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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

TCN Blog 2016 Top Story #1: Taking October Off

Coming off the expectations that followed a 100-win 2015, the St. Louis Cardinals had a disappointing 2016.

We will first look at the results from a number of angles before delving into potential contributing factors.

Results

The Cardinals were dominated by the Chicago Cubs in the National League Central Division, finishing 17 ½ games out of first place. It was their greatest distance from the top of the division since the 1999 club limped home 21 ½ games back.

St. Louis did not spend even one day in first place but remained in the race for the second Wild Card berth until being eliminated on the final day of the schedule. Their last victory was notable as it was the first time all season long the Cardinals reached the 10-games over .500 plateau, finishing at 86-76.

It was St. Louis’ first time not participating in post-season play since 2010 and only the fifth time since 2000.

In 2016, the pattern of declining finishes in recent years continued. In 2013, the Cards lost the World Series. The next year, they bowed out in the League Championship Series. The 2015 season ended in the Division Series and in 2016, the Cardinals went home in October.

matheny-ww-usa-1280The 2016 Cardinals were never able to run off a hot streak, with their longest winning stretch just five games. At Busch Stadium, the Cards were inexplicably terrible – winning just 38 of 81 home dates. The .469 winning percentage was the team’s worst since current ownership took control of the club over two decades ago and is St. Louis’ first losing home season since 1999.

In addition to a dismal 8-12 record against the American League, the Cardinals lost season series to all three NL division-winners – the Cubs (9-10), Dodgers (2-4) and Washington (2-5), along with Arizona (3-4) and Miami (3-4). The only clubs against which St. Louis had more than a one-game advantage were San Diego (6-1) and Milwaukee (13-6), two teams which finished a combined 42 games under .500.

In one-run contests, St. Louis finished just one game over .500 at 24-23 and the club’s issues with left-handed pitching returned with a 20-24 mark versus lefty starters.

In the division, the Cardinals had a 42-34 record, but overall, they struggled against the best opponents. St. Louis’ season mark against teams that finished .500 or above was just 24-35, so the end result of the season can hardly be considered a fluke.

Factors

When expectations are not met, there are plenty of theories as to what went wrong (or blame to assess, if you prefer). I suspect the following and others each played a role.

The construction of the roster was such that defense and baserunning were sacrificed in the name of power. The increase in home runs was not enough to offset shoddy play in the field and on the bases. The plodding, station-to-station offense seemed to have few rallies not driven by the long ball.

Specifically, St. Louis was 27th of 30 MLB teams in UZR, Ultimate Zone Rating. 57.4 percent of Cardinals attempting to steal a base were thrown out, dead last in MLB. Their season total of 35 steals was second lowest among the 30 teams.

Unlike in the past, the pitching was not good enough to bail the club out. Team ERA, which was the best in the game the year before, declined from 2.94 in 2015 to 4.08, smack in the middle of the NL pack.

Though the 2016 offense was inconsistent and reliant on the home run, overall production was not an issue. St. Louis finished third in the National League in runs scored, was first in home runs and second in slugging. The club set a new MLB record with 17 pinch-hit long balls.

Though there were good contributions from rookies, including Seung-hwan Oh, Aledmys Diaz, Luke Weaver and Alex Reyes, the only reinforcement from the outside picked up at the trade deadline was left-handed reliever Zach Duke.

Manager Mike Matheny drew plenty of heat both locally and nationally for his perplexing lineups and in-game tactical decisions with underlying questionable player usage patterns. Little patience was shown with young players Randal Grichuk and Kolten Wong, each demoted to the minor leagues, while veterans like Brandon Moss played every day through horrendous slumps.

The Cardinals were not immune to injuries, as key players such as Matt Carpenter, Jhonny Peralta, Diaz and Matt Holliday missed considerable time on the disabled list. According ManGamesLost.com, which tracks player injuries, the Cardinals lost the most WAR (Wins Above Replacement) due to injury in all of MLB – for the second consecutive season. As a result of all the injuries and lineup juggling, the club had just two players appear in more than 132 games – Stephen Piscotty (153) and Yadier Molina (147). That compared to six in 2015.

Other veterans simply underperformed against expectations, with a long list starting with former ace Adam Wainwright, and including Matt Adams, Mike Leake and Jaime Garcia among others.

The bottom line is that even though the Cubs were in the same division winning 103 games, St. Louis could not consistently beat other good teams, either. They won just 86, a drop of 14 from the year before. That was not good enough for the Cardinals to break into the post-season tournament, forever marking 2016 as a season of disappointment.

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 10 stories of the year countdown

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29 Responses to “TCN Blog 2016 Top Story #1: Taking October Off”

  1. blingboy says:

    It has occurred to me that we should all pray for Fowler to have at least a decent season. We know that he will play nearly every day and will lead off whenever he plays. This will be the case no matter what. We could amuse ourselves by thinking about potential lineups not featuring Fowler leading off, but it immediately becomes un-amusing.

    • Brian Walton says:

      You seem to imply this is a bad thing. I’ve seen people question Fowler’s defense, but not his leadoff skills.

      As I mentioned in top story #2: “Among active MLB players, Fowler is tied with Ichiro Suzuki for the highest on-base mark (.367) among leadoff batters (at least 500 games).”

      His OBP has actually been better than .367 in four of his last five years. This seems to be one of his most consistent traits.

      For comparison, across MLB last season, leadoff men had a .339 OBP.

  2. blingboy says:

    Happy New Year.

  3. jj-cf-stl says:

    when I read “horrendous slumps” I immediately thought of peralta, matheny and next season.

    • Brian Walton says:

      A few thoughts.

      It would be difficult for anyone to top Moss’ 9-for-99 finish to the season.

      My oldest son and I were talking about this over the holidays. His view is that Moss did the Cards a favor. Before then, he had played well enough there was talk of giving him a qualifying offer. I hadn’t considered it that way.

      Then again, a couple of more wins in September may have been worth it. (Not to mention the fact Moss and Carpenter killed my two most important fantasy teams in the second half!)

      I don’t think Peralta is as bad as you suggest. He played a lot better late in the season when healthier.

      Also, I bet we’d see Gyorko before Peralta went through a 100 at-bat drought.

      • blingboy says:

        “I bet we’d see Gyorko before Peralta went through a 100 at-bat drought.”

        What happens if Gyorko is already starting much of the time?

        I do not consider it unlikely that a player turning 35 early in the season could have significant health/performance issues, and we must not forget that 2B is unsettled.

        • Brian Walton says:

          Well, that would mean that Wong is either injured or playing so much worse than the assumed struggling Peralta that the team would want to play neither. While that has a non-zero possibility, the odds are low enough I would bet against it in a heartbeat.

          Remember that Peralta tore a thumb ligament, not an age-fatigue related issue that he probably tried to comeback too soon from. In September, he was the team’s next-best hitter after Molina with a line of .289/.362/.422/.783.

          I would rather the team had gotten a better third baseman, but if they have to go with a combo of Peralta and Gyorko, it should not be terrible. Even though they both hit right, I would always play Gyorko against LHP.

          • jj-cf-stl says:

            while the infield looks settled Mo was talking to kc about adams recently. peralta could backfill for adams if adams were moved, on days carp didn’t start or was unavailable.

            i’m ok with adams as a bench bat/DH, his salary is appropriate, but i’m not sure what i’d target in trade, for adams. a more established outfielder with a better health record than pham? I’ve read pham has one option yr left.

            in your opinion, is there another farmhand who would then be pushing Pham for the 13th position player role after an adams for 4th outfielder trade? infielder or outfielder?

            or is there a FA you’d like to acquire in an adams for an arm trade?

            • Brian Walton says:

              Based on 2016, if Adams is traded, I would guess Gyorko will back up Carpenter at first.

              The current OF is very right-handed hitting oriented. I would add a veteran LHH OF as a reserve to complete the offensive roster, taking Adams’ spot.

              I think Pham would have to play himself off the team or get hurt again. Harrison Bader is the next candidate, but is not ready yet. Jose Martinez and Anthony Garcia remain on the 40-man roster, but I don’t see them as factors for StL. All four are RHH, as are Grichuk and Piscotty.

              If Adams could fetch that fifth OF in trade, great, but he will likely just bring back a prospect – if they can trade him at all. There are a number of free agent OFs out there who could fit. Names are not that important to me at this point as the person essentially replaces Hazelbaker – not a front liner. Perhaps I will look into them and write an article about it.

              • jj-cf-stl says:

                if that is all adams would bring back in trade i’d rather keep him, but, I think you’re selling his trade value short.

                if an AL team were looking for a DH good vs RHP’s (.284 / .331 / .480 / .811 / 111 ops+) over 1206 PA’s, and his future salary was ~2/8mil, i’ll bet there’d be very solid interest.

                just a reference point, gyorko was a 110 ops+ last season. i’d want more than a 5th OF / hazelbaker, for 2/8mil of jedd.

                • Brian Walton says:

                  It is the law of supply and demand, my friend. First base is an extreme buyers’ market. Boras was a smart cookie getting Holliday a new home fast.

                  Why should a team give anything up for Adams when they could sign any number of 1B-playing free agents for just their salary?

                  Here are some of the first basemen currently looking for a job.

                  Chris Carter (NL co-HR champ)
                  Ryan Howard
                  Chris Johnson
                  Dae-ho Lee
                  James Loney
                  Adam Lind
                  Logan Morrison
                  Brandon Moss
                  Mike Napoli
                  Mark Reynolds
                  etc…

                  • jj-cf-stl says:

                    2016 wRC+
                    Napoli 113
                    carter 112
                    adams 106
                    moss 105
                    lee 102
                    Morrison 101
                    Reynolds 99
                    etc.
                    it’s the DH role we could advertise adams as, so i’m using wRC+. I don’t think Napoli or cater can be had for 2/8mil which what I estimate adams arb total at. that’s 1 war total over two seasons, there’s surplus value with matt, especially if he gets penciled in for 500 PA’s. of course he has to stay off the DL, which doesn’t seem too easy for him.
                    the lessers below adams wouldn’t cost players to just sign, but any amount of “supply” needs to at least match adams value/salary to be meaningful.

                    • Brian Walton says:

                      All that really tells me is there are bunch of guys out there who are relatively comparable, of which Adams is one. He would cost more to acquire, but potentially require less in salary. Only “potentially” because if these guys are still looking when camp opens, their prices will go down. Adams’ salary will be set via arbitration, independent of the free agent market. Then as you noted, there is Adams’ injury history to take into account.

                      Bottom line for me is that he is not more or less appealing than the others – just different. If he was of great interest to some club out there, he would have been gone already.

              • jj-cf-stl says:

                here’s a lefty outfield bat for the 4th outfielder role….wong.
                two seasons of dozier for weaver plus? add a cleanup bat and an IF/OF in wong, pham to AAA.
                a guy can dream right!

  4. Bw52 says:

    What are the chances of Logan Schafer or Todd Cunningham making big enough impact to make the eam as a lh batting option?What do you y\think Brian?

    • Brian Walton says:

      Since Schafer washed out as a hitter (.228 BA over parts of six MLB seasons) and moved to pitching to try to salvage his career, not much.

      Cunningham (.207 in parts of three seasons in MLB) should provide nice veteran leadership for Memphis. Then again, if Hazelbaker could do it (sort of), why not Cunningham? Cunningham has less power, but better wheels.

      I just hope the Cards shoot a bit higher.

  5. blingboy says:

    On the subject of Adams discussed above, do we get excited about his reported fitnessweight loss program over the winter? Do we hope for a Fat Elvis to Fit Elvis transformation a la Berkman? Do the Cards want to see the results before pulling the trigger on a move?

    • Brian Walton says:

      Adams has lost weight before. (Here is the link to my story about him losing 25 pounds prior to the 2012 season.)

      He is still Adams. Berkman had a track record of success to revert back to.

      The hopes of some that the slimmer Adams might be transformed into a serviceable outfielder like Berkman seem wildly optimistic.

      My bet is the reason Adams hasn’t been traded is that he cannot fetch what the Cards believe to be fair value. Main reason is likely the free agent competition and limited market for 1B-DH types.

      • blingboy says:

        Initially, I would agree Adams as a serviceable OF does seem wildly optimistic. But then, even a fat Adams turned out to be a much better and more mobile defensive 1B than I would have believed. Given that, I could see it, sort of.

        • Brian Walton says:

          I am having Chris Duncan flashbacks but I really wish I wasn’t.

          • crdswmn says:

            I can imagine Mozeliak having them as well, considering his manager would likely as not try Adams in the OF if not prevented from doing so. I mean, if he would start Wong or a one-armed Grichuk there, it is not much of leap to see Adams there as well, especially a slimmer version.

            There should be nothing too surprising coming from that quarter I’m afraid.

            • blingboy says:

              I haven’t been following things much this winter. Do we know if Our Mo is altering course away from the bats in the lineup approach of last year? Should a fit looking Adams have a hot stick I can quite easily see Mad Mike getting him ABs, with Mo’s apparent approval.

              It really must be conceded that given last year’s defensive train wreck, a fit Adams flopping around in the OF would not have made things noticeably worse.

    • jj-cf-stl says:

      the time it would take for a better/slimmer version of adams to add to his trade value will get cancelled out by the acquiring club having less player control. as a bench bat / DH it would be a small sample, maybe half a season just to move past a ridiculously small sample.

      there are enough backup 1Bmen on the roster where I understand converting adams value to another outfielder makes perfect sense. pham couldn’t even make it through opening day last season before going DL.

      maybe Mo priced dyson, for adams, and got turned down.

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