St. Louis Cardinals: ZiPS projections lay out a grim offense for 2021

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - SEPTEMBER 16: Paul Goldschmidt #46 of the St. Louis Cardinals walks back to the dugout after striking out in the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers during game one of a doubleheader at Miller Park on September 16, 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - SEPTEMBER 16: Paul Goldschmidt #46 of the St. Louis Cardinals walks back to the dugout after striking out in the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers during game one of a doubleheader at Miller Park on September 16, 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

To this point this winter, the St. Louis Cardinals haven’t done anything to augment the offense. Because of this, ZiPS projections aren’t favorable for 2021.

Many times this offseason, the St. Louis Cardinals’ front brass has mentioned the need for a more consistent offense in 2021. Make no mistake about it, they know exactly what is wrong with the current team. To this point though, nothing has been done to fix it.

As I’m sure you know, the 2020 offense was one of the worst that fans have seen in the past few years. Sure, the Cardinals ranked fine in on-base percentage, but they were a bottom-five team in power statistics and 19th overall in the MLB when sorting by wRC+. The Cardinals’ tough schedule and small sample certainly didn’t help anything, but it was still a rough performance.

I still believe that the Cardinals are going to make a move or two this winter to bring in platoon bats for third base and the outfield, but no news yet. They aren’t alone either as many teams have sat agonizingly still to this point.

As they do each year, FanGraphs and Dan Szymborski have been releasing the yearly ZiPS player projections. Most years, these are pretty spot on for the vast majority of the roster, with some outliers overperforming and underperforming. On Wednesday, the Cardinals writeup came out.

To be abundantly straightforward, they don’t paint a very pretty picture for the team’s offense in 2021. But we can get to that in a second. First, let’s talk optimism.

Pitching Projections

The one thing that ZiPS loves is the Cardinals’ bullpen. Projecting John Gant to lead the group with a 1.3 fWAR. Right behind him, there is a very strong projected top group of Giovanny Gallegos, Ryan Helsley, Alex Reyes, Genesis Cabrera, and even Angel Rondon all with a 0.8 fWAR or better projection.

Coming off a year of not pitching, ZiPS projects a modest return to form for Jordan Hicks, but nothing out of this world. As Szymborski notes in his writeup, things do drop off a bit after the top group with a lot of the other young arms not being projected well after their debuts in 2020.

Moving over to the starters, the sky doesn’t seem to be falling there either. ZiPS agrees with most fans that Jack Flaherty’s 2020 was a fluke, projecting him for a 4.5 fWAR and a 3.26 ERA, nearly matching his 2019 performance.

Kwang Hyun Kim is projected a 3.0 fWAR as a second starter, with Miles Mikolas, Carlos Martinez, and Austin Gomber all rounding out the rotation with fairly average projections.

In the debate about whether or not to re-sign Adam Wainwright, ZiPS projects a 1.1 fWAR for the righty, right behind the projected 1.2 fWAR for what they have as the fifth starter, Austin Gomber. Decisions on signing players are not made from ZiPS projections, but when looking through that lens, Wainwright wouldn’t move the needle in the starting rotation compared to who the team already has under contract.


Now to the ugly stuff.

At the very top of the rankings for the St. Louis Cardinals are the two Pauls. DeJong is projected to lead the position players with a 3.3 fWAR (and a very interesting Jhonny Peralta comp) with Paul Goldschmidt right behind him with a 3.0 fWAR. Of the players currently on the roster, the next highest ZiPS projection is (drumroll please…) Harrison Bader with a 2.2 fWAR, likely from defense.

Tommy Edman, Dylan Carlson, and Matt Carpenter are all sitting within 15% of average offensively, with the latter two of that list projected for a 97 and 96 OPS+.

We haven’t started talking about expectations for Dylan Carlson in his first full season, but I don’t think anyone could be super upset with a 97 OPS+ and a .245/.315/.426 slash line. It’s not going to save the offense, but Carlson has never been projected by people smarter than myself as an immediate fix, it might take him a couple of years to be a big part of the offense.

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In the debate between Andrew Knizner and Yadier Molina, ZiPS projects an 81 OPS+ for Knziner and a 76 OPS+ for Molina, with Knizner beating Molina narrowly with a 1.2 fWAR. This is the big fear of giving him two years. Offensively, Molina has been slowing down heavily for years. It isn’t a huge difference in performance offensively, but the Cardinals need to optimize their bats wherever they can and batting Molina 6th every day is going to be a bad idea.

Interestingly enough, minor league signee Jose Rondon is projected to be the 7th most valuable Cardinal on the current roster. That is with a projected OPS of just over .700.

Here is the bottom line: of every hitter projected for the Cardinals, there is only one (Paul Goldschmidt) is projected to be above average offensively and it is only by 17%. Unless one or more players blow their ZiPS projections out of the water, the Cardinals don’t have the offensive talent needed to be anything other than a bottom 10 offense this season RIGHT NOW.

The Cardinals aren’t going to blow up this team, but if they can add in two platoon bats that only hit against their better side, things can improve. To get much out of this offense, players need to be played in situations where they hit best. Seeing a whole year of Matt Carpenter bat against lefties and Bader against righties every time is going to hurt.

dark. Next. Are the Cardinals going to be Yadi-less in 2021?

After this season, the Cardinals will know what this group of players can do. They can add a couple bats to help improve these projections, but the pitching will once again carry them. Maybe Carlson or O’Neill or someone else can jump above their projections, but even if one of them does, it won’t cover the pits in other areas.