As Opening Day for the 2017 MLB season is just months away, let’s take a look at what in the world the St. Louis Cardinals will bring to the table this year, and nibble on some stats that have made them a difficult team to predict.
In the past two years, the Redbirds have won 186 games, but if you take a closer look at their team you have to wonder how they did this. Two years ago they had one of the lowest team ERAs in the past forty years (2.94). That’s a full 0.21 runs per game less than the Cubs rotation this past year of Lester, Lackey, Arietta, and Hendricks, with Chapman coming out of the bullpen. But can you remember who made up that lower-than-it-should-have-been 2.94 ERA boasting starting rotation? Probably not because it was Carlos Martinez’s first year starting, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Jaime Garcia, and a 36-year-old John Lackey. Four of those five starters ended the season with their career low ERA (min. 20 games). Their thought-to-be ace Adam Wainwright tore his Achilles leaving the batter’s box in only his fourth game; he never started another game.
So when 2016 rolled around, sure St. Louis lost Lackey to the wealthy Cubs and Lance Lynn never threw a pitch due to Tommy John surgery, but returning Wacha, Martinez, and Garcia in their prime had a promising feel for Cardinals fans. Then you add a healthy Adam Wainwright and an expensive Mike Leake and one would think that their 2015 season ERA was ready to be challenged. It wasn’t. In fact, their ERA went from a 2.94 to a 4.08 in a matter of 162 games. Does their lack of defense explain some of this regression? Yes. But it doesn’t explain the fact that Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Mike Leake, and Jaime Garcia all had ERAs north of 4.50. Does this make sense? Absolutely not. But it’s not the only stat heavy, head-turning occurrence that the Cardinals have displayed in the last two years.
Mike Matheny is awfully lucky that his “stud” of a pitching rotation put up the numbers they did in 2015, because in a league that has become more and more dependent on the home run ball, the Cardinals only hit 137. This landed them in 25th place for home runs by team, and 24th in runs, yet they won 100 games. Adding Brandon Moss before the trade deadline earned them four more home runs that year.
So when 2016 rolled around (again), we expected the same mediocre home run production; after all, the Cardinals aren’t known for the long ball. Losing Jason Heyward and adding Jedd Gyorko in the offseason would most likely be costing the Cardinals a couple home runs. But once again, it’s the Cardinals, and 162 games later 225 souvenirs had been hit to fans across the country. Eighty-eight more home runs than 2015. That includes tying the National League record with 25 straight games with at least one home run, and hitting an MLB record 15 pinch-hit home runs. The mind-blowing portion about this is taking a look at St. Louis’s lineup. Not Barry Bonds, not Albert Pujols, not Alex Rodriguez, but Jedd Gyroko led the team with 30 home runs. Eight players had at least 15 home runs. Everyone had the fever for the home run ball, yet not one player on the team drove in 100 runs. Heck nobody even drove in 90 runs. Does this make sense? Absolutely not (again).
So here comes 2017. The Cardinals have added Dexter Fowler and Brett Cecil. Am I crazy to predict for the slowest team in baseball’s last decade to lead the league in stolen bases? What about a lockdown sub-2.00 bullpen ERA from Brett Cecil and a bunch of average relievers? The only thing we can expect from the Cardinals is for them to put up stats that nobody expects.