The St. Louis Cardinals – perhaps having just realized that Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright are a combined 72-years-old – have seemingly decided to prioritize the next two seasons as something of a “window of contention.”
Consider also that the two remaining years of control they have over their most consistent offensive player, Matt Carpenter, happen to align with the two year deals they recently handed out to Luke Gregerson and Miles Mikolas, as well as the two years of control they’ve traded for in Marcell Ozuna.
Obviously, you shouldn’t expect the Cardinals to roll over in three years time, but it’s fair to say that they see “now” as their time to strike. With that in mind – along with whatever remaining moves they have in store for us this winter – the Cardinals might be a thorn in the Cubs’ side over the next two years. Perhaps that’s as it should be for a couple rivals.
— Carson Cistulli (@cistulli) December 17, 2017
While this tweet provides a nice visual representation of the Cardinals projections for next season, you’ll definitely want to check out FanGraphs for their full 2018 ZiPS projections – dig into the nitty-gritty. It’s the way to go. It’s fun.
You should also head over to FanGraphs for the positional group write-ups, and because we couldn’t possibly get into every aspect of the Cardinals projections. I will, however, hit on some of the highlights.
Like, for example, newcomer Marcell Ozuna. Last season, Ozuna took an enormous leap forward from being a slightly above-average hitter to one of the better offensive performers in baseball. He’s not projected to repeat the 142 wRC+ he put up last year. But beware, he’s still expected to be pretty darn good: .278/.335/.492 (116 wRC+) with 30 homers and a moderate 21.6% strikeout rate.
In terms of overall offensive contributions, Ozuna’s bat is projected to be second only to Matt Carpenter (123 wRC+), but he is projected to be the best position player overall by WAR (3.7 WAR). Keep an eye out for Tommy Pham, though.
After bursting onto the scene as a near-6 WAR player last season, Pham is still projected to be pretty good in 2018: .263/.353/.458 with 20 homers, nearly as many stolen bases, and average defense in center field (with a chance to be better). Like it or not, that’s a solid player (3.3 WAR projection). Soon we’ll see if last year was a truly unsustainable blip.
Generally speaking, ZiPS is not buying another huge year at the plate from Jedd Gyorko and Paul DeJong, with both projected to be only about league average. But ZiPS does not factor in Voodoo Magic, so I’m not sure what to believe.
The single highest WAR projection on the team didn’t come from any of the position players. Instead, that honor goes to Carlos Martinez (4.4 WAR).
With a projected 201 IP, Martinez is on pace to post just the second 200+ inning count of his career (2017 was his first), and is also expected to take that extra leap forward as he enters his prime years. In another season, his projected 23.9 K%, 8.0 BB%, 3.36 ERA and 3.53 FIP might not have looked so dominant, but in 2018 that’s an ERA+ of 121, and, thus, All-Star-caliber results.
Interestingly, after finishing among the top 15 in homers allowed last season (27), Martinez is expected to improve quite a bit next year (20 HRs). Still, that’s a fair number of lot of long balls and something Cubs hitters could hope to take advantage of.
The Cardinals second best projected starter is Michael Wacha, though that’s where things get interesting. While ZiPS (and I, for that matter) can admit that the Cardinals have plenty of quality starting depth, they aren’t projected individually to cover a ton of innings:
Michael Wacha: 156.7 IP
Luke Weaver: 133.7 IP
Jack Flaherty: 151.7 IP
Miles Mikolas: 148.3 IP
Adam Wainwright: 127.7 IP
Alex Reyes: 84.0 IP
Could any one of those arms easily be a 180 IP guy? Sure, absolutely. But as of now, in a weird way, their rotation could turn into their weakness (but still they’re just always loaded with arms, so who knows).
In the end, I have to say … I’m slightly less worried about the Cardinals than I thought I was going to be going into this. Obviously, that includes a lot more than what we covered here, though, so if you’re looking to get a better understanding of the Cubs biggest 2018 competition, head over to FanGraphs and check it out for yourself.
Also, the Cubs ZiPS projections will be coming out soon and we’ll cover those as soon as they’re released. Until then, you can check out the Cubs Steamer projections – with the caveat that, like the Cardinals, more offseason moves are likely to come.