St. Louis Cardinals
What They Did: 88-74, 2nd Place NL Central. Lost in NLCS 4-3.
Actual Runs: Scored 765 runs, Allowed 648.
Expected wins based on RS and RA: 93.2 (5.2 above actual)
Restated: Scored 774 runs, Allowed 651.
Exp. wins based on restated RS and RA: 93.7 (5.7 above actual)
(Glossary: Expected wins, based on a modification of Bill James’ Pythagorean Theorem, are the amount of wins a team should win in any season based on the amount of runs it actually scored and allowed. Deviations will be explained in the appropriate team capsules.
Restated Runs Scored and Runs Allowed are the amount of runs a team should have tallied based on its actual components of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging achieved/allowed. In the case of the Cardinals, if they posted exactly the same stats in 2013 as 2012, they should expect to win 94 games.)
Masked by the nine games they finished behind the Cincinnati Reds during the regular season, the Cardinals near-run to a second National League pennant (and perhaps a second-straight World Championship) seemed to surprise fans, especially given the stunningly dramatic way they ousted the Washington Nationals in the NLDS. However, on a restated runs basis – as shown above – stripping out all the effects of cluster luck the Cardinals were the second-best team in the National League during the regular season behind only Washington. And once Washington decided to shut down Stephen Strasburg, you could certainly argue the two-game spread they enjoyed in that ranking completely disappeared.
The Cardinals “only” won 88 games last year because they had trouble in extra-inning games (6-12), and one-run games (21-26). Some of that fell on the bullpen, which had just the 20th best ERA in the majors. However, the expected ERA of the pen – based on strikeout, ground ball, and walk rates ranked 7th. (One explanation for the Cardinals unfortunate cluster luck while pitching: The staff was #1 in the majors at inducing ground balls, yet only average in terms of double plays turned with a runner on first. That’s another hidden element of success/failure. San Diego, by far, suffered the most from this lack of DPs versus groundball prowess. This isn’t necessarily bad luck; it can be due to a lack of fielding talent of course, and St. Louis does have a new shortstop this year, as detailed below.)
With one exception, the Cardinals bring back the same lineup which ranked second in 2012 behind the Milwaukee Brewers in runs scored in the NL. Yes, Lance Berkman has departed via free agency for Texas, but he only played in 32 games last year and didn’t even have 100 plate appearances. The new face in the starting lineup will be familiar to both Cardinals and Washington Nationals fans. NLCS Game 5 hero Pete Kozma will take over for Rafael Furcal at shortstop. Postseason heroics, and a shocking success in the 26 regular season games he played in last year (.333/.383/.569) aside, Kozma will probably never have the offensive skills Furcal had in his prime. However, last year Furcal created runs at a rate about 10% below that of an average shortstop. Cardinals fans can realistically expect the same .264/.325/.346 results from Kozma this year. The St. Louis offense is balanced, the bench is deep, and only Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday are on the wrong side of 30. Outside of injury, there is no reason they shouldn’t lead the league in runs scored in 2013.
For the second year in a row, St. Louis must replace the innings of its prior-year workhorse. Last year they smoothly transitioned away from the 237 1/3 innings Chris Carpenter provided in 2011 (he only pitched 17 innings in 2012). This year they face the challenge of finding someone to step in and replace the 211 innings of 2.86 ERA that departed free-agent Kyle Lohse provided last year. The Cardinals will look to highly-regarded 22-year old rookie Shelby Miller to fill that role. He’s not going to allow 3 runs per 9 innings in his first year – although reports are he has to power arm and pitch arsenal to one day do it – but he’s still my choice for rookie of the year. He’s probably undrafted in your mixed-league fantasy league but he’s a legitimate high-win stud who should strikeout more than a batter an inning this year.
While the Lohse-to-Miller transition will certainly cost the Cards some runs this year, interestingly every other member of the rotation projects to have a better ERA than last year. Some of that will get eaten up by the team’s mildly below-average defense (they missed Albert Pujols in the field) but overall the team should weather the loss of Lohse just fine.
Oddsmakers’ expectations: It’s a real credit to the offensive talent on the roster that St. Louis was able to lose the services of both Albert Pujols and, effectively, Lance Berkman from the 2011 World Champions and still score more runs than they did to lead the NL the year before. (They have super offensive prospect Oscar Taveras waiting in the AAA wings this year as well.) Vegas has the Reds sharply favored to repeat as division champs but I think that’s a mistake. By my count St. Louis was the better team last year and even with the departure of Lohse, I can’t support the 5-game gap in expectations this year. St. Louis has opened with a total wins market at 86. I love the over and link it with Philadelphia and San Diego as my favorite NL overs. However, of the three, the Cards are the ones with the best post-season chances.
90-72 – First in NL Central
770 Runs Scored 685 Runs Allowed
Mop Up Duty:
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