Hey, settle in, take your time and read your way through a massive serving of the year-end Bernie Bits. New Year’s weekend has to feature some excess, so I’ve done my part, and what I have to offer is harmless.
So let’s get started.
FIRST UP …
Despite what you may have heard from your crabby neighbor Johnny, some grunting weightlifting dude at the gym, your sweet Grandma Ella, your pastor, or perhaps a pilates instructor, the Cardinals had one of the best offenses in the majors in 2022.
An impressive pile of stats tell us so. Even though – as yelping critics frequently told us – the Cardinal jitters were ruined by the worst hitting instructor in the history of all mankind – the Redbirds produced a very good profile.
One of the finest in MLB.
Have a look:
— Tied for 5th in the majors with an average of 4.77 runs per game.
— 1st in the NL and second overall with a team OPS+ of 114.
— 4th overall for the lowest team strikeout rate.
— 4th overall for most times on base.
— 5th overall in park–and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+).
— 5th overall in onbase percentage.
— 5th overall in OPS with runners in scoring position.
— 6th overall in extra-base hits.
— 6th overall in total bases.
— 7th overall in slugging percentage.
— 10th overall in batting average.
Not bad considering that the Cardinals played half of their games in a home ballpark that was rated as the seventh-worst venue for hitters in 2022. Not bad considering the down years offensively for Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson and the absolutely horrendous offense at the catcher position. It sure did help Albert Pujols launching rockets after the All-Star break — homering 18 times and slugging a preposterous .715 in 178 plate appearances.
St. Louis was terrific at running the bases in 2022, ranking seventh in the majors with a plus-70 net baserunning gain. The Cards were tied for 11th in MLB with 95 stolen bases, and finished sixth overall with a success rate of 79 percent on steals.
Last season Cardinals position players ranked No. 3 in MLB with 32.8 WAR (FanGraphs version.) Only the Dodgers and Yankees had more non-pitcher fWAR than the Cardinals in 2022.
The Cardinals crashed in the postseason, scoring three runs in two games in getting swept by Philadelphia 2-0 in the NL wild-card series.
It’s funny – or maybe sad – that an admittedly pathetic performance in two postseason games can void out 162 regular-season games of mostly outstanding offense, but that’s just how it goes in our short attention span culture.
Two things about that: (A) As I’ve written and said many times in agreement with your opinion, the Cardinal front office hasn’t been aggressive about building a complete team that’s more capable of making a successful postseason run. And (B) when Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Albert Pujols go a combined 3 for 23 with seven strikeouts and no RBI in the two-game failure to the Phils, I’m not sure what you expected to happen. The chances of bopping the Phillies out of the tournament were greatly reduced by The Big Three’s quiet 48 hours at Busch Stadium.
I felt it was important to go back in time to form a more intelligent perspective on the overall quality of the STL offense in ‘22. It’s part of a larger picture.
As the Cardinals get closer to the opening of their 2023 spring-training camp, I wanted to make note of how the team is evolving on the field.
Combining the 2021 and 2022 seasons, the St. Louis position players ranked fourth in the majors in fWAR.
Contrast that to the St. Louis pitchers who were 20th in fWAR over the past two seasons including the No. 19 ranking in starting-pitching WAR.
In 2021 and ‘22, St. Louis fans and media invested an exhausting amount of hours discussing the Cards’ pitching injuries, pitching shortages, the alarming cracks in the rotation, and the desperate need to acquire help through trades. Too often the Cardinals have gone into competitions with a pitching staff weakened in quality and stability.
The Redbirds have become more dependent on their offense to compensate for the chaos on the pitching side. Over the past two seasons combined the Cardinals ranked 10th in the majors by scoring six or more runs in 105 games. When plating at least six runs in a contest the Cardinals had a record of 94-11.
I don’t know if I’d call this a hit–first team, but the offense – hitting and baserunning – is the strongest component. And it may go that way again in 2023.
So far the Cardinals haven’t touched their pitching staff in advance of next season. Perhaps that will change. Or maybe we’ll see a deal for a starting pitcher before the Aug. 2023 trade deadline.
The one big move this offseason was signing free agent Willson Contreras to a five-year, $87.5 million contract to provide a huge offensive boost at the catcher spot. Among MLB catchers that have at least 1,500 plate appearances since 2016 when playing the position, Contreras ranks No. 1 in OPS and wRC+ and is fourth in slugging. Over the past two seasons St. Louis catchers were near the bottom of the positional rankings offensively, positing a 68 wRC+ that was 32 percent below league average. It won’t be easy to replace Pujols’ offense, but a committee of young and promising designated hitters should be fine. And if O’Neill and Carlson can give the Cardinals a season worth of bounce-back offense, the worries will subside.
When MLB.com columnist Anthony Castrovince recently ranked the 2023 MLB offenses in order of anticipated effectiveness, he placed the Cardinals at No. 5 overall behind the Mets, Padres, Astros and Blue Jays.
“Though the Cards will sure miss that surprisingly vintage performance they got from Albert Pujols in the second half of 2022, Contreras (132 wRC+ in ’22) replacing Yadier Molina (51) is pretty much as big an offensive upgrade as you can possibly make with a single signing,” Castrovince wrote. “Thanks to MVP-caliber seasons from Goldschmidt and Arenado and the emergence of the likes of Brendan Donovan and Lars Nootbaar, the Cards ranked fifth in runs (772) and wRC+ (114) last year. They could further be boosted by top prospect Jordan Walker.”
The early prorated Steamer Projections for 2023 show 13 Cardinals hitters turning in an above-average performance next season. That includes would-be slugger Moises Gomez, the outfielder who led all minor-leaguers with 39 homers last season.
READING TIME 10 MINUTES:
1. With Missouri basketball off to a 12-1 start and scorching with consecutive late-December victories over ranked teams Illinois and Kentucky, let’s give some credit to Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams. Why? In October, when the SEC coaches met with the media, Williams predicted big-time success for first-year Mizzou coach Dennis Gates. You may have heard about the comments at the time, but Williams’ words didn’t get a lot of attention. What he said is worth repeating, in two parts:
— “He’s a star,” Williams said of Gates. “He’s an absolute star. I think he works at his craft incredibly hard. I think he’s been preparing for this moment for a long, long time.”
— “The ability that he has to lead as a person speaks for itself and I think what he’s been able to do in a brief head-coaching career, it says that he can lead an organization,” Williams said. “I think he will do great at Missouri, I think he’s deserving of the opportunity. He’s earned it.”
Before becoming the head coach at Cleveland State and winning two Coach of the Year awards there, Gates had a long run as an up-and-coming assistant under future Hall of Fame coach Leonard Hamilton. Williams – the head coach at Virginia Tech from 2014 through 2019 – became familiar with Gates when the Hokies clashed with the Seminoles in ACC play.
2. Here’s more on Moises Gomez in the form of a recent prospect scouting report from Baseball Prospectus. I’ve been guilty of overlooking Gomez, but he may bash his way to a promotion to St. Louis in 2023.
“Gómez never got a ton of attention in the super deep Tampa Bay Rays systems of the late-2010s, and a disastrous post-pandemic season in Double-A dimmed much of his remaining prospect luster,” BP wrote. “The Rays released him after 2021, and the Cards picked him up. He promptly hit the most home runs in the minors, slugging over .600 between Springfield and Memphis. The power is legit, plus-plus potential, and Gómez doesn’t need to get it right on the sweet spot to pull it out of the park. There’s still a lot of swing and miss here, and he’s not going to provide a ton of defensive value. Still, Gómez is at least ready to offer some right-handed platoon pop, and St. Louis must figure the same, as they added him to the 40-man after the season.”
3. Bradford Doolittle of ESPN.com ranked the Cardinals as the seventh-best team in the majors (and fourth in the NL) after assessing each team’s offseason activity up until Christmas. Doolittle listed the Cardinals at No. 10 in the most-improved category. He projected 92.3 wins for the Redbirds and gives St. Louis an 84% chance of making the postseason. Doolittle put the Mets, Padres, Yankees, Braves, Rays and Astros ahead of the Cardinals. The Blue Jays, Dodgers and Guardians were spotted behind the Cardinals to complete the in-progress Top 10.
4. Credibility … going, going … almost gone. On Thursday, Mizzou announced that quarterback Brady Cook had surgery on his throwing shoulder and had been playing with a torn labrum since the team’s Sept. 10 game at Kansas State. For the second straight year, head coach Eli Drinkwitz knowingly played an injured quarterback who couldn’t function at a normal capacity. In 2021 we watched QB Conner Bazelak play on one healthy leg and it was painful to watch. In 2022, Cook struggled with his downfield passing accuracy. Trying to do that with a damaged shoulder did not help the cause. Frankly, from a coaching standpoint, this is cuckoo. And really, really awful coaching.
4a. Here’s an on-point summation of the bizarre situation written by my friend Gabe DeArmond of PowerMizzou.com.
“At the end of last season everyone knew Bazelak was injured. And everyone said “I don’t care who plays QB, the QB play can’t be worse next year,’ Gabe wrote. “And then for much of this year, people believed the QB play was actually worse. And now everyone is saying ‘Cook was hurt all year. What was he doing? The alternatives can’t possibly have been worse.’ Except the guy making the call believed the alternatives absolutely were worse. And THAT’S what should worry you, not the fact that he kept playing Brady, but that he did it because he believed it to be his best option.”
Agreed. I don’t understand the folks who defend Drinkwitz by saying that the coach had no choice but to play Cook all season in 2022 – before and after the injury – because Cook was the best quarterback that Mizzou had. So he HAD to play his best option, right? No. Wrong. That’s just baloney. Brady Cook was Coach Drink’s best choice because he happened to be Coach Drink’s ONLY choice … and for the wrong reason. The coach didn’t have a competent, reasonably talented, ready-to-play quarterback to plug in for the injured Cook. And that is 100 percent the fault of Eli Drinkwitz.
For the third consecutive year, Drinkwitz started a QB that had been recruited by previous MU head coach Barry Odom. There are no excuses here. Making it worse, Drinkwitz has thrown wounded quarterbacks to the Bulldogs, Gators, Wildcats, Vols and other SEC predators for two years in a row. That’s brutally unfair to the quarterbacks. The coaching incompetence is stunning.
FINALLY, MY FRIENDS …
5. Here were the Top 10 most important stories/developments in St. Louis sports for 2022, at least in my opinion.
— Albert Pujols
— Albert Pujols
— Albert Pujols
— Albert Pujols
— Albert Pujols
— Albert Pujols
— Albert Pujols
— Albert Pujols
— Albert Pujols
— Albert Pujols
It was an honor to watch him for the final time, a privilege to write about him, and incredibly thrilling to see him zone in to finish his career with 703 home runs.
Albert leaves as the only hitter in MLB history to amass 700+ homers, 2,000+ RBIs, and multiple league MVP awards.
Amazing. I miss him already.
Certainly Worthy Of Mention: Our Town’s Jayson Tatum received his third selection to the NBA All-Star game, earned first-team All-NBA honors for the first time, led his Boston Celtics to the Eastern Conference title and a spot in the NBA Finals. Despite losing to the Golden State Warriors, it was a fantastic season for Tatum and the Celtics. And the deep playoff run left Tatum with 1,693 career postseason points, which ranks 12th in Celtics history. Tatum is 27 points behind fellow St. Louisan Jo Jo White – the late, great Celtic – who ranks 11th in Boston franchise history with 1,720 postseason points. Tatum is only 24 years old, and will turn 25 in March. It’s remarkable what he’s already accomplished at such a young age.
There was the beloved Dick Vermeil’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame … Paul Goldschmidt won the National League MVP award, with teammate Nolan Arenado finishing third in the balloting … there was the exciting free-agent addition of slugging catcher Willson Contreras … St. Louis City FC opened a magnificent, breathtakingly beautiful futbol venue. City Park is a monument to the grand heritage of St. Louis soccer …
The Cardinals won 93 games, their most in a season since 2015, and made it to the postseason for the fourth consecutive year … catcher Yadier Molina went through a celebratory farewell season before retirement. But if we’re being honest about it, the experience was disappointing because of his excess weight, injuries, poor offense, and decision to leave the team during the season to watch over his pro basketball team during the league championship series in Puerto Rico …It was awesome to see two St. Louis dudes, Tim Ream and Josh Sargent, play for the United States during the World Cup. And Ream, in particular, was fantastic. Congrats to Ream and Sargant.
There was the free-agent departure of the clutch scoring winger and locker-room conscience David Perron, who wanted to stay with the Blues but was snubbed by management. It was a big mistake by the Blues, who are still paying the price for DP 57’s absence … while it lasted it was cool to see nine players score 20+ goals for the 2021-2022 Blues … and it was nice to see goaltender Jordan Binnington sharpen up and recover his form … three other important ongoing stories are the Blues being in danger of missing the playoffs, the unfortunate underachievement (so far) of Saint Louis U. basketball, plus another disappointing, disjointed and losing football season at Mizzou. Drinkwitz should have only one more season to get this right … on the happier side? Jordan Kyrou … the rise of Mizzou basketball under first-year coach Dennis Gates, who has given this program a higher standard, enthralling energy and an immensely entertaining style of hoops. Thanks, coach.
Arenado’s decision to remain with the Cardinals instead of opting out of his contract was a significant story; as it turned out Arenado left a small fortune on the table because he surely would have made a financial killing had he chosen to enter free agency. Given the trucks of money that are delivering massive piles of cash to top free agents in MLB this winter, Arenado showed character by appreciating what he has in St. Louis with the Cardinals.
There was the surprisingly terrific rookie season of Cardinal super-utility asset Brendan Donovan who won a Gold Glove… we were very happy when St. Louisan Jameson Williams was chosen 12th overall in the NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions despite suffering a torn ACL in his final game for Alabama. Williams, a tremendous wide receiver for the Crimson Tide, completed his rehab and made his NFL debut for the Lions on Dec. 4 …
Another heartwarming story was Jordan Goodwin, the Althoff and SLU alum who refused to give up on his dream and used hunger, determination and talent to create a roster spot for himself with the NBA Washington Wizards. In 27 games this season Goodwin is shooting 47.7 percent from the floor and averaging 7.6 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists per game … Goodwin joined fellow St. Louisan Bradley Beal, who became another big story locally when he signed a five-year, $251 million contract extension with the Wizards over the summer …
There was the disappointing two-game sweep at the hands of the Phillies in the NL wild-card series; the Cardinals have lost nine of its last 10 postseason games … it sure was a welcome announcement when the official word came through about the XFL Battlehawks giving it another go in St. Louis under new league leadership and ownership …Oli Marmol had a strong rookie season as the Cards manager, giving his offense more variety of matchup and platoons and positional versatility. And for the most part he handled the bullpen in expert style, making sure to do what he could to avoid bullpen burnouts that happen when a manager can’t discipline himself to use his best relievers responsibly. That said, Marmol’s bungling of the ninth-inning Game 1 of the Philly series — with a 2-0 lead going up in flames and smoke — was arguably the worst in-competition moment of the year in STL sports. But I’m glad that Marmol is the Cardinals manager and he’ll be even better in 2023.
I know I must have overlooked some items – unintentionally – but this wasn’t supposed to be a complete, 1,000-paragraph review of the entire year of STL sports.
On a separate note, I can’t thank y’all enough for taking the time to visit “Scoops” and read my work. But please believe me when I say I’m sincerely grateful.
Thanks for reading …
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz