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Cardinals observations from the 2018 Baseball Prospectus Annual

The 2018 Baseball Prospectus Annual hit stores and arrived in homes last week. It's always great and you should buy it, especially since it's currently 40 percent off. If needing to be convinced, know that this is the most essential go-to guide for prep on the upcoming season and to remind ourselves that "oh yeah, that middle reliever who we won't think about again is a Diamondback now." And there's pages and pages of wonderful writing and essays.

Now, there is a slight problem. Most of the free agents who were available in December when the winter meetings commenced are still available because, and last week's Yu Darvish news notwithstanding, no one is being signed. If you want to read about Lance Lynn in this year's Annual, you'll find him in the Cardinals section even though he's a free agent and the club has made it clear that they have no intention to sign him. But that's where he is because he currently has no home.

That's not Baseball Prospectus' fault but the Annual does feel a bit incomplete as a result. Still, I'll reiterate what I said above: This is an excellent resource with enough information to keep you busy not just until actual baseball starts but throughout the season and you should buy it. And if you want a tiny preview, here are (mostly) Cardinals observations contained within this year's publication.

Because of their success, the Cardinals have been disadvantaged by the draft.

Derrick Goold who, if you're reading this, likely doesn't need an introduction, wrote the Cardinals essay. It's good and gets right to the point, which is that the Cardinals find themselves in a state of purgatory. Too good to ever get a draft pick in the top ten and lately not good enough to play in October. I don't quite see it that way. Seeing the Cardinals playing baseball this October doesn't take a ton of mental gymnastics, and by no means is "Should they try to compete or rebuild?" even a responsible question (and to be clear, Goold is not saying that it is). Anyway, from his essay:

From 2011 to 2014, as the Cubs began their rebuild with a series of last-place finishes, they drafted ninth, sixth, second, and fourth, respectively. The Cardinals didn't have a pick higher than 19th in that stretch, though they used no. 19 in 2012 to land 2013 NLCS MVP Michael Wacha. Using a trusty yellow legal pad and Baseball Reference's draft database, I tracked every team's first pick since 2000 and averaged where they were making that first selection. Before picking 94th overall in 2017, the Cardinals' average first pick from 2000 to 2016 was 26.8. Every other team in their division averaged better than the 20th pick.

I find that pretty telling. Not so much that the Cardinals have averaged the 27th overall pick, that's pretty much what I would expect from the team that has been the second best in baseball since 2000 (at least, as far as wins and losses go and arguably when it comes to postseason hardware, too) but that every other division foe comes in better (worse?) than 20th. And speaking of those division foes, they've all had a few seasons since 2000 when they've been quite bad. As Goold notes, that's important when it comes to the draft because studies have shown an often steep drop in future production from picks 21-30 as compared to 1-10. The Cardinals have had to constantly make do with late picks and only the biggest cynic would say they haven't done a good job navigating those waters.

Matt Carpenter was bad against lefties in 2017

This somehow slipped by me last year. From the player's comments:

[Carpenter] has been the mark of consistency for years, with the exception of his numbers against left-handers, which suddenly became downright Seth Smithian.

It's true. Between 2013 and 2016, Carpenter had around a 115 wRC+ against lefties in 824 plate appearances. Last season he had a slash line against left-handers of .202/.343/.321, with a wRC+ of 85. This might mean something, might mean nothing. We're not talking about a ton of at-bats - and it might be worth a deeper dive - but it's worth keeping our eyes on in 2018.

Good things in store for Kolten Wong?

Under each player's projections is their listed potential to breakout, which the Annual defines as a player's production improving by at least 20 percent relative to the weighted average of his performance over his most recent seasons. For regular position players on the Cardinals, Kolten Wong projects the highest (9 percent breakout chance).

Wong made strides at the plate in 2017. He swung at fewer pitches outside of the zone, contributing to an across-the-board career-high slash line (.285/.376/.412) and hitting above average for the first time in his career. If he takes another step at the plate we're looking at a four-win player and a lineup 1-8 without (m)any holes.

Carlos Martinez was the only National League pitcher to throw more than one shutout.

Also true, as confirmed on page 445 of the Annual. (This book is big.)

Too many home runs

I'm going to deviate from the Cardinals theme and quote two paragraphs from the Giants essay, which was written by Baseball Prospectus editor Jason Wojciechowski (and this is probably my favorite essay in the entire Annual). But first, some context. There were more than 400 home runs hit in 2017 than the next highest year on record. It's hardly a crisis, I guess, but a game held hostage to the three true outcomes is also not the most aesthetically pleasing thing in the world. And on the Giants, who hit fewer home runs than anyone and their failed effort to rectify that by acquiring Giancarlo Stanton, Wojciechowski had this to say:

The thing of it is, the Giants, should not have been looking to fix their dinger problem in the first place because their dinger problem isn't, in fact, a problem. All these homers in the majors aren't good. They're bad, actually. Yes, it's fun watching Stanton and Judge chase records and big round numbers. It's fun seeing Rhys Hoskins and Matt Olson do as much damage as any human possibly could in as little time as you can imagine. At a certain point, though, homers become exhausting. It's exhausting that 41 players hit 30 or more homers (author's note: No Cardinals though.). It's exhausting that a man named "Scooter" hit four in a game (author's note, again: Yes. Yes, it is.) and 27 overall. It's exhausting that Matt Davidson, a well-below-replacement-level player, hit 26. It's exhausting that Mike Napoli hit .193...and 29 bombs.

I was at an Angels-Rangers game late last year with two friends, and we got up to get beers and snacks. We came back to find out we'd missed a Joey Gallo dinger to straightaway center. "Ho hum," we all said. It's just a homer. Turns out it was not just a homer. It was the second-longest homer hit all season. And yet I still cannot get worked up about having missed it. There were 6,104 others last year, and each of those 6,104 were the very best thing the hitter could possibly do in that situation. Eat your favorite food 6,104 times and you start craving turnips. Quoth 50 Cent: "Sunny days wouldn't be special if it wasn't for rain / Joy wouldn't feel so good if it wasn't for pain."

Hear, hear.


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