St. Louis Cardinals 2012 Predictions

st_louis_cardinals_logo175It’s time again, baseball fans, for my annual St. Louis Cardinals break-down. There are a bunch of new faces this year and some very major (and a few minor) changes to talk about. As always, keep in mind this is just one arm-chair fan’s opinion and is based on nothing more than general observation and maybe a little bit of hope. So, any comments pointing to some obscure (or not so obscure) sabermetric about this player or that will most likely be ignored.

Offseason moves:

Key losses: Albert Pujols (Angels), Tony LaRussa (retired), Dave Duncan (retired)

Key gains: Carlos Beltran (Free Agent), Adam Wainwright (injury), Mike Matheny

Catcher – Yadier Molina. Yadi had his best season with the Cardinals last year, leading the team in batting average (in what was Albert Pujols’ worst year statistically) with a .305 average. He has always been one of, if not the, best defensive catchers in the league. His arm is a canon with laser sighting, which contributes to his 44% caught stealing rate. His pickoffs were down last year, but he still leads all active catchers in that department.

Prediction: Expect more of the same from Yadi. Some people were surprised at his offense last year, ignoring the fact that he is a career .270 hitter. I’ll put him somewhere near .300 this year. He’ll hit into a bunch of double plays, but he’ll also come up with some big hits in the clutch. With Albert gone he will probably not get many pickoffs at first base. But he’ll still throw out at least half of the guys who try to steal second.

First Base – Lance Berkman. As much as it pains me to write a name other than Albert Pujols in this slot, Lance Berkman is a capable first baseman. At this point in his career he does not have the defensive skill set that Albert has, but he’s not going to embarrass you out there, either. Offensively, Lance had a great bounce-back year last year, hitting 31 homeruns and batting over .300 (.437 during the playoffs). What remains to be seen is just how much he has left in the tank and how well his legs hold up.

Prediction: Lance will see some time on the DL (he’s already there), but will still have a productive year. Let’s say 25 homeruns and a .280 or so batting average. Some of the young players will get some time at first base. The current favorite is Matt Carpenter, but look for Mark Hamilton there also.

Second Base – Tyler Greene, Skip Schumaker, Daniel Descalso, et al. Coming into the season new manager Mike Matheny let it be known that he wanted Tyler Greene to win the job at second base. The Cardinals say that Greene may be the most athletic player on the team and he has flirted with playing time for the past two seasons, but he’s not shown the consistency to be an everyday player. The Cardinals are hoping this year is the year he does. Skip was the second baseman for the past couple of years, but Matheny would like to use him more as a “supersub” with his ability to play all of the outfield positions. Descalso will get playing time at second with Greene out or sliding over to shortstop.

Prediction: Greene will get plenty of chances. He’ll show some tremendous skill from time to time, and make some amazing plays. But he won’t end the season as the starting second baseman. I just don’t think he’s got the consistency yet. I don’t know if more playing time will get him that or if, as some Cardinals fans suggest, he just doesn’t have a head for the game. Time will tell.

Third Base – David Freese. Coming off a season in which he won the World Series MVP, the question for Freese is the same this year as it has been the past two years: can he stay healthy? Last year he missed a few stretches playing in only 97 games, but the injuries were not the career threatening kinds of things he has had in the past. More the usual baseball kind of thing: hit in the hand by a pitch, etc. Freese’s defense is improving, although he’s not Scott Rolen (but then, who is these days?). His previous foot injuries mean that he is deceptively slow, but he still manages the hot corner well. When he is healthy he has been a very productive hitter. The issue is always, can he stay healthy?

Prediction: Yes. Well, relatively anyway. He’s not going to play 162 games. I doubt Matheny would let him even if he weren’t hurt at some point. The truth is, every major league baseball player is hurt in some way toward the end of the season. I’m predicting a break-out year for Freese (can you have a breakout year after winning the World Series MVP?). I’m going to say a line of .320/90/100 which has no basis in any reality whatsoever. But I’m going to say it anyway. Look for Descalso to get some time at third when Freese rests (and possibly late in games as a defensive replacement).

Shortstop – Rafael Furcal. The Cardinals made a move midseason last year to upgrade their defense in the middle infield. I predicted last year that Ryan Theriot would not impress but would be steady. The Cardinals weren’t happy with steady. They traded a minor league outfielder for an aging and struggling (offensively) Furcal. Furcal has the range and more importantly the arm to make plays at short that most other shortstops aren’t going to be able to make. He’s kind of an older, wiser, more reliable Brendan Ryan. His defense paid dividends almost instantly and his hitting improved (although he ended the season with a career low .231 BA). His low OBP last year created problems with where to hit him in the lineup, but he seemed to do best as the leadoff man.

Prediction: Furcal will be the leadoff batter for the Cardinals this year. He’s not going to steal a ton of bases (although Matheny has said he wants the team to run more). He’ll make some outstanding plays at shortstop, he’ll run the bases well and he’ll get some big hits. All around, about what anyone would want in a shortstop.

Right Field – Carlos Beltran. The biggest off-season acquisition for the Cardinals was Carlos Beltran. The team continues to remind us that no one can replace Albert Pujols, but essentially that’s what they brought Beltran in to do. Like Berkman before him, Beltran comes with concerns about his ongoing production. If he’s healthy he can fill up the stat sheet (as he did in 2011). If he’s not (as in 2010), he’s an expensive…well, paperweight isn’t the right word, but you get the idea. The addition of Beltran also adds another power switch hitter (Berkman being the other).

Prediction: Beltran, like Berkman before him, is going to prove the doubters wrong and have an outstanding year. He’ll hit over .300 with 27 homeruns and over 100 runs scored (since he’ll be batting second). I’ll even give him 90 RBI this year. Carlos may see some time in center field when Allen Craig is added to the mix.

Center Field – Jon Jay. The judge’s rise over the past two years prompted the Cardinals to make two trading deadline trades. Two years ago it was right fielder Ryan Ludwick traded away for Jake Westbrook and last year it was Colby Rasmus for Edwin Jackson and a passel of relievers. After the Ludwick trade, Jay seemed to struggle through the end of 2010, but last year he took the mantle as the starting center fielder and (let’s not get carried away) held his own. He is not a prototypical center fielder. He does not have tremendous speed. He isn’t going to make any Jim Edmonds spectacular catches. But he may be an upgrade over Rasmus who seemed to get caught gambling too many times. Jay doesn’t have the talent that Rasmus had, but he does more with what he has than most.

Prediction: Jay still struggles against left handed pitching so he will platoon from time to time with Skip Schmaker or Allen Craig or even Shane Robinson or Erik Komatsu. I do look for him to improve as he works with the hitting coaches, but he’s not going to lead the league in any stat anytime soon. His play in center field will improve as he plays more games and learns the position better. He is never going to have the tools of Colby Rasmus, let alone Jim Edmonds, but he will be a solid contributor.

Left Field – Matt Holiday. Matt had something of a snakebit season last year with some bizarre injuries affecting much of his season. Still he managed 22 homeruns and 75 RBIs in 124 games last year. Holiday is taking over the number 3 batting position this year which means the added pressure of being the team batting leader. But that is not a new position for him. He was the leader on the Rockies team a few years ago when he won a batting title.

Prediction: Matt will have a good year again this year. He is not afraid of the pressure and with Beltran in front of him and Berkman and Freese behind him he has plenty of support in the lineup. The injuries last year were so random (he had to leave a game because a moth flew into his ear) that I don’t expect any of that to occur again.

Pitchers – Starters: Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, Jake Westbrook, Lance Lynn. Relief: Mitchell Boggs, Lance Lynn, Victor Marte, Kyle McClellan, J.C. Romero, Marc Rzepczynski, Fernando Salas, Jason Motte. Adam Wainwright returns to the rotation after missing last season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. When he and Chris Carpenter are both healthy, they are one of the best 1-2 pitchers in the league. Unfortunately for the Cardinals they have rarely both been healthy at the same time the past couple of years. This year Chris Carpenter is starting the season on the DL and although the Cardinals say it is not serious, there really isn’t any way to tell. Jaime Garcia continued to improve last year although Tony LaRussa had a tendency to pull him from games early. Kyle Lohse does not strike many batters out, but for much of the season last year he had one of the lowest ERAs in the league. Westbrook has a devastating sinker when it is working and was a solid fourth or fifth guy last year. Lance Lynn showed some great potential in the playoffs last year as a reliever. The Cardinals are going to continue to use him as long relief, but he’ll also be the replacement for any injured starter. Salas and Rzepczynski were key components to a lights-out bullpen last year and fireballer Jason Motte finally won the closer role (although Tony LaRussa never made it official).

Prediction: Wainwright has struggled in his first three starts, but he will get it together and have another dominating year. Carpenter…well…who knows. He has nerve inflammation in his shoulder which is one of those unpredictable kinds of injuries. You can’t just cut him open and fix it and rehab. But I’m going to be positive this year. I’m going to say Carp comes back in late May, he pitches 25 games and wins 12 of them. For Lohse and Westbrook I look for them to be about the same as last year. Westbrook has trimmed down and they say his sinker has been working. Boggs and Marte have been solid so far this season and should be for the remainder. McClellan is better in the bullpen than as a starter. Salas and Rzepczynski will be solid bullpen guys setting the table for Motte, who will get 35-40 saves this year.

BenchDaniel Descalso, Matt Carpenter, Erik Komatsu, Shane Robinson, Skip Schumaker, Allen Craig, Tony Cruz. Skip moves from starting second baseman to ultra-utility player. Allen Craig starts the season on the DL and the big question for him is where and how much will he play? He’s shown that he belongs, but there just aren’t a lot of opportunities in the Cardinals outfield.

Prediction: I don’t see any breakout seasons happening for these guys. Allen Craig had his coming out party last year and particularly in the playoffs last year. Descalso will get plenty of playing time but he’s not going to break through unless Greene struggles (and even then the Cardinals could go back to Skip at second). It’ll be interesting to see if and when the Cardinals bring up Zack Cox and what they do with guys like Pete Kozma and Mark Hamilton (who are on the 40 man roster but currently in Memphis on the triple A club).

Manager/CoachesMike Matheny, Derek Lilliquist, Jose Oquendo, Mark McGwire, John Mabry, Mike Aldrete, Chris Maloney, Dyar Miller. Mike Matheny takes over for hall of fame manager Tony LaRussa and Derek Liliquist replaces the irreplaceable Dave Duncan as the pitching coach. Lilliquist was an assistant to Duncan, so the transition there will not be nearly as great as the one from LaRussa to rookie manager Mike Matheny. Questions obviously abound: How much learning on the job does Matheny have to do? How many games will bad managerial decisions cost the Cardinals? How will Matheny use the young players? How much of Dave Duncan can Derek Lilliquist channel?

Prediction: Matheny will be fine. He’s not going to make nearly as many head-scratching moves as LaRussa (most of which worked out for him, by the way). He’s going to make some mistakes here and there, but every manager does. Lilliquist has big cleats to fill and it remains to be seen what he can do with reclamation projects like Dave Duncan was famous for. But the Cardinals don’t really have any reclamation projects, so that probably won’t matter much.

Team Predictions:

Record: 92-70

NL Central: 1st (ahead of the Astros. Because let’s face it, the best case would be for the Reds, Cubs and Brewers to be the bottom three).

Number of games the pitcher hits 8th: 0 (Matheny is not LaRussa – that experiment is over).

April 21, 2012  Tags: ,   Posted in: Sports, St. Louis Cardinals

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