With the Cardinals’ 28-man roster (unofficially) set for the start of the new season, I want to circle back and take a look at the position-player side of things.

This opinion likely puts me in the minority … but this team has a really good group of position players.

Start with this: strong continuity. The late recruitment of Albert Pujols was a late-camp surprise, sure. Stunning? Not exactly. When rookie RH bat Juan Yepez struggled to get comfortable and perform with confidence in spring training, he removed himself from DH consideration – at least for now. And that set up the Pujols-Cardinals reunion. Apart from the additions of Pujols and Corey Dickerson to handle the DH duties in the NL’s first full season of the designated hitter, the team’s 2021 position-player core returns intact for 2022.

And that’s absolutely a positive; last season St. Louis position players finished 7th overall and 3rd in the National League with a 24.8 WAR. (I’m using the FanGraphs version of Wins Above Replacement.)

As I’ve mentioned many times – here I go again – once the Cardinals got Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill healthy to put with Dylan Carlson and form the team’s optimum outfield, the St. Louis offense took flight.

Over the final three months of the regular season, the Cards’ non-pitchers ranked among the top six in the majors in batting average, onbase percentage, slugging, OPS and park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+.) The Cardinals also had the No. 1 average in the majors (.289) with runners in scoring position over the final three months.

Keep in mind that WAR encompasses offense, defense and baserunning, so it’s important to note that the Cardinals had the NL’s highest position-player WAR (18.0) from July 1 through the end of the regular season. That was just a sliver behind Tampa Bay, which led the majors with 18.1 WAR over that time.

And this was no fluke. The Cardinals just had to get their starting outfield in place and keep it there. That was the most substantial factor in the improvement. Another part of the equation was fewer plate appearances for the likes of Justin Williams, Matt Carpenter, Lane Thomas and Austin Dean as the season went on.

The quality WAR assessment is valid when we consider (A) the team’s significant surge on offense over the final three months; (B) the Cards ranked first in the NL and second in the majors with 81 defensive runs saved; (C) the smart and opportunistic work on the basepaths made the Cardinals the third-best team in the majors and second in the NL with a net baserunning gain of plus 78.

On a relative basis the 2022 Cardinals should benefit from the DH more than most NL teams. I say that because Cards pitchers batted .095 last season and struck out in 40 percent of their plate appearances.

Can the fellas do better in 2022?

Mar 20, 2022; Port St. Lucie, Florida, USA; Dylan Carlson, center, is congratulated by teammates Tyler O’Neill (27) and Paul Goldschmidt (46) after hitting a three-run home run in the first inning during spring training against the New York Mets at Clover Park. Mandatory Credit: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, if:

+ Most of their best all-around hitters from last year – Paul Goldschmidt, O’Neill, Nolan Arenado, Dylan Carlson and Harrison Bader – turn in similar performances this season. A slight drop would be OK. A major drop by several of the top guys would be harmful. Obviously.

+ Carlson follows through and builds on his second-half performance as a rookie in ‘21. DC thrived after the All-Star break, posting a .277 average, .343 OBP and .505 slugging percentage. Carlson had 11 homers, 15 doubles and a .850 OPS with runners in scoring position. After the break the switch-hitter scorched left-handed pitching for a 1.116 OPS. And he improved against right-handed pitching performing 10 percent above league average against them (based on wRC+) after the break.

+ Paul DeJong takes the clear-headed, confident hitting approach that we saw in spring training and proves that he’s made the vital and necessary changes that will make his numbers jump. Something to remember: the luck factor. DeJong’s .216 average on batted balls in play was the lowest among 188 MLB hitters that had at least 400 plate appearances in 2021.

+ The St. Louis designated hitters don’t have to be thunderous in their performance. But an above-average showing will make a difference. Just one example: can the Cardinals – with Dickerson and Pujols lots of at-bats – get more from the DH spot than the rival Brewers, who will rely on Andrew McCutchen? In 379 plate appearances vs. RH pitching last season, McCutchen batted .186 with a .650 OPS.

+ Busch Stadium: The hitters must find a way to do more at home. Since the start of the 2019 season, the Cardinals rank 22nd in home batting average (.244) and 26th in slugging (.394) and in OPS (.717.)

+ Get a boost from Memphis. At some point, we have to assume that we’ll see Yepez, Brendan Donovan and Nolan Gorman get their swings with the big club. Can they deliver impact?

+ The front office trades for a bat during the season – but I have a feeling that pitching will be more of a priority.

+ I trust that first-year manager Oli Marmol will do a good job with lineup construction in an effort to maximize productivity. (However: if the manager overuses Pujols against RHP, I’ll probably have to rescind my comment.) Marmol’s likely opening-day lineup has a nice feature: Bader batting 8th, Tommy Edman hitting 9th, and Carlson batting leadoff. This should create more RBI opportunities for Carlson, Goldschmidt (batting second), O’Neill (batting third), etc. Bader and Edman will have to do their part by getting on base at a healthy rate.

I’ll look at the pitching staff in Tuesday’s column.

Only three more nights of sleep until Opening Day …

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. 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 “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.

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Please email your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernScoops@gmail.com

All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.

 

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 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. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 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.