St. Louis Cardinals: Don’t worry about the struggling regulars
By Matt Graves
Some of the St. Louis Cardinals’ regulars have struggled this spring. This isn’t great but shouldn’t be a huge cause for concern.
If there was a choice between having players struggle and having players show off during spring training, there is an obvious choice. When it comes to the St. Louis Cardinals and really spring training for every team, spring stats are never a great predictor of regular season results.
To this point this spring for the St. Louis Cardinals, things haven’t gone great for the team’s veterans.
Two weeks into the start of games, starters are beginning to go deeper into games as they ramp up for the regular season. Although the team isn’t doing well overall at a 2-4 record, there really shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
The team’s few position battles are putting pressure on those players to perform. At the top of the team’s spring stat sheet are Tyler O’Neill and Lane Thomas, the two players with the most on the line this year.
For the regulars, the pressure hasn’t been on and things haven’t gone well in the box score.
The scary thing with these stats is of course the fact that these players make up the meat of the lineup. Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado are going to be the two most pivotal hitters in the lineup and seeing them both struggle can be a little scary. None of these players are really in danger of losing their jobs. Dylan Carlson is really the only player that could have his playing time cut and even that is semi-debatable.
However, this is a great time to just remember that spring isn’t really for hitters; it’s for pitchers. I’m not trying to say that these players aren’t trying or that if you asked them, they’d be happy or even flippant about struggling in the spring. These guys are all competitors.
The other thing to remember with all of this is that the sample sizes are so small. 12-15 at-bats is four or five games in the regular season. If a player slumps for two-thirds of a week, does the sky fall?
But at the end of the day, it’s not our job to diagnose spring stats for players who aren’t playing for their jobs.
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Tyler O’Neill could easily lose his spot in left field this spring. With this pressure on his shoulders, he’s stepping up and has five hits in 15 at-bats. Lane Thomas is also playing for his job and he is responded by going 5-17 this spring.
Tommy Edman is being challenged by one of the team’s greatest players of the last decade, Matt Carpenter for his job at both second base and leadoff. He’s got six hits in 14 chances.
The main point here is that in the places where there is pressure on players, the players are forced to step up. In the first two weeks of spring especially, there is not much of a reason for the veterans to care about results. All they need to do is make sure they are getting their reps in, getting in game shape, and getting ready for the regular season.
The other aspect of this is that fans have no clue what the players are focusing on. Veterans could be up at the plate just looking to try to go the other way, or take the at-bat as deep in the count as possible. We have no clue.
Divisions aren’t won in March. A recent example of Spring not mattering is 2017. The team had the second-best record in the entire Grapefruit League at 20-8-4. After this great spring, the team went on to go 83-79, finishing 3rd in the division. The last time the Cardinals won 100 games (2015), they went just 13-11-3 in spring training.
Spring training is all fans have right now, and there is a very strong urge to overanalyze the performance of veterans. Overanalyze all you want and freak out all you want but in the end, nothing really matters from these games for players who aren’t trying to earn a spot on the roster or a job.