As I have discussed on these pages before, John Mozeliak built his roster to fit Mike Matheny as a manager over the last few years. Mike Matheny was, according to basically every “expert,” not very good at his craft when it comes to strategy. Mozeliak forced himself to mold the major league roster around a a bad strategic manager’s ideal roster construction. That led to a roster that I thought was disjointed, as a whole.
There are many examples of this. One example is that the Cardinals often had 13 pitchers on the pitching staff in the last couple of seasons due to Matheny’s preference of keeping an emergency “break glass if everything else goes wrong” pitcher on the roster. Another example is that they were forced to have many players who were able to move all over the field (Carpenter playing 3 positions, Gyorko playing 4 positions, Garcia playing 3 positions, Martinez playing 2 positions) either as starters or subs because Matheny - already short one bench spot due to his preference of 13 pitchers - also refused to use his backup catcher to pinch hit, instead having him be there in case of emergency as well. There has been a lot written about these two examples all over the internet in spaces occupied by Redbird chatter.
Another example is Matheny’s preference to always play the bat (especially the veteran one) if given the opportunity. This led to poor fundamentals as he preferred players who focused on hitting as their craft. This is true in the cases of Allen Craig (who had hit well for Matheny in the past) over Oscar Taveras and Randal Grichuk in right field. This is true in the case of Mark Ellis and Jedd Gyorko over Kolten Wong at second base. This is true in the case of Jon Jay over Peter Bourjos in center field. This is true in the case of Jhonny Peralta over Pete Kozma. This is also true of Aledmys Diaz over Wilfredo Tovar and/or Alex Mejia at short stop. This is true in the case of Jose Martinez at first base with Matt Carpenter shifting to third base over having Matt Carpenter at first base and Jedd Gyorko or Patrick Wisdom at third base.
The pattern seems to be ringing true with the change in manager as well; John Mozeliak is going to try to build to his manager again, this time to Mike Shildt. I’ll let you decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing in your mind. While I do not know if Mike Shildt is going to be a better manager than Mike Matheny was (I’m inclined to guess yes based on what I know thus far), I am pretty sure that Shildt’s ideas are more in line with my way of attempting to Fix the Disjointed Nature of the Roster.
On Sunday, September 30th, Cardinals’ President of Baseball Operations went on KMOX radio in St. Louis as he does every Sunday morning and around the 22 minute mark, Mo said that Shildt wants to trend away from more strikeouts towards more balls in play and that he would probably move the team in that direction moving forward due to Shildt’s preferences. Not only do I feel like this is just more evidence to that point I have made many times before (albeit with different managers at the helm), but that this gives us an idea of a possible direction this team will move on FA and on current players.
Let’s look at some statistics first:
If Yadier Molina weren’t a keeper before (hint: he was), he would be much more so now with Shildt. In Molina’s career, he has stuck out or walked just 16.8% of the time - total. That’s lower than most players K rate alone. This past year was up, but it was still at just 18.9%. League average in 2018 was 30.8% K+BB rate.
Kolten Wong could be a starter more often moving forward as well, assuming health. He struck out only 14.7% of the time this year and is only at 15.3% for his career.
Marcell Ozuna’s K rate for his career is at 21.1% now, but in 2016 he struck out just 18.9% of the time and in 2018 with the Cardinals he struck out just 17.5% of the time. 2017 was right about that career average, so the last 3 years are well down from 2014-2015.
Jose Martinez is up to a respectable sample size in the majors now at over 900 PA. He has struck out just 18% of the time.
Jedd Gyorko’s strikeout percentage has shrunk in each of the past 3 seasons now, this past year he was under 21% for the first time, all the way down at 19.2%.
Yairo Munoz will be interesting. Not sure exactly who he is yet. In the first half, he struck out 24.2% of the time and walked 7.3% of the time. He also had a 105 wRC+ in the first half. In the second half, he was just as good (106 wRC+). However, his profile changed quite a bit by walking 11% of the time to just an 18.9% K rate. If he’s more of that second batter, I see why Shildt wanted his bat in the lineup more often if that’s the direction he wants to go.
Mozeliak in the interview also talked about defense mattering more due to how many errors the 2018 Cardinals made this year on the whole. This is where things above get even more confusing in terms of roster construction.
Yadier Molina absolutely gives you the intangibles even if some of his more obvious defensive statistics are trending downward.
Kolten Wong is obviously great with the glove.
Marcell Ozuna has won a gold glove, even if by the eye test I couldn’t tell you how he was even close to deserving.
Jedd Gyorko’s advanced defensive stats since coming to St. Louis have been average at second base and above average at third base.
However, Jose Martinez is a butcher with the glove no matter what way you slice it and Yairo Munoz was a utility man this year but looks over-matched in the field everywhere except maybe third base. Unless you want them to “waste” their bats on the bench, then you have to make a decision on what matters more: bat to ball at the plate or defense in the field. Over the last month, Shildt chose bat to ball at the plate much more often with Martinez and Munoz getting the 4th and 6th most September PA on the team.
This also means we should probably look at who is possibly going to go:
Tyler O’Neill was given the 12th most September PA despite being the second best defensive outfielder on the roster and an overall stat line of .254/.303/.500/.803 - 115 wRC+ on the year. He struck out 40.1% of the time. I don’t see a way that he gets traded unless we majorly upgrade somewhere else, but could he be the 4th OF again next year with Shildt at the helm? The numbers in the chart above suggest he won’t start, to me.
Patrick Wisdom could be on his way out, despite a fairly dominant stat line of .260/.362/.520/.882 - 141 wRC+, struck out 32.8% of the time. He was only given the 11th most September PA. Keep in mind that his contract is up and could free up a 40-man spot.
Francisco Pena struck out over 30% of the time this year and had a 32 wRC+. While he was good defensively, he had negative overall value due to that. Carson Kelly is done improving at AAA, I believe. He makes contact - striking out in just 15.3% of his 131 MLB PA and in just 14.2% of his minor league PA. I think Pena is as good as gone.
In Part II of this post, I will examine the free agent lists and try to find the players I believe the Cardinals will look at based on these same skills discussed above - to fit Shildt’s philosophies.