What is the worst-case scenario for the 2024 St. Louis Cardinals?

What could go wrong may actually go wrong in 2024 for the Cardinals. What's the worst that could happen?

Colorado Rockies v St. Louis Cardinals
Colorado Rockies v St. Louis Cardinals / Dilip Vishwanat/GettyImages
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Bad Luck

Luck is a challenging statistic to quantify in baseball. Who's to say that a home run in one ballpark would or wouldn't be a home run in another? A line drive could be hit 110 MPH off the bat and go right to an outfielder. Batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is typically considered a luck stat especially when comparing a player's career BABIP to a particular season's BABIP. A good BABIP for a batter rests around .300.

The team's two best position players, Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt, both experienced bad luck when looking at just their BABIPs last year. Arenado's career BABIP is .292, but his BABIP in 2023 was .279. Paul Goldschmidt's career BABIP is .347, but he finished 2023 with a BABIP of .327.

Another luck statistic is HR/FB rate. This indicates the percentage of fly balls that a player hits that ended up being home runs. Typically, a HR/FB rate near 20% indicates a player who excels at hitting home runs and may be experiencing some luck. The Cardinals had just one player in the top 50 last year in this statistic: Paul Goldschmidt with a 15.4% HR/FB rate, 42nd in the league. Nolan Arenado (13.8%) and Lars Nootbaar (13.6%) cracked the top 100.

Every ballpark is different in its dimensions and its conditions. A home run in Great American Ballpark could easily be a double or a fly ball in Busch Stadium. Baseball Savant tracks home runs and calculates a player's home run total versus his expected home runs. Nolan Gorman, Paul Goldschmidt, and Nolan Arenado all rank in the top 50 in baseball in expected home runs. That's great, except for the fact that they hit more home runs than they were expected to last year. Only Paul Goldschmidt (-0.5 HR to expected home run ratio) fell short of his expectations.

Injuries, underperformance, and bad luck could hit the Cardinals at any point next year. Any one of those factors could derail a season in which the team is projected to win 85-90 games and contend for the division. Baseball has been good in St. Louis for a long time, and everyone affiliated with the team from John Mozeliak to a fan in Warrenton, Missouri experienced the miserable season that was 2023. It is just as likely that 2024 will go the same way, despite how much I don't want that to happen.

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