Matt Carpenter (Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports Images)

2017 St. Louis Cardinals Team Outlook

Senior Expert Shawn Childs breaks down the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals from a Fantasy Baseball perspective.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals failed to make the playoffs last year, which ended their five-year playoff streak. St. Louis won more than 85 games in each of their nine seasons. They finished 3rd in the National League in runs scored (779). It was a huge increase over 2015 (647). Their slide came from 187 more runs allowed than 2015 (525) by their pitching staff. The Cardinals have 11 World Series titles.

St. Louis lost 1B Brandon Moss and OF Matt Holliday to free agency. SP Jaime Garcia was traded to the Braves for 2B Luke Dykstra, SP Chris Ellis, and SP John Gant. Their big signing was OF Dexter Fowler who takes off the centerfield job. The only other player added of value was RP Brett Cecil.

They ranked 7th in the NL in ERA (4.08) and 13th in bullpen ERA (3.62) with 28 wins, 21 losses, and 38 saves.

Their starting rotation has six strong options to start plus an upside Luke Weaver if St. Louis has an injury or two. The bullpen should rank highly if Trevor Rosenthal regains his form as a setup man.

St. Louis should have a respectable offense with some veteran depth to help cover injuries. Last year they led the NL in HRs (225).

Playoff contender that needs a huge improvement in their starting rotation after stumbling in 2016.

1. OF Dexter Fowler

Fowler jumped from the World Series champs to their biggest rival in the offseason. He signed a five-year $82.5 million contract in December. In his nine years in the majors, Dexter only has one season with more than 500 at bats. Last season he missed a month in late June due to a hamstring issue. His AVH (1.619) has been stronger in the last two seasons, which points to 20+ HRs with over 550 at bats. Fowler was a neutral hitter against righties (.270) while showing more upside against lefties (.293 with four HRs and 11 RBI over 123 at bats). Over the first two months of the season, he hit .317 with six HRs, 24 RBI, and six SBs over 180 at bats. He struggled in limited at bats (87) in June and July (.207 with two HRs and eight RBI). His HR/FB rate (11.0) has been over his career average (8.2) in four of his last five seasons. 20/20 potential with strength in his walk rate (14.3), but his K rate (22.5) remains above his career average. Dexter should offer an edge in his batting average supported by a high CTBA (.380). Over the last five years, Fowler has fewer than 300 RBI chances in season with a below average RBI Rate (13) in his career.

2. SS Aledmys Diaz

Diaz was one of the better waiver wire pickups in 2016. He made the Cardinals roster out of spring training while earning a better than expected opportunity due to injuries. In April. Aledmys hit .423 over 71 at bats with four HRs and 13 RBI. Over the next three months, he offered steady middle infielder stats (.284 with 10 HRs, 44 RBI, and three SBs over 282 at bats). A broken thumb in late July cost him almost six weeks of the season. His swing had the most value against righties (.317 with 14 HRs, 54 RBI, and a SBs over 287 at bats. Diaz had a low K rate (13.0) with an above league average walk rate (8.9). Over 165 games in the minors in three seasons, he hit .275 with 18 HRs, 76 RBI, and 13 SBs over 592 at bats. His K rate (15.4) and walk rate (7.0) was slightly lower in the minors. Aledmys missed the 2012 and 2013 seasons due to issues after his defection from Cuba. An improving AVH (1.702) points to 25+ HRs while showing upside with runners on base (17 percent RBI rate). His speed will have a ceiling of low double digits. With shortstop position looking deep in 2017, Diaz is the 13th player drafted at his position with an ADP of 149.

3. 3B Matt Carpenter

Matt will be an intriguing player this year thanks to him qualifying at 2B and moving into a run-producing slot in the batting order. He has a plus walk rate (14.3 – career best) while his K rate (19.1) fell below his career average (17.7) for the second straight season. Over the last two years, Carpenter has a much higher AVH (1.867). This number gives him 30+ HR upside plus his RBI rate (18) has been an area of strength in each year in the majors. His CTBA (.351) had more value earlier in his career before changing his swing path. Matt had a career-high fly ball rate (43.2) with two straight years of improvement. His HR/FB rate (13.3) was a step below his breakout season in 2015 (15.8). Over the first three months of the seasons, Carpenter hit .296 with 14 HRs and 49 RBI over 267 at bats. He suffered an oblique injury in early July leading to a month on the DL. When Carpenter returned to the starting lineup in August, he wasn’t the same player over .229 with seven HRs and 15 RBI over 188 at bats. An excellent chance at 30+ HRs and 100+ RBI with a chance at edge on batting average with an uptick in his CTBA (.351). It looks like he traded some batting average for power.

4. OF Stephen Piscotty

Piscotty pretty much duplicated his combined success at AAA and the majors in 2014 (83 runs, 18 HRs, 80 RBI, and seven RBI). His AVH (1.673) continues to improve. He couldn’t repeat his CTBA (.354) in the majors (.401), which was expected. Both his K rate (20.5) and walk rate (7.9) came in at league average. Stephen has been clutch so far in his major-league career based on his RBI rate (21 percent in 2015 and 18 in 2016). Piscotty was a better hitter against lefties (.297 with eight HRs and 19 RBI over 145 at bats). He was more productive over the last three months of the season (13 HRs and 45 RBI), but his batting average showed risk (.259) with more risk in his K rate (23.5). Over four years in the minors, Steve hit .288 with 39 HRs, 196 RBI, and 30 SBs over 1457 at bats. Improving player with an expected cleanup opportunity, but his path paints him as 25/90 player with some underlying speed. I expect his batting average to fall in a positive area.

Steve Mitchell / USA TODAY Sports Images

5. 3B Jedd Gyorko

Over four years in the majors, Jedd has 79 HRs over 1707 at bats. This works out to a HR once every 21.6 at bats. In 2016, Gyorko hit a home run every 13.3 at bats. He had a career low K rate (21.9) while remaining below the league average (20.4). Jedd set a career high in his walk rate (8.5). His swing had almost the same value against righties (.241) and lefties (2.45), but he hit 23 of his 30 HRs vs. RH pitching (.536 SLG). Over the first three months of the season with short at bats (136), he hit .227 with seven HRs and 18 RBI. The Cardinals moved him into the starting lineup in July and Gyorko responded with a big finish to the year (.250 with 23 HRs and 41 RBI over 264 at bats). His rise in power was due to a huge improvement in his HR/FB rate (24.4 – 16.1 career average). I’d like to see a stronger RBI rate (12). Improving player with huge power for a batter the qualifies at 2B and SS. St. Louis is expected to start him at third base, but they do have a veteran bench. I don’t believe he’s dead in the water in batting average. With 550 at bats, his floor should be 25 HRs and 80 RBI with plenty of upside. Interesting piece to the puzzle with the right draft plan and structure due to his low ADP (241) in 15 team leagues.

6. OF Randal Grichuk

The Cardinals didn’t commit to Grichuk in 2016 leading to shorter at bats (446) than expected. Over the last two seasons, he has 41 HRs over 779 at bats. Randal still strikes out too much (29.5) with a short walk rate (5.9). He had identical failure against RH and LH batters (.240). Over the first two and half of months of the season, Grichuk hit .206 with eight HRs and 27 RBI over 206 at bats. St. Louis shipped him back to AAA where he hit .272 with six HRs and 18 RBI over 81 at bats. When he returned to the majors, Grichuk was a much better player (.269 with 16 HRs and 41 RBI over 242 at bats). He did strikeout 63 times with six walks over his last 185 plate appearances (3.2 percent walk rate and 34.1 percent K rate). Randall has a fly ball swing (43.8 percent) with a solid HR/FB rate (17.9). Over seven seasons in the minors, he hit .279 with 92 HRs, 348 RBI, and 43 SBs over 2240 at bats with a much lower K rate (19.6). High upside in HRs with plenty of batting risk until gets his strikeouts under control. Whiffs tend to lead to lost playing time. 30+ HR hitter with a chance to offer an edge in runs and RBI if he indeed keeps a starting job all season. Solid value with an ADP of 217 in 15 team leagues if you’re looking for a pure power hitter with some underlying speed.

7. C Yadier Molina

Over the last three seasons, Molina has a low AVH (1.390). This eliminates the dream for him rebounding in power. His CTBA (.348) was just below his 2012 (.353) and 2013 (.358) success supporting his batting average. Yadier had almost equal success against RH (.308) and LH (.304) pitching. He hit over .300 in April (.341), July (.329), August (.337), and September (.388), but his bat came up empty in June and July (.222 with one HR and 15 RBI). His swing path has regressed in the last three seasons leading to a high volume of ground balls (2014 – 50.6, 2015 – 47.7, and 2016 – 48.4). Pretty much a steady C2 in deep leagues who makes up for some of his shortfalls due to above average at bats for a catcher.

8. 2B Kolten Wong

Wong never found his rhythm in 2016 leading to lost playing time and a trip back to the minors. Over the first three months of the season, he hit .230 with one HR, seven RBI, and three SBs over 161 at bats. Kolten spent a week in the minors (.429 with four HRs, 11 RBI, and one SB over 28 at bats). After a slight uptick in July (.288 with no HRs, six RBI, and two SBs over 59 at bats), he drifted through the last two months of the season (.226 with four HRs and seven RBI over 93 at bats). His K rate (14.4) and walk rate (9.4) were both career bests. Kolten only had a shoulder issue late in the season. He had a low CTBA (.287) while his AVH (1.480) fell just below his two best seasons (2013 – 1.536 and 2014 – 1.560). Even in a bad year, his approach did have growth. The Cardinals have one extra player on the infield, which will leave Wong competing for at bats with Jedd Gyorko and Jhonny Peralta. Let’s set the bar at 450 at bats with 60+ runs, 10+ HRs, 50+ RBI, and double digit steals. Late round flier with potential upside if he gains a full-time starting job.

BN: 3B Jhonny Peralta

Last season Peralta broke his left thumb, which led to nine weeks on the DL. He struggled over his first six weeks (.221 with five HRs and 13 RBI) before going on the DL again with lingering issues with his thumb. Over the last two months of the seasons, Jhonny hit .284 with three HRs and 16 RBI over 173 at bats. His swing had losing value against lefties (.182 with two HRs and four RBI over 77 at bats). He had regression in his walk rate (6.4) while finishing with a lower K rate (17.9) than his career average (19.8) for the third straight season. This year he’ll have $10 million in the last year of his contract. The Cardinals will get him at bats, but Peralta isn’t a lock to get a starting job. With 550 at bats, 15 HRs and 75 RBI with a slight negative in batting average seems like reasonable expectation. I’ll put him down for 20 percent less just in case.

BN: 1B Matt Adams

Based on his at bats (297), Adams had a productive season in HRs (16) and RBI (54). His AVH (1.892) was much improved as well as his RBI rate (18). He held his own against LH pitching (.283 with three HRs and 13 RBI) despite only receiving 46 at bats. Last season Matt didn’t have one month with starting at bats (maxed out at 69 at bats in July). He had his best success in May (.364 with four HRs and 19 RBI) when his bats appeared ready to make an impact. Adams battled a back issue in May and he landed on the DL in August with a bum left shoulder. His drop in batting average and rise in power was a result of a change in swing path leading to a career high fly ball rate (48.4) and career low ground ball rate (31.8). Middle of the order power with a questionable opportunity. Not a bad bench stash just in case he gets hot early in the year. His path points to a platoon role at best.

Bench Options

C Carson Kelly – Over five seasons in the minors, Kelly hit .248 with 35 HRs and 202 RBI over 1711 at bats. His K rate (14.3) comes in a favorable area. St. Louis gave him 13 at bats in the majors last season (.154 with one RBI). He’ll compete for the backup job.

IF Greg Garcia – If all infield options stay healthy for the Cardinals, Garcia will have a minimal opportunity if he makes the opening day lineup. Over 214 at bats with St. Louis, Greg hit .276 with three HRs and 17 RBI. His best asset was his walk rate (14.8) while owning a league average K rate (19.5). In his minor-league career, he hit .281 with 27 HRs, 221 RBI, and 65 SBs. Possible 10/15 player with a starting job.

OF Tommy Pham – As a backup option in the OF for St. Louis, Pham had a productive year in power (nine HRs) while receiving short at bats (159). In his two seasons in the majors, Tommy hit .245 with 14 HRs, 35 RBI, and 314 at bats. Over 11 years in the minors, he hit .258 with 68 HRs, 343 RBI, and 130 SBs over 2633 at bats. Short term injury cover at best.

1. SP Adam Wainwright

Wainwright had his worst season in the majors by a wide margin. He allowed the most hits (220) and runs (102) in the National League leading to poor ERA (4.62) and WHIP (1.404). His K rate (7.3) has been short in his last two full seasons with regression in his walk rate (2.7). Adam stunk up the building in April (7.16 ERA and 1.699 WHIP) with a sharp decline in his K rate (4.6). Over the next three months, he went 8-2 with a 3.36 ERA highlighted by a plus July (1.77 ERA). Wainwright ran off the rails over the last two months of the season (5.53 ERA) while walking 27 batters over 66.2 innings. His arm had losing value against lefties (.306). His AFB (90.8) regressed for the third straight season. Batters crushed his four-seamer (.359 BAA) and sinker (.380 BAA and .636 SLG). Adam still had edge with his curveball (.236 BAA) and cutter (.246 BAA). He finished with a career-high in his HR/FB rate (11.8) while struggling to keep the ball off the ground (43.8 percent – 48.3 percent in his career). Tough to write him off with a career 134-76 record and 3.17 ERA. Clearly not healthy in 2016. For the gambler, Wainwright seems like a viable gamble in based on his ADP (226) in 15 team leagues. Professional arm that will be motivated to regain his form.

2. SP Carlos Martinez

Martinez repeated his success in ERA (3.04) with improvement in his record (16-9). His walk rate (3.2) still has risk while matching his 2015 season. Carlos did have a decline in his K rate (8.0). He dominated righties (.207) with some work to do against LH batters (.256 and 11 HRs over 390 at bats). Martinez only had one bad month (May – 1-5 with a 5.18 ERA). Over the last four months of the season, he went 11-4 with a 2.75 ERA and 124 Ks over 134.1 innings. His GB rate (56.4) continues to rise. Carlos throws a plus fastball (97.0) with batters hitting .212 against his four-seamer. His slider (.193 BAA) remains a plus pitch. Over five years in the majors, he had a 2.61 ERA with 347 Ks over 338 innings. Talented arm with more upside, but he needs to throw more strikes to make another step forward. He signed a five-year $51 million contract in the offseason, which confirms the Cardinals position on his talent. Getting closer to being an elite ace. With a push to 220 innings, Carlos could post 225+ Ks with a sub 3.00 ERA.

Carlos Martinez (Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports Images)

3. SP Mike Leake

After posting a sub 4.00 ERA in three straight seasons, Leake struggled in his first season in St. Louis (4.69 ERA). He had the lowest walk rate (1.5) of his career with a slight bump in a K rate (6.4). Mike had a tough time against righties (.304). Just like Wainwright, he bombed in April (5.83 ERA). After a rebound in May (4-1 ERA with 2.31 ERA and 23 Ks over 39 innings), Leake failed in every other month in the season (June – 4.85 ERA, July – 5.70 ERA, August – 4.88 ERA, and September – 5.47 ERA). His baseline stats matched his previous two seasons (LD rate – 21.0, GB rate – 53.7, and FB rate – 25.3), but his stuff lost value. His AFB (91.7) was much lower than 2015 (93.4) while being in line with his previous success. Most of the downside was tied to his sinker (.332 BAA and .519 SLG). Soft tossing innings eater with a winning record (73-64) in the majors. Mike did battle shingles in August leading to weight loss, so this might be the clue to his failed season.

4. SP Lance Lynn

Over five years in the majors, Lynn had a 61-39 record with a 3.37 ERA and 766 Ks over 791.1 innings. His WHIP (1.302 in his career) has been a liability in each season due to his high walk rate (3.3). He’s only been league average in his career vs. lefties (.260) with a poor strikeout to walk ratio (1.49). Lance missed all of the 2016 season due to a TJ surgery in November of 2015. This gives him almost a year and a half to recover, which mean he could hit the ground running in 2017. Last year he made three starts in the minors (1.35 ERA with no walk and seven Ks over 6.2 innings). His AFB (93.1 in 2015) tends to be league average with batters only hitting .222 vs. his four-seamer (.209 in 2015). His cutter and changeup have offered upside at times during his career. Excellent resume and his 2017 stats should fall in line with his resume except for a few fewer innings.

5. SP Alex Reyes

I wrote Reyes off in 2016 due to him being suspended for 50 games for failing a drug test (marijuana). He missed the first 39 games of the AAA season. When Alex returned to the mound, he struggled to get batters out (4.96 ERA) while posting an elite K rate (12.8). This fell in line with his minor-league career (12.1). Over four years in the minors, Reyes has a 3.50 ERA with 449 Ks over 334 innings. He’s walked 4.6 batters per nine in his career. The Cardinals called him up in August. He out-pitched his minor-league resume (4-1 with a 1.57 ERA and 52 Ks in 46 innings). Alex repeated his failure in his walk rate (4.5). Righties only hit .170 against him. His AFB (97.4) is electric. Batters hit .172 vs. his four-seam fastball, .143 against his slider, and .172 vs. his changeup. Almost a carbon copy of Tyler Glasnow with a bigger fastball. Last year he pitched 111.1 innings, which means Reyes will be capped at about 160 innings in 2017. High upside arm with command issues. I don’t expect him to repeat his 2016 success in the majors without a huge step forward in strike-throwing ability. Maybe 25 starts with about 150 Ks and an ERA around 3.00. Don’t overpay for his short sample size. In the early draft season, Reyes has an ADP of 131 in 15 teams league.

6. SP Michael Wacha

In one easy season, Wacha went from high upside to a potential bullpen role. Over his first 64 appearances in the majors covering 353 innings, he had a 3.21 ERA and 1.187 WHIP. Michael appeared to be on the right track in April (3.07 ERA), but his WHIP (1.330) was out of line. After a 0-5 May with a 6.75 ERA, Fantasy owners had buyer's remorse. He appeared to find his rhythm in June (3.34 ERA with 25 Ks over 32.1 innings). Batters hit .299 against in July with five HRs over 27.2 innings. His season ended with a disaster September (13 runs and 17 base runners over 6.2 innings). The Cardinals placed on the DL in August with a right shoulder issue, and he never should have been again in 2016. His AFB (93.9) was more than a mph down from 2015 (95.0). He struggled to get batters out with his four-seam fastball (.320 BAA), curveball (.286), and cutter (.314 BAA and .608 SLG). Wacha only had success with his changeup (.221 BAA). The latest report has him pitching out of the bullpen to open the season. St. Louis still values his arm as a starter, but he needs to get stronger to prove he can handle a full season of starts. Talent arm who pitched poorly due to an underlying injury. Bench flier if he’s throwing the ball in spring training.

7. SP Luke Weaver

Over three seasons in the minors, Luke went 15-9 with a 1.78 ERA and 192 Ks over 197.2 innings. In 2016, he made the jump from AA to the majors after making one start at AAA (no runs over six innings). Weaver had elite command in the minors (1.6 walks per nine). In his nine appearances in the majors, he went 1-4 with a 5.70 ERA while allowing seven HRs over 36.1 innings. Luke had a 3.48 ERA and 39 Ks in 33 innings in his first six starts with the Cardinals before blowing up in his last three outings (11 runs and 20 base runners over 5.1 innings). His AFB (92.6) is just below league average. He throws a changeup as his best off-speed pitch followed by a curveball and a cutter. Upside arm with enough success in 2016 to earn an early call up to the majors if St. Louis needs another starting pitcher. Luke will start the year at AAA.

CL Seung-hwan Oh

Over 11 seasons in Japan, Seung-hwan went 32-20 with a 1.81 ERA, 357 saves, and 772 Ks in 846.1 innings. He has a solid walk rate (2.1) and elite K rate (10.7) with some regression in two of his last three seasons (2013 - 9.4 and 2015 - 8.6). With Trevor Rosenthal blowing up in 2016, Oh claimed the closing job for the Cardinals in July. He converted 19 of his 22 save chances while pitching in the 9th. Seung-hwan had an edge against both RH (.201) and LH (1.76) batters. He pitched better before the All-Star break (1.59 ERA with 59 Ks over 45.1 innings. Oh only walked five batters over his last 34.1 innings. His AFB (93.5) came in just above the league average. Hitters struggled to hit all three of his pitches (four-seam – .208 BAA, slider – .164 BAA, and changeup – .200 BAA). Very attractive closing options with an edge in four categories. I expect close to 100 Ks with over 40 saves.

Seung-hwan Oh (Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports Images)

RP Trevor Rosenthal

The Cardinals gave Rosenthal plenty of rope in 2016. His season looked to be on track after the first two months (2.12 ERA and 7-for-8 in save conversions), but he did walk 13 batters over 17 innings. Trevor lost all value in June and July (15 runs and 40 base runners over 16.1 innings) leading to only three blown saves in nine chances. St. Louis finally placed him on the DL with a right shoulder issue while also battling a hamstring injury in July. Rosenthal pitched better when he returned in September (1.29 ERA with eight Ks and two walks over seven innings). His AFB (97.7) remains elite while losing some value from 2015 (98.6). Batters struggled to hit his changeup (.158 BAA), but his inability to get ahead in the count lower the opportunity to use the pitch effectively. Pitching hurt last year with bad mechanics (6.5 walks per nine). With 110 saves on his major-league resume at age 25, Trevor should resurface in the 9th if given the opportunity. He just needs to throw more strikes.

RP Kevin Siegrist

Over the last two seasons, Siegrist has a 2.44 ERA with 156 Ks over 136.1 innings. Last year he did struggle with HRs (10 over 61.2 innings). His walk rate (3.8) was a career best while offering plenty of risks. His K rate (9.6) has regressed in each season in the majors. Kevin has success against both RH (1.80) and LH (.221) batters. He pitched poorly in only one month (August – 5.79 ERA). His AFB (94.0) faded for the third straight year (2013 – 96.0). Batters struggled to hit his curveball (.143 BAA), changeup – .149 BAA), and four-seam fastball (.215 BAA). Closing upside once he figures out how to throw more strikes. Eight of his 10 HRs allowed came on his fastball.

References

Baseball America Prospect Handbook. (n.d.).

Baseball-Reference. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.baseball-reference.com/

Brooksbaseball.net. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.brooksbaseball.net/

Fangraphs. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.fangraphs.com/

Roster Resource. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.rosterresource.com/mlb

Rotowire. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.rotowire.com/

RotoWorld. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.rotoworld.com/

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