Over at FanGraphs, our friend Dan Szymborski has released the Cardinals’ annual ZiPS forecast for 2023. Dan developed the projection system, which generates considerable curiosity and discussion among front offices, statheads, and baseball intelligentsia. And the damn thing is fun.

Here’s the headline over to Szymborski’s look at St. Louis. “ZiPS typically likes the Cardinals. It really really really likes them this year. Really really.”

Hey, that should catch your attention, right?

Here are a few highlights, in Dan’s words:

Szymborski on how the Cardinals will fare in 2023:“I think the Cards are a 89-to-93 win team and not quite in the tier of the very best in baseball, but ZiPS disagrees, putting St. Louis in the same range as the Padres, Astros, Braves, Dodgers, and Mets.”

(Bernie note: My goodness. Bill DeWitt Jr. and John Mozeliak would be THRILLED to have ZiPS hit a home run on the projections that put the Cardinals in the same class as the Astros, Braves, Mets, Dodgers and Padres.) 

Szymborski on the St. Louis rotation: “My personal feeling is that the Cards really need a true ace at the top of the rotation, but perhaps that’s just my inclination to play devil’s advocate. ZiPS has beat me before.”

Szymborski with more on the rotation: “That’s not to say the Cards have a bad rotation — it just lacks the exciting highlights the offense possesses. Once you accept that there’s a good chance that peak Jack Flaherty isn’t coming back, there’s nobody here who really blows you away, except maybe Jordan Montgomery during his run late last summer. It’s a quietly competent starting five and there’s more depth in the upper minors than there is with the lineup.”

Szymborski on the Cards’ overall depth: “The Cards are so solid that they’re almost uninteresting, just as Mike Trout can sometimes seem a bit boring compared to more volatile (and flawed) stars. If there’s a weakness here, it might be the lack of usable depth in the high minors to serve as midseason reinforcements. Jordan Walker’s projection looks a little disappointing on the surface, but ZiPS has him with huge upside numbers in 2024 and beyond. The role player depth is thinner, though.”

Jul 6, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado (28) celebrates with first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (46) after his two run home run against the San Francisco Giants during the first inning at Oracle Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

 

OK, now I’ll jump in here with some bird seed from the ZiPS box: 

1. ZiPS is bullish on the St. Louis hitters. Based on the forecasts of  OPS+ – which adjusts for park and league effects – nine Cardinal batters are projected to be above-average offensively, with two others looming just a tick below average.

The league average OPS+ is 100. Keep that in mind when you scan these names; I’m listing the best projections in order:

* Paul Goldschmidt,  134

* Nolan Arenado,   127

* Juan Yepez,  118

* Tyler O’Neill,  115

* Willson Contreras,  113

* Lars Nootbaar,   113

* Nolan Gorman,  108

* Dylan Carlson,  106

* Alec Burleson,  105

2. There are some healthy slugging percentages to be found among these projections including Arenado (.481), Goldy (.481), Yepez (.476), O’Neill (.459), Gorman (.454), Nootbaar (.440), Contreras (.432) and Burleson (.427). ZiPS really likes Yepez.

3. Projected HR leaders for ’23: Gorman 29, Goldschmidt 26, Arenado 25, Yepez 24, O’Neill 22, Paul DeJong 20, Contreras 19, Nootbaar 18, Burleson 16.

4. Wait. What’s that? DeJong with 20 homers? Was ZiPS malfunctioning when Szymborski ran the numbers? The 20 homers are based on a speculative 426 at-bats, so it kinda makes sense. I doubt that Pauly will get that many turns – unless his latest swing-rebuilding projects gets positive results. But the projected hitting line for DeJong is a .211 average, .290 onbase percentage, and .397 slug. I think the Cardinals would be pleased to receive a slugging percentage near .400 from DeJong.

5. Tommy Edman and Brendan Donovan have a projected OPS+ of 99 and 98, respectively. That’s below average by a smidge, and both hitters were above the league average OPS+ last season: Donovan 126, and Edman 108.

We’ll see how it plays out, but ZiPS is skeptical of Donovan’s chances to replicate his .394 onbase percentage in 2022. The 2023 projection has Donovan with a .353 OBP. That would be fine. But the “Donny” projections also include a 33-point drop in slugging percentage from last year’s .379.

Edman’s projected OBP (.316) would be an eight-point drop from last season. That said, Edman’s excellent defense and baserunning accounts for a large part of his projected 4.2 WAR, which would be third among position players behind Arenado (5.3) and Goldschmidt (4.3.)

6. What about top prospect Jordan Walker? As Szymborski mentioned in his overview, ZiPS projects below-average offensive numbers from the rookie in 2023 – and then a surge in 2024. That wouldn’t be unusual. We aren’t sure of the timetable; will Walker play a full season in the majors as a rookie this coming season? The ZiPS forecast is based on 515 plate appearances and has Walker batting .237 with a .299 OBP and .380 slug – plus 25 doubles, three triples and 12 homers. Overall, the forecast has Walker 11 percent below league average offensively per OPS+.

7. Let’s move to the starting rotation and use ERA+ as our guide. And the league average is 100, so we’re looking to see where starters or potential starters come in on the ZiPS projections. And if ZiPS is on point, your ace for 2023 will be Jordan Montgomery.

* Montgomery, 117 ERA+

* Jack Flaherty,  113

* Andre Pallante,  107

* Steven Matz,  106

* Miles Mikolas,  105

* Matthew Liberatore,  103

* Zack Thompson,  101

* Adam Wainwright, 100

* Connor Thomas, 100

* Jake Woodford,  100

* Dakota Hudson,  99

* Michael McGreevy,  93

* Gordon Graceffo 92

* Drew VerHagen, 88

Notes: Obviously, more than a few of these dudes will be pitching out of the bullpen. And we don’t know how many innings (if any) that prospects McGreevy, Graceffo and Thomas will pitch in the majors in 2023. Graceffo appears to be on a fast track, but how would the Cardinals use him? And could Pallante become more of a factor in the rotation that we anticipate right now?

If we focus on the five starters most likely to be in the season-opening rotation and compare their ZiPS projections to how they finished in 2022, here’s what we have: Mikolas, Montgomery and Wainwright with a decline in ERA+, and Flaherty and Matz with an improved ERA+. If the projected 113 ERA+ for Flaherty comes through, that would put him right around his 118 ERA+ in 2018, his first full big-league season.

8. ZiPS warns of a downturn for closer Ryan Helsley. Last season Helsley pitched to a standard 1.25 ERA and had a 2.34 fielding independent ERA. This season ZiPS projects a 3.17 ERA and a 3.32 FIP. Helsley had a 39.3 strikeout rate in 2022; ZiPS has that at 30.6% in ‘23 – plus an increased walk rate.

Szymborski wrote that the Steamer Projection has St. Louis with a “middle of the pack” bullpen … but ZiPS is more favorable in its projection of the team’s secondary relievers.

FINALLY …

FUN WITH COMPS!

Part of the ZiPS package is a list of comparables for each player. These are age-specific comparables, taking the age of a Cardinal for the 2023 and finding players from the past or present that match up in performance at the same age. Some of these comps will get a reaction out of you. And you can read them in full at FanGraphs. Anyhoo:

Nolan Arenado, age 32 = Cal Ripken Jr., Aramis Ramirez

Paul Goldschmidt, age 35 = Lou Gehrig, Edgar Martinez

Tyler O’Neill, age 28 = Bobby Bonds, Teoscar Hernandez

Willson Contreras, age 31 = Carlton Fisk, Gabby Hartnett

Dylan Carlson, age 24 = Bernie Williams.

Tommy Edman, age 28 = Rafael Furcal, Bert Campaneris

Nolan Gorman, age 23 = Hector Cruz, Austin Riley

Juan Yepez, age 25 = Juan Gonzalez, Daryle Ward

Brendan Donovan, age 26 = Jose Oquendo, Mike Andrews

Lars Nootbaar, age 25 = Cody Bellinger, Tommy Heinrich 

Alec Burleson, age 24 = Tony Oliva, Warren Cromartie

Jordan Walker, age 21 = Bobby Murcer, Nick Senzel

Giovanny Gallegos, age 31 = Jeff Montgomery, Gene Garber

Ryan Helsley, age 27 = Ricky Bottalico, Daniel Bard

Jordan Montgomery, age 30 = Jim Kaat, Vida Blue, Jose Quintana

Jack Flaherty, age 27 = Buzz Capra

Andre Pallante, age 24 = Jeff Samardzija

Miles Mikolas, age 34 = Jeremy Guthrie, Jeff Samardzija

Matthew Liberatore, age 23 = Jim Abbott

Adam Wainwright, age 41 = Derek Lowe, R.A. Dickey

Steven Matz, age 32 = Johnny Podres, Chris Short, Gary Peters.

Zack Thompson, age 25 = Pedro Martinez, Jeff Musselman

Dakota Hudson, age 28 = Mike Torrez, Jamey Wright

Genesis Cabrera, age 26 = Sam Freeman, Kenny Rogers

A note before I go: Dan Szymborski will be my guest on my 590 the Fan (KFNS) sports-talk show today (Thursday) at 3:30 p.m. STL time. You can listen by streaming online at 590thefan.com or through the 590 the fan app.

Thanks very much to FanGraphs. I’m a member of FanGraphs and encourage you to join the club. FanGraphs is essential to statheads or anyone who loves baseball and wants to stay up to date and expand knowledge of the game. The content is abundant and enjoyable and the cost of your membership will help FanGraphs grow and get stronger and do even more to enhance our appreciation for baseball.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

 

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

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.