Why the Cardinals WILL be Successful in 2014

Earlier in the week I gave you the facts behind any potential struggles the Cardinals could endure this year. In response, I now bring you the facts behind what will bring the Cardinals, and their fans, joy in the upcoming season.

The national media, the fans, and I are all expecting big things from the Cards in 2014, and for good reason. Within two games of winning the World Series last year, John Mozeliak did his thing and only made the Cardinals better. There is five major reasons I believe the Cardinals will be successful in 2014.

Credit: Fansided.com

Credit: Fansided.com

Two games away – In 2013 the Cardinals were only two games away from being World Series Champs, and they were able to retain nearly every key piece on that team. Closer Edward Mujica has moved on to Boston, but he wasn’t much of a presence in the post season, and Trevor Rosenthal as well as the returning Jason Motte should more than make up for Mujica’s loss at the back end of games. The other key loss, Carlos Beltran will be wearing pinstripes in 2014.

Matt Adams is essentially taking the place of Beltran in the lineup as Craig moves out to right. VivaElBirdos.com (a great source for Cardinals information and analysis, check them out) has been working on their community projections, and their numbers have Adams cranking 23 HR, driving in 70+ with an OPS north of .800. If this is the case, the Cardinals shouldn’t miss Beltran much. It’s hard to believe that the Cardinals will miss David Freese who had a disappointing year last year. John Mozeliak limited his losses in the offseason, and the Cardinals have immediate replacements for the assets they did lose. A team two games away from a title has only gotten better, and that is reason for plenty of optimism.

The Bench – when examining why this year’s team is going to be successful, I tend to look at what held back last year’s Cardinal team. One glaring weakness of last year’s team was the bench. While many Cardinal fans (including myself) were hoping for John Mozeliak to upgrade from Tony Cruz, that didn’t happen. Fortunately, Mozeliak signed Mark Ellis in the offseason, and with the addition of Peter Bourjos, Jon Jay will reinforce the bench. Ellis and Jay could both start for a lot of major league squads so it’s a luxury for the Redbirds to have them as weapons off the bench. Not to mention super prospect Oscar Taveras will more than likely make his way to St. Louis before season’s end, providing extra firepower. Compared to last year’s bench which at times featured names like Ty Wigginton, Adron Chambers, and Brock Peterson, this year’s might as well be Murderers’ Row.

The Defense – The Cardinals had -39 defensive runs saved last year. That was 13th of 15 National League teams. Jon Jay was -10, and David Freese was a -14. A stat that shocked me was to see that Peter Bourjos was a -1 last year for the Angels. Given that his season was plagued by injury and he only participated in 55 games, I cut the Cardinal newcomer a break. Especially with the knowledge that prior to last season his lowest DRS for a year was +9. Even if Bourjos is just even in the upcoming campaign, that is a 10 run improvement at one position. Matt Carpenter was even last year at 2nd base, if he can continue the same at 3rd that is another 14 run improvement (assuming Kolten Wong can play at least even at 2nd).

Unfortunately, Pete Kozma was a bright spot for the Cardinals last year defensively, scoring a +8 at shortstop. Jhonny Peralta was even last year for the Tigers. 1st base and right field are difficult to project given the lack of experience of Craig in RF, and Adams at 1B. I feel that I can safely say Adams and Craig will not combine to be worse than the -7 Craig and Beltran were last year. All things considered the Cards upgraded +16 or more defensively in the offseason. Centerfield and third base will be dramatically improved while only shortstop has suffered any damage. DRS is only one metric towards measuring defense, which in my opinion is the part of the game toughest to statistically quantify.

Shortstop – I just touched on how Peralta will be a downgrade defensively, but that is a minor inconvenience due to the major upgrade he will be with the bat in his hands.  Among shortstops with 300+ AB’s last year only former Cardinal Brendan Ryan hit worse than Pete Kozma (based on OPS). Jhonny Peralta is not necessarily the franchise, long term SS the Cardinals need, but he will hold down fort for a few years. I knocked on Peralta for his relatively low .755 career OPS in my last post, but even that is a .207 improvement over what Kozma gave the Cards last year. Last year Peralta far exceed his career number with a .815 OPS, 3rd amongst 300+ AB SS’s, trailing only Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki. As long as Peralta can be average as a defender, which history has shown he can be, the Cardinals have filled their only offensive weakness.

Polishing the Young Arms – While many see the Cardinals rotation as a major strength of the team, I expressed my concern in my last post. If Martinez wins the 5th spot in the rotation, that leaves the Cardinals with 3/5 of their rotation having one year or less of ML service time. However, despite their youth and inexperience Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, and Carlos Martinez all have top of the rotation talent.

I assume that Derrick Lilliquist has had these three working in the offseason on polishing their raw skills. If Miller has learned to command his fastball and/or added a secondary pitch, then wow his ceiling is high. Imagine if Wacha’s curve has improved in the offseason to compliment his already dominant fastball/change combo. Martinez command will certainly (or should I say hopefully) have improved in the offseason. The future is now for the Cardinal rotation, and the future is bright.

When it comes to the Cardinals, the rich have gotten richer. The 2013 NL Central Champions have only widened the gap between them and their division rivals. Given the core group that brought so much success last year, as well as Mozeliak’s brilliant additions there is no reason to believe great things aren’t right around the corner.  Buckle up fellow Cards fans; it’s going to be a fun ride!

It’s not crazy, it’s sports

AJ

PB & Jay

Player A: .293 BA .356 OBP .757 OPS

Player B: .251 BA .306 OBP .704 OPS

Who do you want starting in center field for your team?

Player A: -5 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) .915 Revised Zone Rating (RZR) -11 Outfield Arm Runs Saved (rARM)

Player B: 33 DRS .944 RZR 6 rARM

All info via fangraphs.com

How about now?

If you didn’t figure it out from the title, Player A is Jon Jay, and Player B is the Cardinals’ new toy in the outfield, Peter Bourjos. Based on those stats, which you would prefer start probably depends on whether or not you want offense or defense from the centerfield position.

PB and Jay

Credit: KSDK

The options:

1. Start Bourjos, Jay becomes fourth OF

I am of the belief that given the lack of defense from the corner outfielders, it is more important to the Cardinals to have defense in CF. Matt Holliday and Allen Craig may possibly combine to be the worst defensive set of corner outfielders in baseball this year, but they may also be the best offensively. As an everyday player Bourjos is a potential Gold Glover in center field. The firepower of Holliday and Craig as well as Yadier Molina, Matt Adams, Matt Carpenter, and Jhonny Peralta should more than make up for the drop in offense. Jay would easily become an above average bench player, and if Bourjos offense slips too far, could step in as the starter.

2. Start Jay, Bourjos is 4th OF

We’ve seen this before. If Jay is able to return to his form from 2010-2013 he will be a solid, .300 hitting center fielder. He won’t get any assists, or make many spectacular plays, but he will make all the simple plays, and hit a consistent .300. The Cardinals won a World Series with that in center, and were two victories away from another. So why change?

3. Platoon – Jay against RHP, Bourjos against LHP

This is the option that I can’t wrap my head around. I’m old school in the sense that I believe in a player getting into a rhythm playing every day. There is no stat to back this up, but there is something to be said about a player keeping his timing and momentum by being in the lineup on a daily basis. Not to mention that statistically, it wouldn’t even make sense to platoon them. While Jay’s little to begin with pop completely disappears against left handed pitching, he still hits for average and gets on base at a higher rate than Bourjos does against lefties (.269/.343 compared to .256/.301). Take your pick, Bourjos or Jay, but the platoon idea needs to be shot down.

So what will the Cardinals do come April? Should they stick with the solid, but not spectacular that has gotten the job done before? Or should they unleash their new toy, the one that will catch any fly ball hit from here to Cincinnati? Honestly, there is no wrong answer in this case. The rest of the Cardinals roster would make them World Series contenders if they had Shane Robinson patrolling center this year. My vote is to start Bourjos. There is an old adage that says it’s better to be great at one thing than mediocre at many. Jon Jay is a good center fielder, one that would start for a lot of teams in MLB, but there is nothing that he is GREAT at. The reason the Cardinals traded for Peter Bourjos is because he is GREAT defensively, possibly the best there is. I say let that greatness shine, but don’t hesitate to use your insurance policy.

It’s not crazy, it’s sports

AJ

Give me a follow on twitter @GSC_AJ