To note that 2015 was a very different year for the individuals who made up the St. Louis Cardinals offensive attack compared to the year before would be making a major understatement.
The 2014 Cardinals featured a balanced attack, with seven of the regular starting eight position players posting WAR (Wins Above Replacement) values over 2.0. The team leader by far with a WAR of 5.7 was The Cardinal Nation’s 2014 St. Louis Player of the Year, shortstop Jhonny Peralta.
Next up was outfielder Matt Holliday (3.3), then third baseman Matt Carpenter (2.9), outfielder Jon Jay (2.8), catcher Yadier Molina (2.3), first baseman Matt Adams (2.2) and our 2014 team Rookie of the Year, second baseman Kolten Wong (2.1). Only the Cardinals unsettled right field position did not feature a 2+ WAR player in 2014.
While keeping every one of the aforementioned starters for 2015, the Cardinals also went out and traded pitching to stabilize right field with the acquisition of Jason Heyward. In 2015, Heyward delivered on his promise, leading the club in WAR at 6.5, with the differentiator being his Gold Glove Award-caliber defense.
Unfortunately, five of the aforementioned seven holdovers experienced a major downturn in production in 2015. Of that group, only Carpenter and Wong were able to produce a second consecutive 2+ WAR season, at 3.8 and 2.2 respectively.
The 2015 campaigns of Holliday, Jay, Molina and Adams were negatively impacted by injury. Peralta initially seemed destined for another good year in 2015, but apparently ran out of gas long before October, as did Wong.
While younger players stepped up in the second half to help fill some of the offensive void, overall on a year-to-year basis, the bottom line is that the Cardinals went from seven 2+ WAR hitters to just four.
Let’s review selected season stats of the four.
If one would use WAR as the determining factor, the discussion would be over and Heyward would be crowned the winner. While I accept the value of defense, I am not entirely comfortable drawing that conclusion from the numbers, however.
At the far right, you can see the offensive and defensive WAR values for the three finalists. (Note the two WAR values do not total as it would lead to counting positions twice, according to Baseball-Reference.com.)
In every measure other than batting average and stolen bases (the latter not included in the table), it is clear that Carpenter was the greater contributor to the Cardinals offense during 2015. In good conscience, I am unable to overrule that large body of data solely because of Heyward’s defensive acumen.
Here are supporting points for the selection of Matt Carpenter as The Cardinal Nation’s St. Louis Player of the Year for 2015.
It was a bit of an odd situation as Carpenter was both the club’s best power source and arguably its best leadoff man as well, a position he held for about half the season.
He was also extremely durable, despite missing four games in early May due to extreme fatigue. Carpenter played in 154 games, just one off the team lead, and his 665 plate appearances were the most by a Cardinal this season.
Not only did Carpenter lead the team in RBI and home runs, his 28 long balls are the most by a left-handed hitting third baseman in team history. They were also the most by a Cardinals left-handed hitter at any position in a decade, since Jim Edmonds hit 29 in 2005.
Carpenter paced the entire National League with his 44 doubles and was fifth in the league with his team-best 101 runs scored.
The 29-year-old logged 51 multi-hit games, tied for fifth-most in the NL. Carpenter led the Cardinals in walks (81) and slugging percentage (.505), both eighth in the league. His team-best on-base percentage (.365) ranked 14th in the NL.
In terms of production, Carpenter ranked seventh in the league and tops on the Cardinals with 14 game-winning RBI. He batted .327 (36-for-110) with runners in scoring position, 12th in the NL. The Cardinals went 17-4 in the 21 games in which Carpenter scored two or more runs.
Heyward also had a strong season, with many highlights. They include a team-best .293 batting average and 160 hits, both 17th in the National League.
Heyward brought power and speed, becoming only the second right fielder in team history with at least 33 doubles and 23 stolen bases, the first since Pepper Martin in 1936. His steals total tied for 10th in the league. The double count was second on the club behind Carpenter and tied for 13th in the NL.
Despite Heyward’s defensive reputation, a few clubs tried to run on him, but they often ended up disappointed. His 10 outfield assists led the Cardinals and were tied for fourth in the league.
Link to master article with all 2015 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. That includes our St. Louis regular season and post-season recaps, up next.
Not yet a member?
Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system. Take advantage of our seven-day free trial.
© 2015 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.