With the ban on defensive shifts in place for 2023, will the Cardinals regress defensively? How will the changes matter?
Based on 2022, it’s a mix of factors that don’t make for an easy answer. Last season the Cardinals finished tied for fourth in the majors with 79 Defensive Runs Saved (aka DRS.) But the Redbirds led all MLB infields with 50 DRS.
Yes, they were aided by the shifts. According to the Fielding Bible defensive metrics posted at Bill James Online, the Cardinals were a plus 18 DRS when using shifts, but slightly below average defensively (minus two) when not using the shifts. Using that, we can speculate that their defense will be impacted by the rules change in 2023.
But the 2022 Cardinals didn’t shift as often as most teams. Their overall percentage of applying the shift, 27.9%, ranked 20th among the 30 teams. As I mentioned here recently, the 2022 Cards put on the shift against left-handed hitters at a rate of 44.3 percent. That may seem high, but it wasn’t. In fact it was the fourth-lowest shift percentage in the majors by a defense when facing left-handed batters. And the Cardinals didn’t do a heck of a lot of shifting (only 17.4%) against right-handed hitters.
The Cardinals excelled at smart positioning, and they’ll still be able to do that, even if the shift is no longer an option.
And looking at all of their infielders, I wasn’t alarmed by the numbers.
* First baseman Paul Goldschmidt was slightly above average with no shift in place, and a tad below average when shifts were deployed.
* When playing second base, Tommy Edman was a +7 DRS with no shift, and a +5 DRS with the shift.
* At shortstop Edman was +1 with the shift, and +2 without it.
* Shortstop Paul DeJong was above average with the shift (+3) but a bit better (+4) without the shift,
* Third baseman Nolan Arenado was a +4 in defensive runs saved with the shift … but a +13 when the Cardinals didn’t shift.
* Brendan Donovan wasn’t impacted much by the shift, one way or another, when playing first base, second base, or shortstop. But when Donovan played third base, he was +2 with the shift, but better (+6) with no shift.
* Juan Yepez didn’t play much at first or third base, so the numbers aren’t meaningful. But when he did play at those spots, the shift vs. non-shift question wasn’t a factor either way.
* Rookie Nolan Gorman was the lone infielder that had a noticeable “shift” split last season. At second base Gorman was a minus 3 with the shift, and a minus 5 without the shift. But that also tells us something else: Gorman scuffled defensively either way. Setting up in a shift didn’t seem to help him all that much.
Here’s my view: I’m not going to worry about this until the regular season gets underway and we have plenty of games to watch to make a more informed conclusion. I’m not willing to assume that the Cardinals will be negatively affected by the banning of shifts. Though it helped them in 2022, they weren’t dependent on it compared to many other MLB infields. It’s something that we’ll monitor and update as the 2023 schedule gets rolling.
READING TIME, 5 MINUTES:
Missouri has hit the skids. Though MU’s losing streak is only two games, the losses at Auburn and home vs. Texas A&M were one-sided and ugly. Muscular, aggressive teams that get extra physical give the Tigers problems, and Missouri’s defense remains vulnerable. Both Auburn and Texas A&M pushed Missouri around and slowed the Tigers down. When MU can’t play the game at its preferred speed, the offense bogs down. The Tigers shot only 35 percent from the floor (combined) in the losses to Auburn and Texas A&M.
All of that said, Mizzou is in good shape for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers have five wins over ranked teams and are among only nine teams in the nation that has no losses against opponents outside of Quad 1, going 15-0. (The other eight are Alabama, Purdue, Kansas, Texas, Baylor, Virginia, UCLA, and Oral Roberts. Mizzou’s four victories over Quad 1 opponents is tied for 21st in the nation. The resume is solid. Jerry Palm (CBS) has Mizzou as a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament. ESPN puts MU in as a No. 8 seed. So this isn’t a done deal.
Mizzou (7-7 in the SEC) has four regular–season conference games remaining: at home Tuesday vs. Mississippi State, at Georgia, at LSU, and a home game with Ole Miss. Among the four upcoming opponents only Mississippi State (No. 41) has a better overall KenPom rating than Missouri (No. 62.) And the KenPom projections have Missouri winning all four games. We’ll see. But it’s ridiculous to ignore the issue of Missouri’s defense, which, per KenPom, ranks No. 209 in the nation and No. 12 in the 14-team SEC in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Tigers are No. 282 nationally at defending the three, and 225th at defending two-point shooting. Moreover the Tigers have allowed opponents to fetch offensive rebounds on 36 percent of their misses – which ranks a horrendous No. 363 in the nation.
Tracking Nolan Gorman: I’ve been slow to pass this one along to you (my apologies) but MLB.com put Cardinals’ second-year second baseman Nolan Gorman at No. 2 on its top breakout candidates list for 2023. And with good reason.
“Gorman has the potential to slug his way back into a prominent role with the team,” Thomas Harrigan wrote. “Though the 22-year-old has a lot of swing and miss in his game, he showed a real aptitude for squaring up the baseball when he made contact last season.
“Gorman had a 46.7% sweet-spot rate, a metric that represents how often a player hits a ball in the launch-angle sweet-spot zone from 8 to 32 degrees. That was the highest among MLB players with at least 150 batted balls. He also had a near-elite 14.4% barrel rate — the percentage of batted balls with an optimal combination of exit velocity and launch angle, typically resulting in homers and extra-base hits.
“Now that he has some experience against big league pitching under his belt, he could trim his strikeout rate (32.9% in 2022) enough to give his impressive raw power a real chance to shine.”
Right on. Through Aug. 17 of last season Gorman ranked third among Cardinals in slugging percentage (.470), third in home runs (13) and was fourth in OPS (.789). Based on park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) Gorman had performed 25 percent above the league average offensively. And then the 22-year-old fell apart during his final 70 plate appearances. That wasn’t a surprise given his age, inexperience and swing–miss problems. What’s surprising, at least to me, is how many fans and media forget that the first 80 percent of Gorman’s season was hale and hearty – but these good folks malign him because he performed poorly over his final 20 percent of his first MLB season.
Wow: congrats to the Battlehawks. After being clogged on offense for the most of the afternoon visiting St. Louis zoomed back with 15 points in the final 1 minute 25 seconds to stun San Antonio for a 18-15 victory. This was a helluva win, with quarterback A.J. McCarron completing 11 of 14 passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns in the 4thQ. Through the first three quarters the Battlehawks trudged for a mere 62 yards of offense. But the late eruption was a lot of fun. The XFL rules present danger to the team with the lead – and give an opportunity to the team that wouldn’t have a chance to ambush their way to a win if playing under the standard NFL guidelines. In the XFL there are multiple options for extra points – based on degree of difficulty. And if a team that just scored is rushing to get even or go ahead, it can choose to take the ball at their own 25-yard line and can stay alive by converting a first down on a 4th-and-15 play. STL coach Anthony Becht made that call, and it worked wonderfully, with McCarron hitting Autin Proehl for 22 yards to extend the game and make the comeback possible. Good stuff. The McCarron–Proehl connection won the game with a 14-yard TD pass with 16 seconds to go. I don’t know how McCarron cabled such an accurate throw, or how Proehl maintained his focus to make the grab with three defenders smothering him.
The best part of the St. Louis victory? Fathers & Sons. Austin Proehl is the son of Ricky Proehl, the Battlehawks’ offensive coordinator who needs no introduction to fans of the 1999 Super Bowl-winning St. Louis Rams. If you watched the game until the end, you saw Ricky Proehl going wild with joy after his son made the sensational catch to win the game. Ricky knows all about that; his incredible touchdown reception brought the Rams from behind to defeat Tampa Bay in the 1999 NFC Championship Game.
And then there was McCarron, the former Alabama star and two-time national champion who wanted to play for St. Louis to give his young sons a chance to watch their dad play. McCarron, 32. The two oldest boys were there in San Antonio, hopping from the stands and running to the edge of the field to hug their dad after he’d pulled off the longshot triumph. Overcome with emotion, McCarron had to pause a live postgame interview on ABC to wipe his teardrops. This was a beautiful scene.
Battlehawk fans – and new fans of the team – will love the Proehls and the McCarrons. Fathers and sons and a remarkable victory led by a likable coach and a team that wouldn’t quit. I can’t imagine a better way to market your franchise. And it’s natural. Not cynical. It’s just a couple of warm stories that fans love.
Jayson Tatum: Superstar. The pride of St. Louis basketball put on a preposterously grand show during Sunday’s NBA All-Star game, raining in 27 of his total 55 points in the third quarter to lead Team Giannis to a nine-point win over Team LeBron. Tatum made 22 of 31 shots from the field including 10 of 13 threes. He tacked on nine rebounds and six assists. The 55 points were a new record for the NBA All-Star game. There’s little defense to be found in the annual All-Star game, but no one cares about that. It’s a perfect time for putting on a show, and Tatum delivered.
“It means the world,” Tatum said of the scoring record. “You think of all the legends and great players that have played this game, and in all honesty, records are made to be broken. I’ll hold it for as long as I can, but I’m certain someone will come along in a couple years and try to break it.”
Tatum won the Kobe Bryant All-Star MVP trophy, which meant a lot to him because of his experience as a fan, and then a friend, of the late Lakers’ star.
“It’s extremely special to me,” Tatum told the media postgame. “My first All-Star Game was in Chicago in 2020 when they renamed the MVP after him, and I remember telling myself that someday I got to get one of those.”
Tatum, 24, is in his sixth NBA season – and it’s his best NBA season to date. His Boston Celtics have the NBA’s best record (42-17) at the break. Tatum is posting career bests in points per game (30.6), rebounds per game (8.6), assists per game (4.5) and free-throws per game (7.4.) And his shooting percentage from the field (46.4%) would be the best of his career. Tatum has clocked 64 percent of his minutes at power forward, a big change from how he’s been used. But he’s been impressive in repurposing his style of play to fit the role, frequently driving to attack the rim and draw more fouls.
On Sunday morning Tatum posted pictures of him and his son posing with his unreleased signature basketball shoes, designed by the Jordan Brand. The shoes will be available soon. This, from SneakerNews.com: “As the title states, the Jordan Tatum 1 is the lightest basketball shoe on the Jordan performance basketball line. Contrarily, it carries a lot of weight for the Jumpman Brand as it continues to navigate this newly begun phase after its 25th Anniversary. There will never be another face of Jordan Brand other than the man himself, but a strong case can be made on behalf of Jayson Tatum being the leader of the robust new class. Zion Williamson’s got the bounce and the highlights, and Luka Doncic has got the insane stat-lines, but “JT” has accomplished far more in terms of meaningful basketball, at least in MJ’s eyes.”
All eyes on Jordan Walker: Writing for The Athletic, former big-league general manager Jim Bowden didn’t even try to suppress his enthusiasm when putting Walker on the list of players he’s most excited to watch during the spring-training exhibition season. ‘
“I’m pretty sure I’m the only analyst who ranks Walker as the No. 1 prospect in baseball — that’s what I did in my last top 50 list, which was published last August,” Bowden wrote. “I’ve watched Walker closely over the last couple of years and am amazed at how well he covers the strike zone with his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame. He has tremendous bat speed that results in both loft and line-drive home-run power to all fields. Walker profiles as a .300 hitter; he uses the whole field and spits on pitches outside of the zone. I’ve seen the bat enough to be convinced.
“However, he’s been a third baseman who also profiles as a first baseman but is blocked in St. Louis, as the Cardinals have two of the best in the sport with Nolan Arenado at third and Paul Goldschmidt at first. Therefore, they are moving him to an outfield corner and believe he’ll be athletic enough to play there. Early on, he’s experienced some growing pains.”
Bowden concluded: “General manager Michael Girsch told me on Sunday that if Walker is the best player at his position in camp, he’ll make the big-league team out of spring training. I’m eager to see if his defense will be good enough to make the Cardinals’ Opening Day lineup because I already believe his bat will be.”
Thanks for reading …
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.
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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Basketball Reference, KenPom.com and WarrenNolan.com
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.