The Cardinals did it. They truly, really, finally, unbelievably, fantastically, incomprehensibly did it. Nolan Arenado is a St. Louis Cardinal. In larger picture news, the Cardinals are back in the saddle making moves. January really is the new December - to paraphrase John Mozeliak.
The St. Louis Cardinals signed Adam Wainwright to a contract to end his career in St. Louis - right where it began and stayed - just a couple of dozen hours before making a move for Nolan Arenado. And the Nolan Arenado move is rumored to precede a Yadier Molina reunion by, similarly, a few dozen hours - as Molina is finishing playing in the Caribbean Series with a Puerto Rican baseball team.
But, the news of the day is clearly Arenado. He has long been a rumored target of John Mozeliak, Michael Girsch, Bill DeWitt III, and the Cardinals. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch has been touting that Arenado is the guy that the Cardinals would most like to have from another team for multiple seasons now. That he was the target of all targets for the Cardinals. Not only that, but there have been plenty of reports of the Cardinals attempting to acquire Nolan Arenado to become a Cardinal.
As of the time of this writing, we still do not know the exact return of the trade, nor do we know all of the contract changes that went on to get Arenado to come to the Cardinals (waiving a NTC, adding an opt out in addition to his currently existing opt out, adding another (cheaper) year to the contract to extend it in order to waive his NTC, $50M heading the Cardinals way - split over the remaining years of the contract, and more are rumored/reported to be true). The rumored/reported pieces going back seem to definitely include Austin Gomber and Jake Woodford, but also could include Jhon Torres, Luken Baker, and/or others.
Today I'm not going to analyze the trade itself of which I am unsure of the exact details. I will say that if that's all we're having to give up in terms of player personnel (Gomber/Woodford/Torres/Baker) that I am absolutely thrilled by this opportunity. It is a huge coup for Cardinals' brass. It's an even better trade than the Paul Goldschmidt deal, of which i thought at the time the Cardinals should have done 10 out of 10 times again no matter how it ended up. It is a much better trade than the Marcell Ozuna trade, of which I thought at the time that the Cardinals should not have done at all.
If all that above is true, if I'm Cardinals' brass, I make this trade every time it's offered to me. No matter what. Despite anything I might say below.
There are clear pros to this trade and some underlying cons - that I want to go over right now. First of all, despite what Mike Petriello of MLB.com wrote here in a great article outlining the overreaction by the general public to Colorado Rockies players moving away from 81 games a year at Coors Field upon leaving or being traded, I am worried the Coors factor with Nolan Arenado's particular batted ball data. Part of that is because of research I am doing on Busch III as a pitcher's park vs. Coors Field as a hitter's park. I am looking into fly ball park factors and they are...not good...at Busch III.
Nolan Arenado is a fly ball hitter. In his career, Arenado has hit 42.6% fly balls. In recent years, that number has gone up. In 2019, he hit 44.7% fly balls. In 2020, he hit 47.0% fly balls. In fact, he's only been below his career average in one of the last six seasons. Due to this high fly ball percentage, he also has a lot of infield fly balls as well - higher than league average in this time. Here's the problem with this. Colorado greatly increases batting averages, slugging percentages, and wOBA on fly balls by right-handed hitters, whereas Busch III greatly suppresses fly balls by right-handed hitters (RHH). I'm not quite ready to publish my research on that matter yet, but using ballpark effects from other places, we can see on Fangraphs:
Coors Field singles in 2020 had a 108 park factor (8% better than league average) for RHH.
Coors Field doubles in 2020 had a 117 park factor for RHH.
Coors Field triples in 2020 had a 137 park factor for RHH.
Coors Field homers in 2020 had a 111 park factor for RHH.
Busch III singles in 2020 had a 101 park factor for RHH.
Busch III doubles in 2020 had a 94 park factor for RHH.
Busch III triples in 2020 had a 96 park factor for RHH.
Busch III homers in 2020 had a 92 park factor for RHH.
Those numbers are for all batted balls, and basically they mean that singles are 9.9% more prevalent in Coors than Busch III, 24.5% more prevalent in Coors than Busch III, triples are 42.7% more prevalent in Coors than Busch III, and homers are 20.7% more prevalent in Coors than Busch III.
So far in his career, Nolan Arenado has averaged the following amounts of hit types per 650 plate appearances:
If we simply look at Arenado's career stats and apply those caveats to them, what we could expect from him is a season like this (in 650 PA):
Assuming that Arenado's walk rates and strikeout rates and HBP/SH/SF rates all stay the same, we'd be looking at this kind of line next year from him:
28 doubles, 2 triples, 27 homers
So the Cardinals may have just traded for a guy making as much as Paul Goldschmidt does, but who is looking at 57 extra base hits on average, if he can continue to play at the same level for 650 plate appearances a season in his age 30-36 seasons. That slash line and those totals would actually be better than last year's numbers for him - and those were while getting half of his PA in Coors. That's my being cautious about all of this.
A lot of fly balls off of the bat just flat out die at Busch III. My numbers for park factor - on fly balls only - make those park factors look like a smaller difference than I think it might be. Let's put a visual on that. The chart below is going to show you multiple things at once. The x-axis (and thus the width of the bars in the bar graph - they are only 1 degree wide apiece) shows the launch direction of all of Arenado's batted balls between 2015-2020. Negative 45 degrees is the third base bag and left field line, 0 degrees is from home plate through the second base bag, and positive 45 is the first base bag and right field line. The y-axis (and thus the height of the bars on the bar graph) shows the number of batted balls in that 1 degree bin. Lastly, the color of the bar graph - which goes from deep red (best) to deep blue (worst) - is the wOBA on the balls batted in that 1 degree bin.
You can see that the -33 degree to -25 degree bin is where Arenado has absolutely crushed it. That is both good and bad. The only place in Busch III that I can find that is beneficial to RHH is the -31 to -45 degree area. Arenado could very much still benefit on those fully pulled baseballs. We see that Arenado has been pretty bad at getting results to center field and the opposite field. Busch is significantly worse at helping players to center and right-center and right field as compared to Coors Field.
This is the caution of which I speak.
Look at that hardware. NO REALLY, LOOK. AT. THAT. HARDWARE. Shown: one-eighth of Nolan Arenado's current Gold Glove collection, one-fourth of Arenado's current Platinum Glove collection, and one-fourth of Arenado's current Silver Slugger collection.
Despite my worries outlined above, there is a RIDICULOUS amount to admire about this trade and even more than that to be excited over.
For comparison, Kolten Wong is a guy that Cardinals fans know for having a low strikeout rate, as he has a career 15.2% K%. Arenado (at 15.0%) barely strikes out less per year than Kolten Wong does (given the same PA). Arenado also barely walks more than Kolten Wong at 7.9% of his career PA to 7.7% for Wong. They're very similar hitters when it comes to strikeouts and walks.
But here's the difference between them. Nolan Arenado has a .248 ISO. That's a .248 Isolated Slugging Percentage - or his batting average on extra base hits alone, essentially. Kolten Wong's (and Yadier Molina's for that matter since they're tied) is .123 - that is just under half of that total for Arenado. Basically, you'd expect Arenado to be DOUBLE the slugger that Kolten Wong is, all the while having the same non-batted ball profile. That's really good.
Since we're making comparisons already, and since we're being positive already, the next comparison is the one everyone is making to another gold glove third baseman that the Cardinals acquired nearly 20 years ago. In the five full seasons prior to Scott Rolen being traded from the Philadelphia Phillies to the St. Louis Cardinals (1997-2001) Scott Rolen had an OPS+ of 128. He was acquired mid-2002 after playing 100 games with an OPS+ of 121. In the five full seasons (2015-2019) prior to Nolan Arenado coming to the St. Louis Cardinals, Arenado averaged a 129 OPS+. Arenado was acquired after playing 48 games of a 60-game shortened season with an injury aided OPS+ of 84.
How about that feeling when you save the best for last? Nolan Arenado is a superb defensive player. I can't say that I've watched enough to know that he's better than Scott Rolen (speaking of comparisons) at the hot corner, but I've seen enough to know that he's darn good.
Looking at a wide array of advanced defensive stats, we can tell just how good he is. By DRS, since his career began in 2013, Nolan Arenado has 120 defensive runs saved above average at third base. Manny Machado has 88. He's second. Matt Chapman rounds out the top 3 with 81. Now, Chapman is better on a rate basis compared to Arenado as he only has about 40% of the innings played as Arenado does. By UZR/150, Arenado again is top 3 this time coming in third behind Chapman at 1 and Machado at 2. By total UZR, Arenado is first. UZR/150 is just the rate stat per "season" as opposed to total runs saved. Outs Above Average (OAA) is found at Baseball Savant and only has data since 2017. Since then, Arenado has been the top 3B with 33 outs above the average third baseman. Matt Chapman has 28. He's the only player that has at least half as many as Arenado. As you can see below, his bread and butter is his ability to move and dive towards his left (towards second base, away from the third base bag) to defensively steal balls that many third basemen cannot. He is not overly fast, in fact he is one of the slowest third basemen in the game (slower than Matt Carpenter in sprint speed). That said, despite him being slow, he has been nearly a league average base runner throughout the course of his career. He's Yadier Molina on the bases, with a little more speed it seems.
Also, he is quick on the defensive end. VERY quick.
On the left is Arenado's starting position in the field. On the right is Arenado's position when he fields the ball. He has incredible range defensively, despite his limitations on the bases. I mean, really incredible. Look at where some of those balls he gets to are. And look where his starting position is, quite consistently, on the field. He is really close to the line. He makes a LOT of plays far to his left.
Oh. And I have I mentioned the arm? This arm. With the cannon attached to it.
No, seriously. He just shifts his weight for that! For real. Okay. Let's do one more. Just for fun.
Ryan Braun isn't/wasn't slow. Arenado takes his time.
I feel at this point, I still haven't adequately played up how good Arenado's bat could be. Nolan Arenado has had two seasons with 40+ doubles in his career and three more with 34 or more. Nolan Arenado has had three seasons with 40+ homers in his career and two more with 37 or more. Nolan Arenado has scored 100+ runs on 4 separate occasions (and 97 once). Nolan Arenado has driven in 130 or more runs three times and 110 or more two other times. He's had a .300 batting average twice. He's been at or above .570 in slugging percentage on four occasions and an OBP over .360 four times.
His average season is currently: .293/.349/.541/.890. He has four seasons of .930+ OPS. Arenado averages 7 sac flies each year and has walked off games on 8 occasions in his career.
Baseball Reference has a stat pulling site called "Stathead." On that site, you can take a player's production and put them into any park in any season to see how they would fare at that stadium as opposed to their own - based on park factors.
Stathead has Arenado's 2016-2019 seasons at Busch III as the following:
2016 (671 PA)
97 runs, 31 doubles, 5 triples, 36 homers, 111 RBI
2017 (651 PA)
83 runs, 38 doubles, 6 triples, 33 homers, 108 RBI
2018 (644 PA)
86 runs, 34 doubles, 2 triples, 34 homers, 91 RBI
2019 (632 PA)
83 runs, 27 doubles, 3 triples, 37 homers, 97 RBI
I think right now the Cardinals would take approximately 650 PA of .280/.345/.530/.875 with 87 runs, 33 doubles, 4 triples, 35 homers, and 102 RBI in a heart beat right now...as would just about every team. Especially when it's attached to that glove and that arm.
Oh, we need more excitement?
Mr. Arenado's away stats haven't looked wonderful over the course of his career, especially when compared to Coors Field stats. Go figure right? Well, part of that is that he's taken 789 of his 2,255 away plate appearances in San Fran and Los Angeles. He's not done well in those big pitcher parks. Those matter much less now than, say, NL Central parks. So how has he done in those?
He has 76 plate appearances in Milwaukee with a .397/.461/.838/1.299 line.
He has 98 plate appearances in St. Louis with a .278/.337/.511/.848 line.
He has 92 plate appearances in Cincinnati with a .291/.370/.456/.825 line.
He has 101 plate appearances in Chicago (NL) with a .247/.287/.495/.782 line.
He has 71 plate appearances in Pittsburgh with a .269/.310/.358/.668 line.
So those last two don't inspire a lot of confidence but the slugging in Chicago has been great. Arenado has gotten on base like crazy in Cincinnati, while in Milwaukee, he has an entirely 2011 David Freese post-season line. Now, that's just at those parks. Overall, he has a 327/.369/.538/.908 line against the Pittsburgh Pirates. That's his WORST OPS against NL Central teams.
I hope I adequately played that up now.
Thanks to @cardinalsgifs for the cover art and images of Arenado throughout. These are TOP NOTCH you guys. That makes it so fun to write at this site, working with someone so talented. (Side note: If the .gifs don't look up to snuff, that's because I pulled those.)