After a successful run back to the postseason in 2019, the St. Louis Cardinals are looking to soar higher in 2020 with largely the same group.
The big picture: With the President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak largely standing pat this offseason, the Cardinals are hoping that internal development can help them stay atop the NL Central.
Did the Birds strike Gold: After acquiring Paul Goldschmidt and subsequently extending him to a five-year, $130 million contract, it seems like that signing has paid off.
The then-31-year-old Goldschmidt:
- Hit 34 home runs and 97 RBI, slashing .260/.346/.476 in 161 games (the most he’s played).
- Helped the Cardinals reach the NLCS, hitting .429/.478/.905 with two home runs and two RBI in the five-game series against the Atlanta Braves.
- Played exceptional defense at 1B, only committing five errors on the season.
That said, it’s important to understand that Goldschmidt is on the wrong side of 30. Although his home run and RBI totals are in line with what he has averaged throughout his career, his slash line is way below his average (.299/.399/.464 and a .933 OPS).
Whether that is an outlier or the norm moving forward remains to be seen but the Cardinals are hoping that it’s just a one year aberration.
Cards that flew high
With so much being made of Goldschmidt’s arrival to the Cardinals, there were a few Cardinals that exceeded expectations. Mainly 2B Kolten Wong and P’s Giovanny Gallegos and Jack Flaherty.
Jack Flaherty: Prior to the All-Star break, the 24-year-old Flaherty had a 4.64 ERA, going 4-6 in 18 games started. However, Flaherty really took off after the All-Star break.
- Went 7-2 with an 0.91 ERA in 15 games started, finishing with a 2.75 ERA.
- Had 124 strikeouts, bringing his total to 231, easily the most among Cardinals starters.
- Finished fourth in Cy Young voting and 13th in MVP voting.
Now the ace, if Flaherty can build off of his very strong post-All-Star break run, the Cardinals are in very good hands when he’s on the mound.
Kolten Wong: Under former manager Mike Matheny, the 28-year-old Wong played sporadically, often finding himself on the bench. However, once Mike Shildt became the full-time manager, Wong thrived.
- Hit 11 home runs with 59 RBI, slashing .285/.361/.423.
- Stole 24 bases, showing his speed on the bases.
- Won a Gold Glove for his outstanding defense at 2B.
With Wong getting his confidence back under Shildt, it will be interesting to see if he can sustain this level of offensive production. If he does, the Cardinals can relax knowing they have a reliable bat in the middle or bottom of the order.
Giovanny Gallego: Coming over as part of the Luke Voit trade in 2018, the 27-year-old Gallegos was seen as an add-on piece, not necessarily the main part. That said, the Cardinals have to be pleased with Gallegos’s 2019 campaign.
- Had a 2.31 ERA in 66 games, with 74 innings pitched.
- Had 93 strikeouts, the most of any reliever.
- Helped the Cardinals have the fifth-best reliever ERA (3.82) in MLB.
If these three can keep up the production in 2020, the Cardinals should be in prime position to maintain their spot atop the NL Central.
Birds that fell
Although the previous three Cardinals saw a marked improvement from prior seasons, the following three failed to meet expectations.
3B Matt Carpenter: After having an MVP-caliber season in 2018 and signing a two-year, $39 million extension, the Cardinals were expecting similar results in 2019. However, the inverse happened and the 34-year-old Carpenter regressed heavily.
- He clubbed 15 home runs with 46 RBI but only hit .226/.334/.392 in 129 games.
- His pre- (.216/.325/.381) and post-All-Star (.246/.352./413) break numbers don’t differ much, with September being the only month that he had solid numbers (.267/.366/.500).
- He hit only .139 on off-speed pitches which contributed to his 26.1% strikeout rate, the highest of his career.
After a major downturn in 2019, the Cardinals are hoping that Carpenter can get back to his ways in 2020. Considering he’s on the wrong side of 30, this type of season might be the norm.
SS Paul DeJong: As a first-time All-Star, the 26-year-old DeJong improved his defense mightily as he committed five fewer errors in 2019 than in 2018. Even though DeJong has a lot of pop for a shortstop, he regressed on offense as a whole.
- Before the All-Star break, he hit 13 home runs and had 36 RBI on a .258/.343/.442 line.
- After, he hit 17 home runs and 42 RBI, hitting .202/.285/.447. His overall numbers were 30 home runs and 78 RBI on .233/.318/.444.
- In the postseason, he had two RBI and 14 strikeouts with a .233/.303/.267 slash line.
DeJong has a lot of power but if he can’t hit for average, pitcher’s won’t be afraid of that power. That said, he’s still young enough to tweak his approach and hit for power and for average.
CF Harrison Bader: A superb defensive CF, the 25-year-old Bader made waves in 2018 — his rookie season — hitting 12 home runs with 37 RBI on decent averages (.264/.334/.422). He also stole 15 bases. All this helped him get sixth-place in Rookie of the Year voting. But he fall back to Earth in 2019.
- He batted .205/.314/.366 with 12 home runs and 39 RBI.
- Often struck out on breaking balls and off-speed pitches, hitting for a .159 average.
- Because of his launch angle is higher than league average (13.2 to 11.2) and his below-average exit velocity (86.6 to 87.5), his extra base hit average is .219, which puts him in the bottom 2% of the league.
Even if Bader can’t get his bat on the ball, his defensive prowess is enough to keep him in the lineup. But, like DeJong, youth is on his side so he has time to fix his swing.
The bottom line
Even though the Cardinals didn’t make a noteworthy trades or signings over the offseason, they are hoping to build off a strong 2019 campaign by improving from within.
If Flaherty, Wong and Gallegos are able to maintain or even elevate their play from 2019 to go along with improved seasons from Bader, Carpenter and DeJong, the Cardinals are in good hands to make it back to the postseason and potentially advance further than the NLCS.