Predictions for 2024
I will turn 65 on Feb. 15. I will write many words and stress my voice by hollering for hours and hours on the radio. I will subscribe to too many sports-data sites. I will not watch the NBA until the postseason gets underway. I will watch more PBS programming, especially the British stuff.
I will be largely bored by college basketball until after the Super Bowl. I will eat a lot – but also a lot less than I used to. I will hang out with the outstanding Mrs. Bernie. I will spend a small fortune on cat food to feed Dutch, Marv, Lou, Nellie and Big Man. That’s our five cats, and they run the joint. I work for them. I answer to them. Meow.
I will spend too much time streaming VSIN because I enjoy watching and listening to sharp gamblers talk about their sports–investment recommendations. I will keep my blood pressure down and please my doctors. I will listen to a lot of music as I write and relax. My latest obsessions are Sarah Jarosz (new album on Jan. 24), Dylan Gossett, Bleachers, Tommy Prine and Yo La Tengo.
A few obligatory sports predictions:
– The Cardinals will return to the postseason – and after that, it’s up to them.
– Mizzou football will have a good 2024 but won’t make the 12-team playoff. The Big Ten and the SEC will be even more loaded next season with high-profile additions Texas, Oklahoma, Washington and Oregon. And we can expect bounce-back seasons from two or three SEC teams that had down years in 2023 based on preseason expectations. But Mizzou will be in the hunt.
– Oli Marmol will remain as manager as long as the Cardinals qualify for the playoffs. If they fail to make the playoffs, all bets are off. But it’s premature to declare Yadier Molina as a potential successor. And should the Cardinals make the change, don’t rule out Daniel Descalso. But as long as Marmol can get all of the players fully behind him – and competing with more intensity this season – his job security will strengthen.
– Another postseason-bound season for St. Louis City SC, but it will be more of a struggle to get there this time around. Pardon my reality check, but in its first MLS season St. Louis City substantially overperformed in expected goal difference – by about 25 goals – and that will likely normalize in 2024.
– Saint Louis U. athletic director Chris May will be under increasing pressure to hire a new men’s basketball coach. The latest KenPom projections have SLU winning only two more games this season … and a 12-19 record overall including a 5-13 mark in conference play.
— The Cardinals will go bigger than we expect to secure a high-leverage reliever before the end of the offseason. During the season John Mozeliak will be looking for pitching help to reinforce the staff at the trading deadline. But on the relief front, no, I don’t think the Cardinals will offer Hader $100 million. Prove me wrong.
– Prospects Thomas Saggese (infielder) and Tekoah Roby (starting pitcher) will be promoted to St. Louis soon after the All-Star break. They came over in the deal that sent starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery and reliever Chris Stratton to Texas.
– The Blues will have ups and down and muddle along in their two-season holding pattern until their next-generation players make the jump to the NHL.
— No postseason for the Blues, but that’s hardly a bold prediction.
– Michigan will defeat Washington to win the national college football championship on Monday night.
– Hope I’m wrong, but if my sources are speaking the truth and reading the situation properly, Torry Holt will be kept waiting for the call from Canton and enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
– St. Louis fans will remain madly in love with their St. Louis Battlehawks. As they should.
– On the NFL front, St. Louis will continue to grow the allegiance to the Kansas City Chiefs. They’re already popular here, and the interest level is rising. TV ratings in STL for Chiefs games are robust.
READING TIME, SEVEN MINUTES
Here’s Jeff Passan (ESPN) writing on the free-agent reliever market: “The question now is whether Josh Hader will reach the nine-figure threshold, a mark only Edwin Diaz has exceeded (five years, $102.5 million) among relievers, or whether he’s likelier to wind up in the Aroldis Chapman (five years, $85 million) and Kenley Jansen (five years, $80 million) territory. The fact that January has arrived with no clear favorite, multiple executives said, suggests the latter is more probable. Hader, 29, isn’t the only reliever facing a slow market. At 27, right-hander Jordan Hicks is the youngest domestic free agent available and runs his fastball up to 105 mph. Following his June 2 trade to Tampa Bay, right-hander Robert Stephenson struck out 42.9% of batters he faced and walked just 5.7%, positively silly numbers. While the market for both recently started to pick up, it’s hard to square the notion that the three best relievers are still available in a game that relies so much on bullpens. Whether it’s the Yankees, Phillies, Giants, Angels, Rangers, Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros or perhaps another front office that sees the opportunity for a smart deal, teams trying to win understand how much better their bullpens will be with any of the three. And Hector Neris, Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson and others will do just fine as well.”
Beginning with Thursday night’s home game against Vancouver, the Blues will take on a challenging slate of games on their schedule. In the next eight games they’ll play Vancouver, Carolina, Florida, NY Rangers, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington (twice.) The seven opponents are a combined 153-77-27 for a collective points percentage of .647. Six of the teams are in line for a playoff spot, and the Capitals are tied for the second wild-card in the East. Here’s where the seven opponents rank in the overall NHL standings based on points percentage: Boston (1), New York (2), Vancouver (4), Florida (8), Carolina (11), Washington (13) and Philadelphia (15). Good luck, boys.
A follow-up note on my column about Walt Jocketty and why the retired GM should be in the Cardinals’ Hall of Fame: in Walt’s 13 seasons as head of the St. Louis baseball operations the Cardinals were ranked in the top among MLB franchises in annual payroll seven times, but were never higher than 6th in a season. In their six seasons outside of the top 10 in payroll, the Cardinals ranked anywhere from 11th to 16th. Their MLB payroll average over the 13 seasons was 10.3 among big-league franchises.
In his latest SEC Vibe Check, Seth Emerson (The Athletic) put Mizzou at the top of the rankings that now include newcomers Texas and Oklahoma. “Given where Missouri was this time last year, the vibes are better in Eli Drinkwitz’s program than anywhere else in the new 16-team league,” Emerson wrote. “In one year, Mizzou went from middling team that will be dwarfed in the new SEC to much-respected program that will be on the radar for the Playoff next year. Quarterback Brady Cook is back, receiver Luther Burden is back, so many are back from a team that gave Georgia its toughest game in the regular season, beat Ohio State, and has a manageable schedule next year.”
As of Thursday morning the Cardinals ranked seventh in the majors in offseason payroll spending – guaranteed money only. The top six spenders so far are the Dodgers ($1.043 billion) Phillies ($172.2 million), Diamondbacks ($122 million) Giants ($121.25 million), Reds ($106.2 million) and Royals ($105 million.) Next are the Cardinals with $99 million guaranteed for Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn. As for the other NL Central teams: the Cubs haven’t spent a dollar, the Pirates have invested $16.2 million and Brewers have made $11.25 million in guarantees.
Mizzou defensive coordinator should stay in CoMo instead of accepting a generous offer from LSU to run the defense for head coach Brian Kelly. LSU has a more prestigious program nationally and can outspend just about anyone. Baker has roots in that region of the nation. And he worked at LSU before Kelly fired him when taking over as head coach after the 2021 season. Baker recently agreed to a significantly sweetened contract at Mizzou. Head coach Eli Drinkwitz believes in Baker, gave Baker a rebound opportunity after the sacking at LSU, and made sure that Baker was financially rewarded for his excellent work with the MU defense. Why would Baker leave an ascendant program that has demonstrate its unconditional loyalty to him? To rejoin the staff fo a coach that fired him? Baker should do what he wants, of course. But he knows he can trust Drinkwitz. Why would he assume he could trust Kelly?
Blues captain Brayden Schenn did not score a goal in December, getting blanked in 14 games. And he closed the 2023 portion of the season schedule without an assist in 10 consecutive games … after scoring four goals and adding four assists in his first five games under interim Blues coach Drew Bannister, Jordan Kyrou has gone scoreless in his last three games … The Blues’ Robert Thomas ranks fifth among NHL forwards – and is third among centers – with 32 points at even strength. Through Wednesday, the only forwards ahead of Thomas are Nathan MacKinnon, Nikita Kucherov, Jake Guentzel and Connor McDavid.
St. Louis Bradley Beal has returned to the court for the Phoenix Suns after recovering from a sprained ankle. In his first four games back, Beal averaged 18.3 points and made 49 percent of his shots from the floor overall – but hit only 2 of 13 from three-point distance. The Suns went 3-1 in the four games. Injuries to his back and ankle have caused Beal to miss 24 of the Suns’ first 34 games. Beal’s first season with Phoenix hasn’t been easy and he’s still getting acclimated to his new teammates. “I mean, every game he’s played in, there’s been a minutes restriction,” Suns forward Kevin Durant said. “He’s been in and out of the game. The more and more he plays, the more confidence we get as a group.”
Sonny Gray I: It’s 2024, and by now you’d think that most if not all baseball fans (and media) would understand all of the factors that go into a pitcher’s individual won-lost record. It’s a team sport, you know. To maximize their win-loss record, starting pitchers need run support, solid defense, and a solid performance by the bullpen. New Cardinal Sonny Gray went 8-8 for the Twins last season – a fact that’s been noted with disdain by growling fans in an attempt to malign the pitcher and criticize the three-year, $75 million contract they gave him. What’s so special about an 8-8 record? Why did the Cardinals spend this kind of money on an 8-8 pitcher?
Sonny Gray II: Good grief. Why wasn’t Gray’s record better than 8-8? Why did his team have a losing record in his starts? I have answers – not that it matters to the people who judge a starter only on won-loss record while ignoring the meaningful factors that shaped the record. Last season Gray ranked 53rd among 58 American League starting pitchers in run support. Four of Gray’s losses occurred when he provided a quality start – the second-highest “tough loss” total by an AL starter. Gray allowed no more than three earned runs in five of his eight “losses.” Gray had a large total of no-decisions, with 16. But in all of his 16 no decisions he never gave up more than three earned runs. He didn’t allow more than two runs in 11 of the 16. He wasn’t touched for more than a single run in seven no-decision starts. His ERA in the 16 no-decision starts was 2.75.
Sonny Gray III: In 2023 Gray led AL starters with a 2.83 fielding independent ERA, was second in standard ERA (2.79), was tied for first with 5.3 WAR, ranked seventh in average game score, and was 11th in quality starts. He allowed three earned runs of fewer in 29 of 32 starts. But, hey, forget all of that stuff – WHAT ABOUT THAT LOUSY 8-8?
Kyle Gibson is another example of why it’s important to expand our minds instead of acting like it’s still 1934 when assessing a starter’s performance. I’m enthusiastic about Gibson joining the Cardinals on a one-year contract with a team option for a second season; he was a definite asset for a 2023 Baltimore team that led the American League with 101 wins. Gibson was sixth among AL starters in innings, 10th in quality starts, 14th in fielding-independent ERA (4.13) and 15th in WAR. Those are strong numbers for a No. 5 or No. 4 starter. But as much as I like Gibson, his individual 15-9 record is misleading. In Gibson’s 33 starts last season, the Orioles scored an average of 6.1 runs while Gibson was in the game. That was the second-highest run support average for an AL starter and the fourth-highest among all major-league starters. Gibson certainly did his share in collecting 15 wins, but he had a lot of help from Baltimore’s offense and bullpen. And it’s silly to ignore that.
It’s good to be Anthony Becht: The XFL and USFL merged into an eight-team spring-football league and he’ll be back for his second year as Battlehawks coach. And his son – Iowa State quarterback Rocco Becht – was named the Big 12’s Offensive Freshman of the Year for 2023. On Dec. 29, Rocco set an Iowa State record for passing yards in a game (446) in a 36-36 loss to Memphis in the Liberty Bowl. He completed 22 of 38 passes, with three going for touchdowns. As the Des Moines Register noted: “A freshman All-American, the Floridian quickly became the face of the program, not only with his actions on the field but also with his humility and front-and-center rapport with reporters after victories and losses,” … Coach Becht and his wife DeeAnn will be spending a lot of time at Iowa State football games again in 2024.
The Blues are 5-3 since sacking Stanley-Cup winning coach Craig Berube. And while there’s been some improvement on the special teams, shots on goal differential, and expected goal share at five-on-five, the Blues are getting hammered in the high danger areas. Since the coaching change the Blues have been outscored 12-5 in high-danger goals at five-on-five. That’s an HD goal share of just 42 percent which ranks 29th in the NHL since Dec. 14. Under Berube the Blues were outscored by two (36-34) in high-danger scoring for a 48.6% share that ranked 20th in the league at the time of Berube’s dismissal. There’s been a drop in five-on-five save percentage since the coaching swap. Under Berube the Blues ranked 15th with a .911 save percentage and are 22nd (.901 save rate) since installing Drew Bannister behind the bench.
Former Cardinals manager Mike Shildt will not have a bench coach as he takes over as manager of the Padres for 2024. Interesting. I have a theory on this: after being fired in St. Louis, Shildt wants to make sure he’s in charge at the field level in San Diego, and he doesn’t want a bench coach to be in place to possibly usurp his power behind the scenes. The front-office operation in San Diego is notoriously meddlesome, and the dugout operation has been plagued by angling, scheming, politicking and backbiting. I don’t think Shildt and Marmol had a great relationship near the end of Shilty’s time here.
In the ZiPS forecast for 2024, nine Cardinal regulars (or key backups) are projected to have above-average seasons offensively. Here’s the rundown, using OPS+, and keep in mind that 100 is the league average: Paul Goldschmidt 124, Jordan Walker 122, Lars Nootbaar 118, Nolan Gorman 116, Nolan Arenado 116, Willson Contreras 112, Brendan Donovan 108, Dylan Carlson 108, Alec Burleson 106. None of those OPS+ figures qualify as excellent, but there’s nothing wrong with having a bunch of above-average hitters. There were below-average forecasts for Tommy Edman (99), Ivan Herrera (91) and Masyn Winn (88). Bernie comment: Brendan Donovan will do better than that.
Here’s a synopsis of the St. Louis offense from ZiPS creator Dan Szymborski at FanGraphs: “There’s certainly some risk with this team — there are several players who are likely in their decline phase and St. Louis isn’t the absolutely phenomenal defensive club it was a few years ago. Nobody projects as a superstar, but there isn’t any gaping hole in the lineup, either. The Cards remain a very Cards-looking offense.”
Adam Rittenberg (ESPN) chose running back Cody Schrader as Missouri’s MVP for 2023. “There are several good options at Missouri, both on offense — Schrader, quarterback Brady Cook, wide receiver Luther Burden III — and defense with Kris Abrams-Draine,” Rittenberg wrote. “But Schrader gets the nod after leading the SEC in rushing (1,627 yards), becoming a finalist for the Doak Walker Award and earning first-team AP All-America honors. He finished the regular season with five consecutive 100-yard rushing performances, eclipsing 200 yards in wins against Tennessee and Arkansas, and had 128 yards with a touchdown on 29 carries in a Cotton Bowl win over Ohio State. Schrader also had a rushing touchdown in each of his final nine regular-season contests.” A Mizzou source told Rittenberg this: “Just the individual performance, led the SEC in rushing, we don’t beat Tennessee without him. We probably don’t beat a couple teams without Luther. That’s a tough combination.”
Baseball America is touting Nolan Gorman as a good-value target among second basemen for your 2024 Fantasy Baseball team. “Always considered a slugging infielder as a minor leaguer, Gorman validated the scouting reports by hitting 27 homers in 464 plate appearances in 2023 until (injuries) ended his season in September,” Dylan White wrote. “Considering he’ll be only 23 years old when the 2024 season begins, he seems to be undervalued as a dynasty second baseman. There are some caveats. Gorman’s defensive value may drive him to first base or designated hitter, especially considering his fringy arm strength isn’t a great fit at third base. His strikeout rate may never allow him to post a batting average above .250 in his career. But considering he is one of only a few second basemen who could conceivably average 25 to 30 home runs for the next five years, Gorman is an undervalued target.”
Thanks for reading …
A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or grab the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb
For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible. Baseball Prospectus, Bill James Online or Sports Info Solutions unless otherwise noted.