2011 St. Louis Cardinals: Was Wainwright the difference between contention and mediocrity?

2010 Record: 86-76, 2nd NL Central
2010 Prediction: 84-78, 2nd NL Central
Diff: 2
2011 Prediction: 3rd NL Central

Impact Player: 1B Albert Pujols
Impact Pitcher: RHP Chris Carpenter
Best Reliever: RHP Ryan Franklin
Top Prospect: RHP Shelby Miller

General Manager: GM John Mozeliak
Manager: Tony LaRussa (1318-1110, .543)

Significant Acquisitions:
LHP Brian Tallet, RHP Miguel Batista, SS Ryan Theriot, OF Lance Berkman, C Gerald Laird, INF Nick Punto, RHP Bryan Augenstein

Significant Departures:
OF Randy Winn, UTIL Pedro Feliz, LHP Dennys Reyes, RHP Mike MacDougal

 

The St. Louis Cardinals are in an awkward position.  They won only 86 games in baseball’s worst division last season, finishing well back of the Reds and in 2011, they return much the same team with one very large subtraction.  Adam Wainwright, the team’s undisputed ace, will miss the entire season recovering from Tommy John surgery, leaving the rotation in a precarious position.  Not only that, but the Cards failed to ink the best player in baseball to a contract extension this offseason and there’s now a very good chance he’ll hit the open market this fall.

St. Louis could go from perennial contenders to a team in transition very quickly.  If they don’t contend in 2011, it’ll be all the harder to re-sign Pujols and for a team with very little depth outside of a few top players, that is a problem.
Starting Rotation
With Wainwright at the top of this rotation in 2011, the Cardinals finished third in the NL in ERA and fifth in runs allowed.  Wainwright finished last year with a 2.86 FIP putting him behind only Josh Johnson, Cliff Lee, and Francisco Liriano in all of baseball.  Losing him will be very difficult to overcome.

Charged with the task of heading such an undertaking will be 36-year-old Chris Carpenter who threw an impressive 235 innings in 2010 and put up solid numbers with a 3.22 ERA and 3.69 FIP.  Amazingly, that FIP was his highest mark since 2004.  Carpenter has managed to make it back from several career-threatening arm injuries, but there’s no telling when the injury bug will strike again.  If it does, the Cardinals are really screwed.

24-year-old Jaime Garcia (pronounced Hi-a-may) was very good in his rookie campaign.  He posted a 2.70 ERA and a solid 3.41 FIP.  Some think that Garcia’s 2010 was a bit of a fluke and although I do find it hard to believe that he’ll replicate those numbers in 2011, his batted-ball average, HR/FB rate and left-on-base percentage were all close to the league average suggesting that most of his numbers are repeatable.

Jake Westbrook finally returned from missing almost two entire years due to shoulder problems and was a decent back-end arm for both the Indians and Cardinals last season.  In his 12 starts with St. Louis, Westbrook posted a 3.48 ERA and 3.52 FIP.  Like Carpenter, his only question mark is health, otherwise they should know exactly what to expect from the 33-year-old.  Whether or not he’s worth the two-year, $16.5-million extension he inked this offseason is yet to be seen.

Kyle Lohse will look to rebound in 2011 as the number four starter.  After re-establishing his career in 2008 posting a 200-inning season with a 3.78 ERA and 3.89 FIP, Lohse has battled injuries the past two season making only 40 major-league starts over those two years.  Last year, in only 18 starts, he posted a miserable 6.55 ERA and 4.42 FIP.  One factor that suggests a rebound in 2011 was his .364 BABIP.  Like Westbrook and Carpenter, health is the biggest issue here.

The fifth spot in the rotation vacated by Wainwright’s injury looks to be going to converted reliever Kyle McClellan.  McClellan has established himself as a quality back-end reliever after a 2.27 ERA in 75.1 innings last year.  His 4.07 FIP suggests that he may have been a tad lucky, but if he can keep the ball in the park, he should be pretty solid.  Some are predicting that he’ll be this year’s C.J. Wilson, but if he struggles, he’ll be back in a setup role quickly.

Other candidates for the final spot include Bryan Augenstein, David Kopp, and minor-leaguers Lance Lynn and former top prospect Adam OttavinoIan Snell was also brought in on a minor-league deal, but has allegedly retired after the team sent him to their minor-league camp.
Bullpen
A failed starter for much of his career, the Cardinals signed Ryan Franklin ahead of the 2007 season and he took off as a late-inning reliever.  By the middle of the 2008 campaign, Franklin was regularly closing out games and turned out a fantastic career-year in 2009.  2010 was a more normal year for him as he returned to a modest 3.46 ERA and 3.83 FIP while accumulating 27 saves.  Franklin is 38-years-old and is a disaster decline-year waiting to happen, but the Cards are hoping it’s not this year especially since McClellan is expected to move into the rotation.

Jason Motte stepped in last year and put up some very good numbers as a late-inning high-leverage pitcher.  After his late-April call up from AAA, Motte threw in a 2.24 ERA and 3.29 FIP in 52.1 innings at the major-league level.  His strike out numbers are very good and should continue to be good making him a possible replacement closer if Franklin struggles.

Right-hander Mitchell Boggs stepped in last season and provide a nice year of relief with a 3.61 ERA and 3.88 FIP in 67.1 innings of work.  His K/BB ratio is a bit pedestrian, but as a middle-innings reliever, he’s not bad.

Veteran left-handers Trever Miller (38) and offseason signing Brian Tallet (33) should provide the south-paw relief and although Miller is serviceable, he posted a not-so-good 4.86 FIP against right-handers last year making him a possible LOOGY.  Tallet on the other hand was awful in Toronto last year acting as a swing-man who made an occasional start.  He posted a 6.40 ERA and even worse 6.70 FIP.

The final two bullpen spots will be battled out in the spring with internal options like Fernando Salas, Blake King, and P.J. Walters battling 40-year-old Miguel Batista who’s in camp on a minor-league deal.  Given his injury history, Ottavino might also be a nice fit in the bullpen if he’s not starting.

Catchers
Yadier Molina is consistently one of the better all-around catchers in the game.  He continually plays outstanding defence (6.0 UZR last year) and possesses one of the finest throwing arms for a catcher.  He’s not going to set the world on fire with his bat, but he holds his own posting a .262/.329/.342 slash line last year.  A mark that was quite far below his offensive performances from the previous three seasons.

Veteran Gerald Laird was acquired to back up Molina but is probably a worse overall option than Bryan Anderson who continues to toe the line in AAA.

Infielders
Pujols at first base is on pace to become known as the best hitter who ever lived.  Although there is a general understanding that he’s at least two years older than he says he is, Pujols will be the most talented free agent to hit the market since Alex Rodriguez if he does not sign an extension with St. Louis before the end of the season; and he’ll get A-Rodesque money wherever he ends up.  Pujols had another stellar campaign in 2010 with a .312/.414/.596 slash line although it was his worst overall season since his sophomore 2002 campaign.  He finished second to Joey Votto in NL MVP voting and has now finished in the top-four in MVP voting every year except 2007 when he finished 9th.  If it wasn’t for the exploits of Barry Bonds, Pujols would probably six MVP awards instead of the three he has to his name currently.

The rest of the infield should be filed under “also-ran”.  Skip Schumaker was a below-replacement-value player in 2010 and was the worst defensive second-baseman in baseball, but none-the-less, he’s back there for 2011.

Third baseman David Freese is already 28 and although he showed promise in his rookie 2010 campaign, he’s still a limited-ceiling player who’s a stop-gap until something better comes along.  He’s also not a great defensive player.

Ryan Theriot typifies the type of player Tony LaRussa tends to covet; a hard-nosed, scrappy, white middle-infielder who has the “heart” and “leadership” abilities to help team win.  Unfortunately, logic gets in the way of this argument since Theriot is at best a replacement-level player who has no business calling shortstop his home defensively.

Other infielders in this category are Tyler Greene and Nick Punto, although at least Punto can play defense and has some versatility.  The Cardinals lack real depth in the infield.
Outfielders
Colby Rasmus is hated by LaRussa because he doesn’t fit the mould of a LaRussa-type of player and because of that he’s very underrated.  Rasmus showed that he is about to become an All-Star-level talent offensively in 2010 posting a .276/.361/.498 slash line to go along with 23 homeruns.  He’s athletic and has all the tools to be a solid centerfielder, although he struggled there last year according to his -6.5 UZR.

In leftfield, Matt Holliday did his best in 2010 to prove that he’s not overpaid.  He had an excellent year with a .312/.390/.532 slash line and his 6.9 WAR was behind only Josh Hamilton, Joey Votto, Pujols, Ryan Zimmerman and Adrian Beltre in all of baseball.  Although he takes a lot of flak for his defence, Holliday is consistently rated well according to UZR and he posted a career-best 8.2 in that regard in 2010.

The rightfielder will be offseason signing Lance Berkman.  Despite barely being able to hold his own at first base, the Cardinals plan to move him back to the outfield where he could be the worst defensive player in the game.  Coupled with his declining bat, Berkman may find himself on that line of a zero product WAR player.  Luckily, they only signed him for one year.

If the Cardinals were a little smarter, they probably would have recognized that they’d be better off letting either Jon Jay or Allen Craig roam rightfield in 2011, rather than Berkman.  As it stands, they’ll be the extra options.

A roster-chart for St. Louis resides in the underlined text.
Overview
The Cardinals are returning pretty much the exact same team as last season and now they don’t have their best pitcher.  Berkman and Theriot do not equal the loss of Wainwright, in fact, the Cards may be worse because of the addition of those two players.  It’s hard to imagine the Cards really contending, even in the weak NL Central.  They are one more major injury away from total collapse and with players like Carpenter, Westbrook, and Lohse in their rotation that could very well happen.  Cardinals’ fans shouldn’t expect Pujols to stick around on a losing team.  My prediction is that he’ll be playing elsewhere in 2012.
Final Prediction: 78-84, 3rd NL Central

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One response to “2011 St. Louis Cardinals: Was Wainwright the difference between contention and mediocrity?

  1. Wow, I did the exact same thing on my site today: http://bit.ly/dUWxCA

    I disagree with you that they are the SAME team as last year–even if they do have a similar finish. TheRiot CAN be an upgrade to Brendan if he steals 30 and has a good OB%. Berkman hits 20hr and we get a decent return on that investment.

    As for Albert, I just cannot see him leaving. He’s not heartless…right?

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