Blooming, bouncing back and breaking down: 2 Cardinals who fit each category

Here are two members of the St. Louis Cardinals who will come into their own in 2024, two who will recover from a down season, and two who look to be on the verge of collapsing.
St. Louis Cardinals v Baltimore Orioles
St. Louis Cardinals v Baltimore Orioles / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages
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Breakdown candidates

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt, like Nolan Arenado, is getting up there in age. But unlike Arenado, Goldschmidt's defense looks to have permanently regressed, as he was only one defensive run above average in 2023, his worst output since 2012. Additionally, his batting average against fastballs was his lowest in the Statcast era at .241.

If Goldschmidt is unable to display his formerly elite defense, more pressure will be on him to perform offensively, but the 36-year-old is a candidate to take another step back given his age and aforementioned performance against fastballs. A potential ray of hope is that his expected batting average against fastballs was .272, which was actually higher than his XBA against them in his MVP 2022.

The Cardinals have reportedly been in talks with Goldschmidt about a contract extension, so the team clearly believes he still has gas in the tank. Goldschmidt didn't decline as massively as his metrics made me fear he would have last season, so fans should hope he ages gracefully as he plays what are likely his final few years in the league.

Miles Mikolas

The Cardinals have worked hard this offseason to improve their rotation, and it is undoubtedly stronger than it was at this point last offseason. One of the pitchers returning to the rotation is Miles Mikolas, who scuffled to a 4.78 ERA in 2023. His metrics on Baseball Savant are a frigid blue, and while he maintained his elite control, he had an expected opposing batting average of .291.

Mikolas had a few hot streaks in 2023, and as a fifth starter, he will likely be a passable option, but asking him to serve in a role requiring more than that could be asking for trouble. The Cardinals are trying to catch up with the rest of the league by pivoting away from hurlers like Mikolas who pitch to contact, as the elimination of the shift has made those types of pitchers dangerous to rely on.

The 35-year-old Mikolas has had an impressive run in St. Louis after his return from Japan in 2018, but we might have seen the first signs of a permanent decline for him in 2023. However, he is one of the few pitchers in today's game to reliably pitch around 200 innings, so if he is able to do that and eat innings to conserve the bullpen, 2024 could still be a success for The Lizard King.

The Cardinals knew what they needed to do in the offseason to improve in 2024, and with so many players having down years in 2023, the Cardinals are pinning their hopes on the idea that it can't be any worse than it was last season. Even if players such as Mikolas and Goldschmidt aren't able to replicate their prime years, the Cardinals should have enough reinforcements, breakouts and bounce-back seasons to weather those storms.