Analyzing the 2023 St. Louis Cardinals defensive woes

Since 2021, the St. Louis Cardinals' defense has tumbled. What positions or players are a part of that decrease? Why is the team seeing poor defensive results?

MLB London Series - Chicago Cubs v St. Louis Cardinals
MLB London Series - Chicago Cubs v St. Louis Cardinals / Justin Setterfield/GettyImages
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Outs Above Average

Below is a chart detailing the Outs Above Average (OAA) for each position for the Cardinals from 2021-2023. OAA, as defined by MLB.com, is a "range-based metric of skill that shows how many outs a player has saved." OAA takes into account Catch Probability, Expected Catch Percentage, Actual Catch Percentage, and Catch Percentage Added for outfielders.

For infielders, key factors such as distance traveled, the time it takes to get to the ball, distance from the base the runner is heading to, and speed of the runner are all taken into account. All things considered, OAA is a much more accurate and all-encompassing stat than Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). Keep in mind, the 2023 season is only through August 9th. Therefore, some slight changes could occur between now and the end of the season.

Year

1B

2B

3B

SS

LF

CF

RF

Total

2021

6

15

10

7

4

13

-3

52 (1st in MLB)

2022

-7

-6

18

18

-2

12

-7

26 (4th in MLB)

2023

-3

1

3

10

-8

7

-9

1 (14th in MLB)

Major positional changes over the years include a transition from Yadier Molina to Andrew Knizner, to Willson Contreras at catcher, Dylan Carlson to Lars Nootbaar, to Jordan Walker in right field, Harrison Bader to Carlson/Nootbaar/Tommy Edman in center, Nolan Gorman has taken over second base from Tommy Edman in 2021 and part of 2022, and a combination of Paul DeJong, Edman, and Brendan Donovan at shortstop.

Aside from catcher, second base, center, and right, the same players have been playing the same positions. The team's shift usage was lower than the league average in 2021 and 2022. Despite these constants, the team's OAA totals have plummeted these past 2 years. Why is that?

Part of the explanation could be players in unusual positions. Tommy Edman is not a typical center fielder. Carlson was brought up as a corner outfielder with the potential to play center, and Jordan Walker is a natural third baseman who is learning the outfield on the fly. Nolan Gorman has done a great job learning the second base position, but he still has room to grow.