St. Louis Cardinals: The NL Central’s Best Team by the Numbers

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 17: Adam Wainwright
PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 17: Adam Wainwright /

With all of the new data and projections from places like Steamer, baseball seems almost quantifiable in 2019.Using this data, I have to compared the St. Louis Cardinals and the rest of the NL Central side by side.

We have exact data on the spin of a baseball as it leaves the pitchers hand. We have sprint speed, launch angle, hit probability, and on and on. The list of numbers is almost endless. I used the projected lineups for my comparison, with some slight edits when it comes to the use of Steamer. The St. Louis Cardinals didn’t require alterations, but other teams did.

For example, Steamer projects Francisco Liriano to throw 30 innings, but Rotochamp has him listed as a starter. I substituted in Mitch Keller instead, who is projected to throw 92 innings.

I went through multiple systems in my analysis and surprisingly came up with similar results. To start my analysis, I went to the go-to stat for player worth: bWAR. Now I understand that WAR is not a be-all, tell-all with player analysis. But it is a very good starting place for both pitchers and hitters.

Performing the comparisons, I organized each position by team in an Excel document. Then I ranked players just based upon my thoughts and previous performances I’ve seen. This produced team rankings of the Cardinals just ahead of the Cubs, with the Brewers, Reds, and Pirates all being close together, but a little bit behind. For grins, I replaced Dexter Fowler with Bryce Harper and the Cardinals left the Cubs in the dust (go figure).

Next, I decided to do two statistical analyses, one of past performance and one of steamer projections. I wanted to use WAR, but having only a select number of players, I needed to account for playing time. For position players, I came up with a formula of (WAR/Games played)*100. The division provides a sort of value per game, and then it is scaled to a measurable number. For pitchers, the formula was (WAR/Innings Pitched)*200.

Once I had these inning/game value numbers, I ranked each position on a scale of 1-5 except for OF, SP, and RP. OF and RP were 1-15 (and then divided by 3 in the totals), SP 1-25 (then divided by 5). The high number is the best, in this case. From there, I totaled the scores of each team and scaled each half (pitcher vs position player) to be out of 50. Then, I added the calculated scores together and came up with my overall roster comparison.

The best NL Central position player corps belongs to the Cardinals, and by a decent margin. I found this to be surprising, considering the formidable corps that Milwaukee rolls out on a daily basis. If you’re curious, the Cards went C 4, 1B 4, 2B 4, 3B 4, SS 5, OF 13, 9, 3. The most obvious area to improve is RF, where Dexter Fowler represents a huge question mark. If he were to be replaced by Bryce Harper, the Cardinals would become 12% better in my analysis.

I was through my analysis and already writing this article when Fangraphs rolled out a new version of catcher WAR. This brought Yadi’s ranking from 4th to 2nd, behind only framing extraordinaire Yasmani Grandal. Also ahead of Willson Contreras. Boy does that make me feel good.

Another feel-good result is that Paul DeJong is projected to be more valuable on a per-game basis than Javier Baez and the single most productive SS in the NL Central. Right as I was finishing up my research Fangraphs rolled out a new version of WAR for catchers. I’m quite happy that they did as they have finally found a way to at least partially recognize the defense wonder that is Yadier Molina.

With Steamer’s old projections, Yadi ranked 4th for NL Central catchers. This was an atrocity to me that has been quite well righted. The inclusion of framing bumps Yadi from 4th to 2nd (which I’m still not happy with). What I like is that he is projected to be more valuable than Willson Contreras. Contreras is a respectable catcher, but he gets far too much hype around the league. Similar story to my thoughts on Baez, good-not-great.

Speaking of good-not-great, we’re on to the Cardinals pitching. We rank 3rd in the division for projected pitching, behind the Pirates and Cubs. I found it very interesting that the Pirates are seemingly much better than everyone gives them credit for. They do have quite a formidable rotation headlined by Jameson Taillon and Chris Archer, but they also have the necessary depth to rank this well.

The St. Louis Cardinals represent a little bit of a conundrum with their pitching. Jack Flaherty is projected to be the 4th most productive starter, but Dakota Hudson the least. I, quite frankly, think Steamer is very wrong about Hudson (I have him on my fantasy team for a reason). I think he will quickly evolve into a right-handed Dallas Keuchal and become a boon for this rotation.

Steamer projections are also not high on Michael Wacha. I am of the opinion that, should he stay healthy, he will outpitch his projections. Steamer also expects heavy regression from Miles Mikolas, going from 2nd to 12th in terms of production. I think he will regress, but not to that magnitude. He will remain a top 7 or 8 starter for the division.

The other projection I don’t like is Yu Darvish as the 2nd best starter, behind Chris Archer. I think both of those are going to be over the mark. Darvish has battled health issues and Chris Archer has never seemed to put it all together, much like Carlos Martinez.

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As far as bullpens go, the Brewers set the gold standard with a three-headed monster of Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, and Cory Knebel. However, the Cardinals are not far behind with Jordan Hicks, Alex Reyes, Andrew Miller, and Carlos Martinez all projecting as back-end arms.

I’m very intrigued about the idea of Martinez as a reliever. He has the elite stuff needed to make it as a starter but seems to lack the necessary mentality. He could quite easily transform himself into an elite reliever, though. An electric fastball paired with a nasty slider would make him a looming presence in the ‘pen as the 8th or 9th rolls around.

The exciting thing about the names I listed from the Cards pen is that they can all throw multiple innings. Hicks came up as a starter, Reyes and Miller should serve as our versions of Josh Hader, and Carlos has been a starter for years. This is an ideal setup for modern October baseball, where bullpens win games. Your starter can go five innings and turn it over to the ‘pen for a win. It’s exciting to think about.

The summation of all this information and data leads to a wonderful conclusion: The St. Louis Cardinals have the best team in the NL Central, and by a wide margin. The Brewers, Pirates, and Cubs are all knotted up for second place and the Reds trail by a wide margin.

Next. Shreve is DFA’d, Wieters, Mayers get roster nods. dark

We finally have an elite starter in Flaherty and an impact bat in Goldschmidt. We haven’t had both at the same time since 2013, when Carlos Beltran proved a major threat and Adam Wainwright made one of his last bids for the Cy Young. That also happens to be the last Cardinals team to go to the World Series. Coincidence? Yup. 2019 will be an exciting year for St. Louis Cardinals baseball.