Since this week is the All-Star break across Major League Baseball, we figured it would be the perfect time to assess the Cardinals on their progress thus far this season. As a team, St. Louis comes into the break with a disappointing 44-44 record.
Where does the blame lie? We'll evaluate the players to figure out what went right, what went wrong and what needs to happen going forward for the Cardinals to have some success down the stretch.
Let's get right to it by determining how the Cardinals infielders grade out so far in 2019:
Matt Carpenter: D+
2019 began the way 2018 did for Carpenter, except when mid-May rolled around this time, he didn’t take off like a rocket. He enters the break on the injured list with a sore back, but it’s your eyes that are sore after peaking at his batting line. As the primary lead-off hitter for the Cardinals (before Tommy Edman burst onto the scene just recently), Carpenter is slashing .216/.325/.381. His elevated strikeout numbers from last year have climbed even a bit higher this season, but his power has decreased along with the quality of his contact. I’m always happy to dismiss worries over batting average when more critical stats like OBP and SLG are where they need to be, but .216 just isn’t going to cut it; not for a lead-off batter, not for anybody, especially not for a player who is generally a detriment defensively.
Plenty of the Cardinals' first-half struggles offensively fall squarely upon Carpenter’s shoulders. That pre-season extension the team handed him doesn’t look particularly appetizing at this point, so St. Louis desperately needs Carpenter to heal up and regain his stroke in the second half.
Paul DeJong: B
Selected as the Cardinals lone All-Star, DeJong has put together a well-rounded stat line thus far in 2019. His .786 OPS ranks fifth among qualifying NL shortstops and aided by sturdy defensive metrics, his 2.8 fWAR ranks third among the same group. By and large, pretty satisfying numbers for the third-year player.
DeJong’s grade is merely a B because of his poor performance at the plate more recently. In his past seven weeks, DeJong is slashing .184/.265/.303 for a .567 OPS. This lull in DeJong's game comes during a stretch of the season where St. Louis has struggled mightily as a team offensively, which further emphasizes how important DeJong—who consistently bats in the top third of the lineup—is for the team’s success. If the Cardinals are to turn things around in the second half, a turnaround at the plate from their only All-Star has to be part of the story.
Tommy Edman: A+
Tommy Edman caught our attention in spring training, with a cumulative .903 OPS across 22 exhibition games. Despite getting overlooked for a roster spot to open the year, he kept his momentum going with Class-AAA Memphis, slapping the Cardinals front office in the face with his .869 OPS in 49 games for the Redbirds. Finally, Edman got his call to the big leagues in early June. He hasn’t looked back, boasting a .283/.309/.547 batting line while providing quality infield defense for St. Louis. Oh, and he capped the most exciting comeback of the season when he delivered a ninth-inning homer deep into the Seattle night just last week.
Edman may not become a superstar with staying power in the majors, but so far, he’s been exactly what the Cardinals have needed. Here’s to hoping Edman’s spark helps light a fire beneath the St. Louis clubhouse during a second-half run in 2019.
Paul Goldschmidt: C-
Goldschmidt’s 16 home runs and 49 runs scored might lead you to consider this grade of the new Cardinals first baseman a harsh one, but the rest of Goldy’s numbers tell an underwhelming tale. Goldschmidt’s .254/.343/.426 batting line teeters near career-lows for every category. His 105 Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) is easily the worst mark of his career. While Goldschmidt is still (narrowly) an above-average offensive contributor by the metric, that’s a far cry from what the Cardinals envisioned from the 31-year-old slugger. Particularly concerning has been Goldschmidt’s strikeout rate, a trend that has carried over from his career-high 173 punch-outs last season. Goldschmidt has struck out 97 times in 377 plate appearances this season (25.7%), a career-worst.
In today’s MLB, strikeouts are accepted as a complement to power, but given Goldschmidt’s lack of slugging—his nine doubles are extremely disappointing considering he’s logged more than 30 in every full MLB season he’s ever played—the balance in his offensive game just hasn’t been there in his debut season with the Cardinals.
Jedd Gyorko: D
We knew entering the 2019 season that Jedd Gyorko would face a battle for playing time, but even with that in mind, it’s surprising how much of a non-factor he’s been for the Cardinals so far this season. Gyorko was understandably slow out of the gate, as after he began the year with a brief stint on the injured list, he received just three starts the entire month of April. He hit the IL again on June 8, for a back issue that he didn’t believe merited a trip to the injured list in the first place. To make matters worse, Gyorko strained a calf muscle during his rehab from the back injury and has not been on the active roster since. Though injuries and a lack of opportunity derailed the first half of Gyorko’s season, a healthy Gyorko would be a welcomed boost for the Cardinals in the second half.
Yadier Molina: C-
Molina’s batting average is currently the same as it ended up a year ago when he finished with a 103 wRC+. But if you’re only looking at the .261 average, you’re missing the difference between Molina being a quality contributor offensively, or not. Last year, he was one, with a .261/.314/.436 batting line. This year, not so much, as Molina’s batting line has dropped to .261/.286/.368, for a paltry wRC+ of 73. Cardinals pitchers love Molina for the way he quarterbacks a game from behind the plate, but Molina has been slotted sixth or higher in the lineup in all but three of his starts. Given Molina’s decline in production, Mike Shildt should probably consider more starts for Matt Wieters, rather than just when Yadi is injured. At the very least, he should drop Molina out of such prominent positions in the lineup until his offense improves.
Yairo Munoz: C+
If you’re a fan of batting average, you’re a fan of Yairo Munoz in 2019. Munoz boasts a .307 average, which leads the team among those with more than 15 plate appearances. But of Munoz’s 27 hits, just five of them have gone for better than a single. His slugging-percentage is merely .386, and he’s drawn just two walks in 90 plate appearances. So while his offensive profile has been limited, he’s continued to show versatility in the field and has developed a decent aptitude for stealing bases in his limited chances (4-for-6). Many fans are clamoring to see more of Munoz in the second half, which seems plausible given the current health and recent performance of more prominent players on the roster.
Matt Wieters: C
Without the benefit of regular playing time, Wieters has struggled to provide much consistency at the plate, but his offensive numbers are still better than Molina’s. Though his average is an unsightly .220, Wieters has thumped five home runs in 89 plate appearances, paving his way to a .420 SLG on the season. ‘Back-up to Yadier Molina’ has not historically been a very prominent role on the Cardinals bench, but Wieters has a pedigree far beyond anyone else we’ve seen occupy that position in recent years. I wouldn’t mind seeing him in the lineup on a more regular basis. As back-up catchers go, he’s far better than Francisco Pena, so it’s hard to have much to complain about when it comes to Wieters’ performance.
Kolten Wong: C
Those who have seen Wong toil to a .230/.288/.332 batting line since May 1 to follow his scorching start to the season might consider this grade too generous for the Cardinals second baseman, but that line of thought ignores Wong’s overall numbers and his value with the glove.
Just as they do for Paul DeJong, the early-season numbers count toward Wong’s total. His season-long OPS is .703, a far cry from where it could be given that it was .866 at the end of April. But it’s only 17 points below where he finished last season when Wong was a Gold Glove finalist, ranking fifth among NL second basemen with 2.8 fWAR. On the whole, Wong’s been a tick down from the level of play this season, registering 1.1 fWAR at the break.
Wong needs to hit better, and he'd tell you so himself. But the problem with the Cardinals offense is not the Gold Glove-caliber second baseman whose OPS the past 30 days is better than Paul Goldschmidt, Paul DeJong, Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina. Wong has essentially done what the construction of the team requires of him, while the meat of the lineup in front of him has under-performed at every turn.
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