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The Cardinals Position Players Stack Up Well With The NL's Best

The St. Louis Cardinals 2023 Position Players are set to stack up with the best of the NL quite well. The Cardinals finished the 2022 season tied with the New York Mets for the 5th highest amount of runs scored. They finished the 2022 season tied with the Yankees for the 4th highest number of walks. The 2022 Cardinals had the 4th best OBP in the game, also tied with the Yankees, and the 7th highest slugging percentage in baseball despite playing in an extreme pitcher's park for half their games. This combined to give them the 5th best OPS in all of baseball and 2nd best OPS+ (although the 5th best wRC+).

This post is not about the 2022 offense, however, so dissecting how that team scored will be minimal. It basically comes down to the Cardinals having two MVP candidates in 1B Paul Goldschmidt and 3B Nolan Arenado along with a second half Albert Pujols who was a third MVP candidate if he played like that all year (or even played as a full time player prior to July). This offensive production was coupled with some very nice rookie performances that landed one of them with a third place finish in the rookie of the year voting and another one of them with a near Pujolsian second half of the season (okay, not really close to Albert's second half, but still a 140 wRC+ in the second half).

So how in the world are the 2023 Cardinals going to do THAT again? The offense may not repeat those numbers, but there was really only one spot in the order that was really bad, and that was at the catcher position. In fact, Cardinals catchers finished 6th worst in the league in catcher wRC+ in 2022 and 4th worst in the league in catcher wRC+ from 2020-22 combined. Then the Cardinals added Willson Contreras as their catcher and he's averaged a wRC+ 50 points higher than Cardinals catchers over the last three year period. He's projected by Steamer to be just as good as he has been the last three years (with a 119 wRC+ projection).

In fact, let's look into those wRC+ categories and more. In the following tables, you're going to see seven columns. Position, Name, their average wRC+ from the last three years combined, their high and low from that period (with at least 100 PA in a season, due to the shortened COVID year and rookie performances, etc.), Steamer's 2023 projection, and lastly an average of the previous four wRC+. In all of the tables, the deeper the color red the better and the deeper the color blue the worse the player was - basing this off of what you typically see at Baseball Savant if you frequent that website.

Here are the Cardinals totals from that time period.

You can see the formatting that we'll use throughout this exercise. The totals at the bottom are the team averages. The averages take the Fangraphs projected starting 9 and doubles their totals to account for them playing more often. It then averages out those with a single dose of playing time of the "extra" four.

What's interesting to me about the Cardinals here is that their lowest wRC+ totals put them as a league average floor while their average puts them as a top 10 team in the league perennially and their Steamer projection and average from the past three years would have put them in the top 5-6 teams of the last three years total. As an aside, their 2022 performance was in the top 10 of the last three seasons.

This method believes that the Cardinals could be a 113-120 wRC+ team this season, looking at column 3 (their average from the past three years), column 6 (their Steamer projection), and column 7 (the average). Yes, that's a wide range, but it's a wide range of all generally very good outcomes.


Here's a look at where the rest of the NL Central lands. The Milwaukee Brewers seem to be the best of the rest in this division, but with Turang and Mitchell starting, the totals for the first three columns are a bit strange. You can see that the last two columns are a lot higher than the first three columns when you get down to the Team Average line. I believe this is taking the dash marks as zeroes in the formula I entered and I'm not going back to fix all that now, sorry.

To make comparisons, you can look at the entire chart and just see by color that the Cardinals offense is going to be at least slightly better than the Brewers, if not moreso than "slightly." The same Column 3, 6, and 7 comparison has the Brewers as a 105-108 wRC+ team for 2023. That is a good team but at the top of it's range would fall well below where this assessment has the Cardinals at the bottom of their range.


The Chicago Cubs are the next team up on our list by average of wRC+ in the NL Central. And if this is the next best team, you can see how the Cardinals could run away with this division. The Cubs' 2020-22 HIGH wRC+ totals average out to less than the Cardinals are projected for the 2023 season by this measure.

The Cubs three columns we're looking at put them as a league average offense, somewhere in the 98-104 wRC+ range. as a team for 2023.


Even though the Cincinnati Reds end up having a higher overall number in that bottom right box, I want to take a look at the Pittsburgh Pirates next. Their range is a bit more varying than the Reds', which seems to be a sure shot "below average" team offensively.

If you look at this Pittsburgh offense, you can see how they could be an absolutely putrid one with all of that blue. Looking at our three columns we are comparing, however, the Pirates seem to be a group on the upswing, as 8 of their players Steamer projections beat out their HIGHs from the last three seasons. The Pirates three columns have them ranging from a 94-106 wRC+ team next year. While that should put them near league average, it could put them as the second best offensive team in the division or the worst offensive team in the division. It's going to be somewhat fascinating to see where they end up on offense, but not if they trade Reynolds. In that case, their sure fire guy is out and this could drop off in a hurry.


Lastly we get to the Cincinnati Reds.

The Reds seem to be pigeonholed into a below league average team that is almost assuredly projected at a 96 wRC+ for 2023 no matter how you look at it. This is despite them looking like they have 4-5 guys that are have to be above average producers.


Also interesting to me is something I saw on Twitter this year and how it plays out in the data above. I saw statistical proof last year that the better offenses in the league had a much higher variance of runs scored in individual games, but scored the most overall over the course of the season. If you look at the highs and lows columns in the five above charts, you can see that the teams projected to be the worst have much closer highs and lows whereas the teams that look to perform best offensively have much higher variance between how high and how low they've been in the past three seasons. Pretty cool!

Moving on to the rest of the National League, by division. Here's the NL East first.

The Mets are seen as a 115-118 wRC+ team for 2023. Their catcher position is potentially keeping them from being the best offense in the National League (if they fall short).

The Braves are seen as a 113-114 wRC+ team for 2023. Much like the catcher position for the Mets, 2B and LF for the Braves could keep them out of the top spot(s).

The Phillies are seen as a 108-112 wRC+ team for 2023. This team is hurt by Harper being injured and not figuring in to the higher amount of plate appearances.

The Marlins are seen as a 103-105 wRC+ team for 2023.

The Nationals are seen as a 98-101 wRC+ team for 2023. However, they really only have Meneses pulling that way up. They should be worse than that.


Here's the NL West last.

The Dodgers are seen as a 113-117 wRC+ team for 2023. The unknown in LF and the middle infield are what could keep the Dodgers out of the top spot in the National League in team wRC+, but this way of doing things thinks that even those "shortcomings" (if they can be called that) will not be a blight on the team but just a blip on the radar as they lead the NL in wRC+.

The Padres are seen as a 116-128 wRC+ team for 2023. You can see that they could obviously be the best offense, but it's counting on a huge season from Matt Carpenter (could the resurgence be real?) to help them to those totals while Fernando Tatis Jr. is working his way back from being injured and suspended. More on them below the fold at the end.

The Giants are seen as a 107-116 wRC+ team for the 2023 season, but have an interesting outlook to me as they have the second highest average high wRC+ column in the NL. Their potential is obviously there to do amazing things. They are betting on quite a few bounce back seasons, however.

The Diamondbacks are seen as a 104-107 wRC+ team for 2023 by this model. They took a hit with Varsho being dealt to Toronto, but at least got Gurriel Jr. and Moreno's projected totals back in that. It'll be interesting if Moreno takes over for Kelly this year or it takes a while. You can see SS is really dragging that down. If Rojas, Marte, and Rivera can take over the 2B, 3B, SS positions in some order and be decent defensively, it might be worth the offensive upgrade.

Lastly we get to the Rockies who are seen as a 93-99 wRC+ offense this year and seen to be potentially the worst in the league by this measure. They only have four players on the roster seen to be average or above, with two of them only projected rookies (no substantial prior data) and one coming off of an injury filled season with under 200 PA.


What does that look like altogether? Well, by this measure it puts the Cardinals in the second tier of offenses in the NL. The Dodgers, Padres, and Mets should be the top tier pretty obviously. The Padres have the possibility of being something we've never seen before in many of our lifetimes. I mean, their lows are higher than 10 NL team's projections for this year. The Braves, Cardinals, and Phillies (and potentially giants) are in that second tier of teams that could be the 4th-7th best offenses in the NL, all well above league average.

However, let's look at two columns specifically. If you look at the first column, what the players have actually done the last three seasons, you can see that the Cardinals could be the second best offense in the NL and if you look at the Steamer Projections column - the second to last column - then you see how the Cardinals could be potentially the best in the entire NL, making this season's offense a very enticing conversation.

Thanks for reading!


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