Coming off a trip to the NLCS, the St. Louis Cardinals’ will rely on the ascendancy of their middle infield duo of Kolten Wong and Paul DeJong in order for their success to carry over.
Because of the offensive inconsistency that plagued the St. Louis Cardinals much of last season as well as the underperformance that we saw from many key players at the plate, the team was heavily reliant on it’s pitching and run prevention. Because there were no significant additions to the St. Louis lineup this winter, the importance of the Cardinals defense, anchored by Kolten Wong and Paul DeJong, will remain a constant for the team in 2020.
Now, I don’t mean to bore you with the numbers, but it is important in this case to see just how impressive – and important – the Cardinals defense was last year, and how significant of an impact Wong and DeJong had on the defensive success.
According to Fangraphs, the 2019 Cardinals ranked 3rd in the National League for DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) with 91, 1st in UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) with a rating of 32.8, and 1st in Def (Defensive Runs Above Average) with 39.8, and Wong and DeJong are a big reason for the success.
You can debate which player makes the “flashiest” plays, but you can’t debate the numbers.
Individually, Wong ranked 1st among all second baseman in DRS (19), UZR (5.2), and Def (7.2), while also ranking 2nd in OAA (Outs Above Average) with 10, ultimately making him the second base recipient for the 2019 Gold Glove award in the National League. The 29-year old star finished the 2019 season with a 3.7 fWAR.
As for his double-play partner Paul DeJong, the 26-year old All-Star ranked 1st among shortstops in UZR (11.4), and Def (18.5), 5th in OAA (13), and was tied for 1st with Javier Baez for DRS with 26. DeJong finished his 2019 campaign with a 4.1 fWAR, putting both him and Wong in the top 50 in all of baseball for 2019 WAR.
Of course, the Cardinals defense is heavily supported by the great Yadier Molina, and Gold-Glove-caliber center fielder, Harrison Bader. However, it’s safe to say that the Cardinals wouldn’t have been as successful of a team last year if it weren’t for the supreme defense produced by Kolten Wong and Paul DeJong.
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To show why defense is so important for this Cardinals team, let’s take a look back on the 2019 season offensively for the Redbirds. Last season the Cardinals finished 19th in all of baseball in runs scored, 23rd in hits, 24th in home runs, 14th in OBP, and 21st in OPS.
It was ultimately the lack of offense that lead to the Cardinals getting swept in the NLCS by the eventual World Champion Washington Nationals. Like I said previously, if the 2020 season is similar at all to what it was for the Cardinals in 2019, it is going to be incredibly important for the defense to continue their stellar play behind the great St. Louis pitching staff.
There is always room for improvement though and the Cardinals are optimistic about the production they could get from top prospect Dylan Carlson once he reaches the Major Leagues.
St. Louis also remains hopeful for possible breakout seasons at the plate from guys like Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader, as well as potential bounce-back seasons from some veterans such as the 34-year old infielder, Matt Carpenter, but they’re certainly aren’t the highest of expectations surrounding the offense heading into the new season.
The offensive struggles may continue this year, but having arguably the best middle infield duo in baseball has to provide Cardinals fans with a good sense of optimism heading into the all-but-normal 2020 season.