UCB Round table: Most valuable Cardinal in 2018



Each offseason, Daniel Shoptaw -- you probably know him as @C70 -- hosts a round table for members of the United Cardinal Bloggers. It is an attempt to gather each of our thoughts on the team's offseason and to get a grasp on what we expect going forward. Fortunately, I batted leadoff this year, posing the following question to the group (the answers are listed in the order in which they were received):


"Which current member of the Cardinals will provide the club with the most value in 2018?"


Mary Clausen, of MLB Voice: Our Cards have several guys that could be the most valuable, it really depends on which one they consistently bring to the field. Consistency is something they they haven't been able to withhold. We'll think good thoughts that we don't see that so much this season.


I think Tommy Pham is a player that we can depend on do always attempt to do his best. To get ready during the offseason, I hear he has worked out a lot to get game ready. He has beefed up so much that his Spring Training uniform didn't even fit him.  He also has a strong work ethic, always trying to do better. Sometimes when he's complimented during his interviews on a game well played,he points out something that happened that he wants to improve, i.e., number of strikeouts."Thank you, but. . ." I look forward to watching him defensively in center field too!


Steven McNeil (@SMcNeil_87), of STL Hat Trick: I think it absolutely has to be [Marcell] Ozuna. I think this team and this offense will depend on him this season.


Daniel Shoptaw (@C70), of Cards Conclave: Looking through the ZIPS projections on Fangraphs, Marcell Ozuna tops the hitters and I agree with Steven that he is a key component of how this team does this season.  However, Carlos Martinez is projected for a full win more than Ozuna and I know it will warm Joe's heart for me to say he probably will produce the most value on the field.  Ozuna's impact may be felt on a regular basis, but if Carlos can go out there every fifth day and put up great numbers, it's going to have an amazing effect on this team, both in what he does and the rest he provides the bullpen.


Colin Garner (@colingarner22), of The Redbird Daily: If we’re talking value in terms of WAR, I’d say Marcell Ozuna. Because of the depth in the outfield, I don’t think his performance will be the most value. Remember, value is the “usefulness of something."


Carlos Martinez will provide the most value. Consider the question marks surrounding every other member of the rotation: Adam Wainwright: terrible 2017. Michael Wacha: chronic shoulder problems. Luke Weaver: first full-season in the bigs. Miles Mikolas: hasn’t been in the MLB since 2014. The rotation needs an anchor.


I was talking to one of my teammates the other day who said Carlos needs to “stop being an above-average pitcher”. Obviously being an above-average pitcher is a good thing, but a pitcher with the stuff like Martinez has the potential for so much more. In my opinion, every other pitcher on the staff has the potential to be a 1.5-3 WAR pitcher, but Martinez could be a 4 or 5 WAR player. For the Cardinals to have a rotation good enough to compete with the Cubs, el Gallo needs to be stud.


Josey Curtis (@Curtis_Josey), of Viva El Birdos: I would say in terms of statistical value, Marcell Ozuna will lead the Cardinals this year. Fellow outfielder Tommy Pham projects to give him a run for that title, and Dexter Fowler could, too, if his defense improves as a right fielder and he stays healthy - this would lead to a much better offensive performance. Point being: Ozuna will be valuable from the scorebook & and the field, but he'll have some competition. On the other hand, Carlos Martinez will not.


Martinez will be the most valuable Cardinal this year. There is no longer speculation surrounding if he is truly the 'ace', and he will be leading a rotation with several red flags. Wainwright is entering his final contracted season after a poor 2017, Wacha (though he made 30 starts in '17) has dealt with recurring shoulder issues, Mikolas hasn't pitched in the Majors since 2014, and Weaver will be in his first full year in the Majors.


Adam Butler (@LanceDance1), of The Redbird Daily: When I initially read this question I thought for sure that my answer would be Marcell Ozuna. However, as I looked into it, Ozuna wasn't the name that I kept gravitating toward.


I think there are really only four candidates that have a good shot at leading the team in value. Those being Ozuna, Tommy Pham, Matt Carpenter, and Carlos Martinez. Anyone else feels like a long shot to me. I'm going with Carlos Martinez. When I look at what Ozuna and Pham did last year I think they will both be good again in 2018 but they are due for some negative regression. The sky is the limit for Carpenter with his on-base/power approach that began to take form in 2015. Unfortunately he has been hindered by injury and hasn't been able to play at the height of his capabilities. With him dealing with back issues already this season, I don't think his recent injury history is something that can be ignored.


Carlos is the one that has to most ability to outperform what he did last season. He's been around 3.3 fWAR for the past few seasons and when you watch him pitch you wonder how it's so low. In 2016 he seemed to make a conscious effort to ease off of his pitches in order to get deeper into games, and it worked. The downside was that his strikeout rate dropped from 24.4% in 2015 down to 21.5% in 2016. In 2017 we saw him increase in innings total once again while also jumping his strikeout rate up to 25.3%, the highest of his career. If he is able to maintain these numbers, while keeping the ball in the park at the same rate he did pre-2017, I believe you're looking at a top 10 starter in baseball and the Cardinals most valuable player.


Kevin Reynolds (@deckacards), of Stl Cards 'N Stuff: Interesting that you ask which players "will provide the most value" and not "which player is the most valuable," or the most critical. For me, the most critical or most valuable is still Yadier Molina, if for no other reason than the way this rotation will need to be managed to be competitive. But, I don't know that he will be "the most valuable," especially in terms of measurable significance. Most of Yadi's value is difficult to measure statistically (at least in terms of isolating his impact on a group of statistics and measuring his pitch-calling/on-field coaching/etc. contributions).


There's also an element here of predicting the future. I could pick a player, but will that player actually have the year expected? Will he stay healthy? Etc.


That said, I have to go with Tommy Pham. Let's approach this a few different ways...


1. Why not Player X? This could easily be Ozuna. His bat is supposed to be the impact bat the Cardinals need, but I struggle to fully believe he'll have a year similar to last year. That's largely okay - he doesn't have to reach that statistical level to be an impact bat - but if he drops even a tier down, that puts him in a more replaceable category, and I won't be surprised to see the Cardinals go shopping for another impact bat (Donaldson?) at the deadline anyway. By replaceable, I don't mean to minimize his bat, but it is just a bat, a single dimension that can be shopped for as opposed to a player that adds value across the board like Pham. Or it could be Carpenter, but his struggles last season and difficulty hitting in the middle of the order make him difficult to predict. He doesn't offer anything defensively - except liability - and his injury history the last year and a half is concerning. If he has to play away from first base too much, I worry he won't maintain enough health to be an impact player that can stay on the roster. Fowler could be the guy, especially if he can be effective at leadoff and free Carpenter to settle in at an RBI position, but his legs and up and down season in 2017 make him difficult to predict. Besides, he was moved to right field to make himself and the team better, not exactly a player that elevates others around him - more like a fielder that depends on someone (like Pham) to handle CF enough to free him of it on an everyday basis. DeJong won't be defensively special enough (and could struggle offensively as a sophomore), and Wong's injury history last season is concerning. Gyorko appears to have overperformed last year. And I have a hard time labeling any pitcher - even Carlos - that plays 1 day out of 5 as the most valuable, although an ineffective or injured Martinez will certainly produce a strong roster reaction. Finally, Yadi's in decline and won't do enough statistically - especially with Kelly behind him - to be quite as irreplaceable statistically as in previous years.


2. More than just a single player. In Pham's case, his play elevates those around him - both offensively and defensively. He increases the outfield coverage while allowing Fowler to move over (which makes right field better defensively), and he deepens a lineup that will pressure pitchers 1 through 4 when Tommy hits second. Even on the bases, Pham's aggression and speed automatically turn any hitter at the plate into an RBI man, capable of scoring from any base - and hungry to do so. That kind of offensive presence is disruptive to pitchers, an effect that benefits everyone hitting around him. Without Pham, pitchers will usually be just an out or two away from escaping the dangerous part of the Cardinals' lineup, and Fowler (or a minor leaguer) will be pressed into center field duty, weakening the overall defense. In fact, Pham is the only defensive player on the roster capable of moving another player to another position to make the team better.


3. Tone setter. Pham established himself as the personality the Cardinals needed in 2017. A full season of his attitude and aggression will pull others along with him, energizing the rest of the roster and pressing for wins in a way we haven't seen since Chris Carpenter retired.


Kyle Reis (@kyler416), of Birds on the Black: Man. That are a lot of really great answers ahead of this. It makes me want to say "they're all going to provide the most value!!!"


First, as a warning, most of these questions I will come at from the "if this was my business" angle. So, I view this question as "who is going to give me the most production for the money that I'll be paying them?"


That's easy to answer. It's Tommy Pham, but with Paul DeJong as a surprisingly close second. Both of these gentlemen will be making bottom of the barrel-type funds (relatively speaking) while providing the Cardinals with solid defense up the middle and much needed middle of the order pop. There aren't too many guys in the league that are capable of providing an OPS of .800 while not hurting the club at least a little with their defense. Both of these players will provide that for the Cardinals in 2018.


Everyone knows about the 20/20 season that Pham put up in 2017. The excerpts above do a great job of going into superb detail about it, but people seem to lose track of the fact that the Cardinals didn't start winning until DeJong took over as the starting short stop. Remember, the first time he was called up the majors he played 2B almost exclusively. What you'll forget is that DeJong hadn't played 2B since his last collegiate season and had never played the position as a professional. Yet, he played it so well that no one had any idea that it had been that long since he played second. Then, he was called back up to the majors on June 15th, took over as the starting short stop only 3 months in to making it his full time position, and the Cardinals proceeded to go 52-44 from that point on. Paul DeJong is NOT Aledmys Diaz. Paul DeJong is something more.

These two players are the biggest bang for your buck on the team. Obviously, Tommy Pham is the more dynamic baseball player with the better chance of being a plus defender, but don't forget about what DeJong has accomplished in such a short time. Both are poised to provide tremendous value for the Cardinals in 2018.


Tara Wellman (@tarawellman), of Birds on the Black: The trouble with getting to these threads late is that all the good answers have already been taken! 


So, I'm going to take a different course...


While Dexter Fowler earned the "You go, we go" motto in his former life, I think the Cardinals should give that designation to Matt Carpenter. When he goes, the Cardinals go... for better or worse. It's no surprise to me that the 2013 Cardinals and the 2013 Carpenter both found exceptional success. It's likewise no surprise that when Carpenter has been down the last two years, so too have the Cardinals. 


Sure, it's a bit of a leap to go from that correlation to anointing Carpenter the 2018 MVP, but hear me out...


Tommy Pham is what he is. And it's awesome. But we saw last year that even that isn't enough. Dexter Fowler is great, when he's healthy, but not quite great enough to singlehandedly carry the team to the playoffs. Even Marcel Ozuna, who I believe will be an excellent addition, is no Giancarlo Stanton. 


Carlos Martinez can only do so much... and only every 5 days. 


My point here is this: The Cardinals have once again chosen an approach that says "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts." 


They don't have a peak Albert Pujols. They don't have Mike Trout. They don't have Aaron Judge. 


They have a 1-5 that all have to function as one. 


Without getting too philosophical here, I think the key ingredient to this mix is Matt Carpenter. You all don't need me to rehash his 2013 stats in contrast to his 2017 stats. You all watched what happened there just like I did. But for the Cardinals' 2018 plan to work, Carpenter HAS to be more like the 2013 version and less (DRAMATICALLY less) like the 2017 version. A large part of that will mean health. A larger part will mean consistency. This team cannot afford to drag a shell of Matt Carpenter around, in place of the guy who had a real MVP case. And as such, he is, to me, the guy who will have the greatest impact -- again, for better or worse -- on the 2018 team. 



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