The St. Louis Cardinals are a team built on defense and pitching. However, in the early season, they have been bad at both.
Even with an improved offense featuring Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado in the middle, nobody expects the St. Louis Cardinals to compete by out-hitting their opponents. That isn’t the Cardinals’ game.
On paper, the Cardinals have one of the best defenses in the MLB. Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt have the corners locked down, Tyler O’Neill just won a Gold Glove in left, Harrison Bader is elite in center, and on and on. However, the Cardinals aren’t fielding their best defensive team right now.
O’Neill’s Gold Glove has been replaced with Austin Dean’s, and Bader hasn’t had an at-bat this year. Paul DeJong has started the year cold on both sides of the ball, and injuries to the pitching staff has diminished their performance too.
It’s only been nine games, the Cardinals have still won more than they’ve lost, but for a team built on pitching and defense, they have been awful at pitching and defense out of the gate. Let’s look at some stats.
On the pitching side, the Cardinals are currently 4th worst in ERA (5.35), 5th worst in FIP (5.03), and worst in the MLB in xFIP (5.26). FIP and xFIP are both directly tied into the team’s defense, so how does that group fare? The Cardinals are 8th worst in DRS (-2), 6th worst in errors (7) and the worst team in the MLB by Outs Above Average (-6).
These defensive stats are all accruing stats, so for the Cardinals to get to seven errors and a -6 OAA in just nine games is comical.
Part of this has got to be early season rust as well as small samples on the pitching side. However, this is not a trend that is going to treat the Cardinals well if it continues.
One of the most perplexing early-season struggles has been the defense of Paul DeJong. In 2019, DeJong was right up there with Javy Baez and Nick Ahmed for the best defensive shortstops in baseball. In 2019 he had a +11 OAA, but that dropped to -3 in 2020 and is now already at -5 for 2021.
The issue is unclear, but he looks lost at the plate and it’s a big season for him when it comes to what his future will look like with the team.
Early season numbers have a way of looking funky like this, but this is not a good trend. The Cardinals have, through timely hitting or sheer luck, been able to win still. This isn’t something that will keep up over a full 162 games though.