2014 Team Previews: St. Louis Cardinals

Dilip Vishwanat

The St. Louis Cardinals suffered a bitter defeat in the 2013 World Series, but that hasn't stopped them from building a contender in 2014. Can the Cardinals match expectations?

The Cardinals finished the 2013 regular season with the best record in the National League. There are some noticeable losses to the roster, such as Carlos Beltran signing with the Yankees and Chris Carpenter's retirement. However, the team is still strong enough to maintain another year of being at the top of the division, if not making a deep run in October.

2013 Season In Review

It was a season that started out strong and it wasn't much of a surprise that the team made it to the World Series. They finished with a record of 97-65 (.599), which tied the Boston Red Sox for the best record in MLB. RHP Michael Wacha made his MLB debut, pitching 15 regular season games with a 1.7 bWAR. Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday continued to be offensive forces for the Cardinals, as Molina had an wRC+ of 134 while Holliday's was 148. Pitching was also strong with Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, and Shelby Miller pitching above replacement level, in addition to Wacha's efforts.

Key Offseason Moves

1. Cardinals extend Matt Carpenter to a six-year, $52m contract

2. Cardinals sign Jhonny Peralta to a four-year, $53m contract

With their offseason moves, it appears that the Cardinals were preparing for the departures of some notable free agents, like Carlos Beltran and Rafael Furcal. Keeping Carpenter in the lineup for a solid amount of time as he's entering his peak is a smart move for the team, especially if he can sustain a 147 wRC+ and  .381 wOBA. As a matter of fact, Carpenter's extension may have been one of the best bargains this off season if he's anywhere close to what he showed in 2013. Carpenter had an exceptional 2013 campaign-- leading MLB in runs, doubles, and hits. He also was top 10 in several other key statistics such as: batting average, extra base hits, total times on base, and win probability added (WPA). That being said, expect the 28 year-old second basemen turned third baseman to have another highly productive season. Perhaps another 7 WAR season in 2014 is unrealistic; nevertheless, Carpenter will always be a threat considering his superior ability to get on base.

Signing Jhonny Peralta was also necessary for this team's road to redemption in the 2014 World Series, as the Cardinals made it clear they were seeking a veteran shortstop with experience contending in the playoffs. If that is what the team was going for, Peralta is the full package. Overall, he is reliable both at the plate and in the field. Peralta is a model of consistency; however, if his career high K% in 2013 is a continuing trend then expect a decrease in his batting average. As far as fielding the position, he's steady and the Cardinals would just like to forget this Kozma_medium

Player to Watch: Michael Wacha

This was an easy decision, since Wacha will be under the microscope of baseball analysts everywhere in 2014. After his performance in last year's postseason, Wacha is primed to become one baseball's top pitchers, but his small innings sample yields the question: how much of his dominant 2013 regular and post-season performance was luck?

Wacha has tangible qualities analysts look for when evaluating a young pitcher's early success. He posses the ability to strike batters out at will, his pitching repertoire was effective against lefties and righties, and he has a exceptional fastball accompanied by a well developed changeup. To illustrate, Wacha struck out 44 batters with his fastball and 48 batters with his changeup, thus he was able to utilize these two pitches efficiently and they give him an excellent chance to match lofty expectations.

If Wacha can continue to execute his fastball and changeup like he did in 2013, and develop his curveball to complement the already deadly combination, his ceiling will be a pitcher with a similar build and pitch repertoire/velocity, Justin Verlander. Although James Shields might be a more reasonable target.

Cardinals By The Numbers: Simulation of 2014 Run Expectancies

I took this as an opportunity to give the readers a general preview of the Cardinals expected runs scored for each of the 24 states that can occur in a half inning. In case you are wondering, for each independent state in a half-inning -- we treat first, second, and third base as either occupied by a runner or empty (known as a "binary variable"). Therefore, there are 2^3 = 8 combinations of runners on base. Additionally, the number of outs in a half-inning takes on a discrete variable of 0,1, or 2 for each of the 8 combinations of runners on base. Hence the number of states is equal to the number of combinations of runners on base multiplied by the number of discrete variables (or number of outs) which is 8 * 3 = 24.

Using a series of Markov Chains to represent the probability of the Cardinals transitioning from an initial state to each of the other respective states in a half-inning, I conducted 200,000 half-inning simulations (courtesy of R). The results for the Cardinals versus the league averages are presented below:

Figure 1: 2014 St. Lous Cardinals Expected Runs per State

State 0 outs 1 out 2 outs
Bases Empty 0.61 0.32 0.12
Runner on First 1.16 0.71 0.33
Runner on Second Base 1.49 0.98 0.5
Runner on Third Base 1.55 1.1 0.52
Runners on First and Second Base 1.83 1.17 0.49
Runners on First and Third Base 1.92 1.45 0.72
Runners on Second and Third Base 2.42 1.72 0.56
Based Loaded 2.55 1.76 1.21

Figure 2: 2014 League Average Expected Runs per State

State 0 outs 1 out 2 outs
Bases Empty 0.58 0.32 0.13
Runner on First 1.05 0.68 0.34
Runner on Second Base 1.25 0.77 0.36
Runner on Third Base 1.49 1.03 0.4
Runners on First and Second Base 1.54 0.96 0.46
Runners on First and Third Base 1.91 1.28 0.6
Runners on Second and Third Base 2.09 1.41 0.56
Based Loaded 2.25 1.58 0.73

Conclusion: The Cardinals are expected to score more runs than the league average in 20 of the 24 states. These results suggest that the 2014 team is expected to score more runs than their average opponent in an overwhelming majority of states that can occur in a half-inning. Therefore, the Cardinals are are ultimately expected to win the games against the opponents with lower run expectancies.

The 2013 Cardinals set a new record for batting average with runners in scoring position (RISP), and although that record may not be broken in 2014, I anticipate this year's team will execute similarly in that department. To illustrate, with a runner on second base and one out, the Cardinals are expected to score 0.98 runs versus a league average of 0.77. As a matter of fact, the Cardinals deviate far from the league average in every state of RISP and 1 out. Taking a look at states of RISP and 2 outs, the differences are smaller; however, the Cardinals are still greater than league average in 5 of these 6 states (the only exception being a tie). Thus even after the departure of Carlos Beltran, St. Louis will prevail as a dangerous offensive threat in National League this season.

2014 Team Outlook

After watching Pujols walk after the 2011 season, the Cardinals haven't skipped a beat. After 2013, this team had the terrible problem of having too many good players. That being said, the front office continued to make intelligent moves in the offseason. Letting a 37 year-old Beltran sign elsewhere opened up right field for Allen Craig, as well as the opportunity for a 25 year-old Matt Adams to play his first full season at first base. Certainly among the most stable organizations in MLB, the 2014 Cardinals will be playing baseball this October.

...

Michael Nestel is a contributor to Beyond The Box Score.

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