The St. Louis Cardinals and Offensive Regression (and Progression) Atop the NL Central

Paul Goldschmidt Cardinals 2024 MLB Season Preview

I was reading a David Schoenfield piece at ESPN this morning about the “number” that could define each of the NL teams this year. It’s one of those clever bits of early-January content where you have to create stuff out of whole cloth, but if you do it right, can produce interesting discussion fodder. Schoenfield definitely succeeded.

It’s not the Cubs part that caught my eye, though. Sure, the entry (“5”) produces a factoid you may not have known: the Cubs were one of just four teams in 2022 that had “5” starting pitchers go over 100 innings at an ERA under 4.0, together with the Astros, Yankees, and Mets. Kinda wild that the Cubs were in that company, though if you were paying attention at all, you’re not surprised. The Cubs got a lot of compelling starting pitching performances last year from non-obvious candidates, and that extreme quality depth is part of what can give you a little optimism heading into 2023.

But, like I said, it wasn’t the Cubs section that stood out to me. It was the Cardinals section.

A portion of what Schoenfield wrote there:

The number: 180 OPS+

Paul Goldschmidt’s OPS+ of 180 was the fourth highest of the live-ball era (since 1920) in a hitter’s age-34 season.

Those ahead of Goldschmidt: Mark McGwire in 1998 (216), Babe Ruth in 1929 (193) and Willie Mays in 1965 (185). It was a remarkable season and Goldschmidt was rewarded with the MVP Award, but given that rate of production and his age, the Cardinals should expect some regression in his 2023 numbers. But how much?

I looked at the top 10 age-34 OPS+ seasons since 1920 other than Goldschmidt and compared to their age-35 seasons (not including Lou Gehrig, who may have been suffering the initial stages of ALS at 35 and suffered a big decline). Using runs created above average (which factors in playing time), the group declined an averaged of 15.4 runs — and that’s with Ruth improving by 29 runs.

My eyes POPPED when reading that section. Why? Because the implication is that, based on historical precedent, you would expect Goldschmidt to regress to the tune of 15-ish runs’ worth of production in 2023 … which amounts to 1.5(!) wins in the standings. From one guy. Suffering natural regression. Just with his bat.

Of course I would have said that you don’t expect a 35-year-old Goldschmidt to go .317.404/.578 with a 7.1 WAR again this season, but I suppose I didn’t think about the standings-related implications of projected regression. No, a win or two of Cardinals regression might not, alone, be the difference between the Cubs being able to overtake the Cardinals in 2023 – the Cubs are going to have to do most of that work on their own – but it all matters. Especially if your margins for competing in your division are as thin as the Cubs’ look to be.

Goldschmidt is not alone in terms of guys for whom the systems are going to be projecting offensive regression. There’s Nolan Arenado, who is not as old at Goldschmidt (he’ll be 32 next year), but whose 151 wRC+ in 2022 blew away his previous career highs (despite having a barrel rate only a bit above his career mark, and an average exit velocity below his career mark). There’s Albert Pujols, whose absurd 151 wRC+ has retired. There’s Brendan Donovan’s 129 wRC+, which appears to have had a great deal of luck baked in.

From those guys’ bats, alone, you could probably project – on paper – 6+ losses worth of regression. Now you’re starting to talk about a team slipping into the 80s in wins, and a division that looks a heckuva lot more competitive.

… however. Yeah, there’s a huge however coming.

Just as you could easily project regression for the named guys above, you could project progression for guys like Nolan Gorman, Lars Nootbaar, Dylan Carlson, Tyler O’Neill, and Juan Yepez. You would also project that Willson Contreras’s bat is going to blow away anything Yadi Molina was doing at the end. You could also speculate that the Cardinals will get some offensive lift from outfield prospect Alec Burleson. And, of course, there’s Jordan Walker, who might be the best offensive prospect in baseball. He, alone, could come up and completely transform the Cardinals’ lineup, regardless of what’s happening with the older dudes.

Still, I guess I could conclude on a hopeful note. I’d mostly been thinking about that second group of guys – the younger guys with offensive upside to spare – when considering how huge the Cardinals’ offense could be in 2023, since you are adding them to a couple huge bats in Goldschmidt and Arenado.

Of course, I’d feel a lot better if the Cubs could do a little more to progress their own offense …

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

more cubs news

Cubs Roster Moves: Swanson, Vazquez, Mastrobuoni, Crow-Armstrong

According to the Cubs' transactions page, we now know the corresponding move for infield prospect Luis Vazquez's impending call-up: it's a set of multiple moves, but he's kinda being swapped out for outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong. Weird. I know. The full...

Lukewarm Stove: Who Are the Sellers? Yankees Trying to Extend Soto, Eflin, Alonso, Martinez, More

MLB RUMORS — Even though we've already had one relatively big trade this season (Luis Arraez to the Padres) and even though the Cubs have made a couple of their own (acquiring Tyson Miller, dealing Richard Lovelady), I don't think...

MLBits: MLB Investigating David Fletcher, Giants Lose Jung-Hoo Lee for the Season, More

MLB Notes — Major League Baseball is reportedly investigating former Angels infielder—and current Braves' minor league player—David Fletcher regarding allegations that he placed illegal sports bets with the same bookie that former teammate Shohei Ohtani's interpreter Ippei Mizuhara placed bets...

The Cubs Have Signed YET ANOTHER Minor League Arm

Once again, because the Cubs have signed so many in-season pitcher deals, I have to start with the same intro: The Chicago Cubs are seriously going off on the minor league pitching signings here after the start of the season....

Cubs Farm Report | May 20, 2024: Tough Day for the Cubs Affiliates

Cubs Farm Report — It was a rough afternoon for the Cubs affiliates, who were swept in four games and scored a combined 10 runs. However, Ethan Roberts made his first appearance with Iowa since 2022 and tossed a scoreless...

Ever See a “2 RBI Walk” …?

I've seen versions of this play first hand ... back in my little league days. But even then, it was saved for our fastest player, and it usually involved him immediately stealing second base after a walk, when everyone's guard...

Cubs Set a Target Date for Dansby Swanson’s Return, Daniel Palencia Also On His Way

First, a quick update I kept out of the headline: Nico Hoerner is not in the Cubs lineup today, as he continues to deal with left hamstring tightness. The Cubs have now blown past the maximum IL backdate optimization, which...

Drew Smyly Reportedly Set for a Rehab Outing at South Bend

[ankin_law] Chicago Cubs lefty Drew Smyly has been out on the Injured List with a right hip impingement since April 23, but he's getting much closer to finally returning. After throwing multiple bullpens and facing live hitters, it looks like...

Site News! Welcome to Our New Official Legal Sponsor, Ankin Law!

My friends. It’s time for a big announcement. Something very important to us here at Bleacher Nation, and something we’ve never really been able to do before. We have had a lot of great partners over the years, but we’ve...

18 Years Ago Today, Michael Barrett Kindly Disagreed with A.J. Pierzynski

With the Cubs having lost three of four against the Pirates this weekend, and with the offense listing along and injuries continuing to mount, I would understand if you're not in the mood for "hey, today's an anniversary"-type post. BUT!...

Latest News

Las Vegas Aces vs. Phoenix Mercury: Start Time, Streaming Live, TV Channel, How to Watch

A game after putting up 38 points in an 88-85 win over the Dream, Kahleah Copper leads the Phoenix Mercury (1-1) on the road against the Las Vegas Aces (2-0) on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. The matchup tips at 10:00...

Los Angeles Sparks vs. Washington Mystics: Start Time, Streaming Live, TV Channel, How to Watch

The Washington Mystics (0-3) hope to stop a three-game losing streak when they visit the Los Angeles Sparks (0-2) at 10:00 PM ET on Tuesday, May 21, 2024 at Walter Pyramid. The contest airs on SportsNet LA and Monumental.Watch the...

Sparks vs Mystics Prediction: Picks, Live Odds & Moneyline – May 21

The Washington Mystics (0-3) will try to stop a three-game losing streak when they visit the Los Angeles Sparks (0-2) at 10:00 PM ET on Tuesday, May 21, 2024 at Walter Pyramid. The matchup airs on SportsNet LA and Monumental.Sparks...

Aces vs Mercury Prediction: Picks, Live Odds & Moneyline – May 21

A game after putting up 38 points in an 88-85 win over the Dream, Kahleah Copper leads the Phoenix Mercury (1-1) on the road against the Las Vegas Aces (2-0) on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. The matchup begins at 10:00...

Dream vs Wings Prediction: Picks, Live Odds & Moneyline – May 21

The Dallas Wings (1-1) visit the Atlanta Dream (1-1) after Arike Ogunbowale went off for 35 points in the Wings' 83-74 loss to the Sky. The matchup airs on BSSWX and Peachtree TV at 7:30 PM ET on Tuesday, May...

Celtics vs. Pacers Predictions, Best Bets and Odds: Eastern Conference Finals Game 1 – Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Boston Celtics are 9.5-point favorites for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers at TD Garden on Tuesday, tipping off at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN. The matchup has an over/under set at 221 points.Our...

Atlanta Dream vs. Dallas Wings: Start Time, Streaming Live, TV Channel, How to Watch

Arike Ogunbowale leads the Dallas Wings (1-1) into a matchup against the Atlanta Dream (1-1) after putting up 35 points in an 83-74 loss to the Sky. The matchup is on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, tipping at 7:30 PM ET...

How to Watch Dodgers vs. Diamondbacks: Live Stream or on TV

Gavin Stone takes the ball for the Los Angeles Dodgers (33-17) when they host starting pitcher Brandon Pfaadt and the Arizona Diamondbacks (22-26) at 10:10 PM ET on Tuesday.Keep reading to see how to watch the Los Angeles-Arizona matchup below.When...

Chicago Cubs vs. Atlanta Braves Series May 21-23: Odds, Starting Pitchers & Predictions

The Atlanta Braves are on the road, beginning a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday, May 21 at 7:40 PM ET.Cubs vs. Braves Series Info Braves @ Cubs Time: Tuesday, May 21 at 7:40 PM ET Cubs Starting...

Oakland Athletics vs. Colorado Rockies Series May 21-23: Odds, Starting Pitchers & Predictions

The Colorado Rockies will be on the road, opening a three-game set against the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday, May 21 at 9:40 PM ET.Athletics vs. Rockies Series Info Rockies @ Athletics Time: Tuesday, May 21 at 9:40 PM ET Athletics...

more cubs news