage throughout the infield, with each position group projected to be better or as good as the Cardinals’ groups.
Here is where the St. Louis Cardinals make up some ground.
- In left field, Marcell Ozuna and company are projected to be worth 3.9 WAR. The Cubs’ group of Kyle Schwarber, Zobrist, and Ian Happ are supposed to be worth 2.2 WAR. Advantage = St. Louis.
- In center field, the Cardinals once again have an advantage on paper. Tommy Pham and company are projected to be worth 3.4 WAR. Albert Almora Jr and Happ are projected at 2.2 WAR. Advantage = St. Louis.
- The Cubs do project to be better in right field. The Cubs’ group, led by Jason Heyward, is supposed to be worth 2.7 WAR. The Cardinals’ group, led by Dexter Fowler, is supposed to be worth 2.3 WAR. Advantage = Chicago.
In total, all St. Louis Cardinals’ batters are projected to be worth 24.0 WAR during the 2018 season. All Chicago Cubs’ batters are projected to be worth 29.2 WAR. That 5.2 WAR difference does not necessarily mean the Cubs are going to win five more games than the Cardinals. But, on paper right now, the Cubs are better in terms of position players.
I will not go through each starting pitcher, but the Cardinals do have the advantage here, projecting to have 15.6 WAR from the starters. This group will obviously be led by Carlos Martinez and his 4.0 projected WAR. The Cubs are projected to have 14.4 WAR from their starting pitchers, led by Jose Quintana with 4.4. Advantage = St. Louis.
The Cardinals’ relief corps are projected to be worth 3.2 WAR. The Cubs are projected to be worth 4.1 in this area. The Cardinals are “supposed to” sign a closer. This could swing the advantage in our favor. But, right now advantage = Chicago.
Overall, the entire St. Louis Cardinals’ pitching staff is projected to be worth 18.8 WAR. The entire Cubs’ staff is supposed to be worth 18.5 WAR. Advantage = St. Louis.
The entire St. Louis team is supposed to be worth 42.8 WAR. This actually only trails the Dodgers, Cubs, and Nationals in the National League. Therefore, on paper, the Cardinals are a wild card team. The Cubs are projected to be worth 47.7 WAR as a team. Again, the difference of 4.9 does not necessarily mean that the Cubs are going to win five more games than the Cardinals. All it means is that the Cubs are a better team on paper than the Cardinals right now.
Obviously, a lot can change in the next few months. The projections I used do not include current free agents. So, adding a free agent hitter and/or pitcher can alter those projections for any team in a big way.
As it stands right now, the Cardinals still have some catching up to do to take back the top spot in the National League Central. What should the Cardinals do to close the gap? Sign another bat? Get another starting pitcher? A closer? All of the above? Let me know what you think.