There’s a Huge Gap Between the Cardinals and Baseball’s Best Teams

Soon after the Houston Astros began celebrating their World Series championship under a rainstorm of champagne and beer, a Las Vegas sports books posted the first set of betting odds for 2018.

Who will win the ‘18 World Series?

Here are the first 10 teams on the list:

Dodgers,  5/1
Astros,   6/1
Indians,  6/1
Nationals,  7/1
Yankees,  8/1
Red Sox,  10/1
Cubs,  10/1
Mets, 20/1
Diamondbacks, 20/1
Cardinals, 20/1

It’s fun to look at the odds, but the numbers don’t mean squat on Nov. 2.

The 30 MLB team rosters will change during the offseason. A few teams will undergo extensive makeovers. Others will make a few tweaks. A team’s spring-training outlook will reflect the offseason activity.

Seeing that 20-to-1 next to the Cardinals isn’t important.

Except for the symbolism.

The 20-1 odds show how the Cardinals are perceived from the outside.

The Cardinals are no longer viewed as a National League empire, a major-league sovereignty. A pretty good team, sure. A competitive team, absolutely. But in a break from tradition, the Cardinals aren’t characterized as an automatic, traditional, annual championship contender. Their status, while solid, isn’t as powerful as before.

I watched a lot of postseason baseball.  And after seeing the Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals, Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox — and even the Minnesota Twins — I came away knowing that there’s a significant gap between the Cardinals and the industry’s elite teams.

And one area especially jumped out: the young position-player talent that forms a core nucleus. And those teams can rely on their younger core position players to be in place for a while. That isn’t the case with every elite team; the Nationals will likely lose Bryce Harper to free agency after next season.

But the best teams I saw in October were loaded with the quality position players that supplied a ton of offensive impact. And the success of these teams will be largely be sustained by the young bats.

Using the Play Index research tool at Baseball Reference I took a look at the listing of position-player fixtures that ranged between age 20 and 27.

The Cardinals are lagging by comparison.

I used the Baseball Reference version of Offensive WAR (wins above replacement) for the hitters on each team that fit the designated age category. I didn’t include fringe guys who didn’t play much.

Let’s inspect, and I won’t list every name here … only the most pertinent.

Again, keep in mind that these Offensive Wins Above Replacement totals are collective, culled from hitters in the age 20 to 27 class during the 2017 season.

ASTROS: Offensive WAR of 25.7  … Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa.

DODGERS: Offensive WAR of 18.4 … Corey Seager, Rodney Bellinger, Chris Taylor, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson.

CUBS:  Offensive WAR of 20.1 … Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras, Javier Baez, Ian Happ, Addison Russell, Albert Amora Jr., Kyle Schwarber.

NATIONALS:  Offensive WAR of 15.7 … Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Michael Taylor, Victor Robles, Brian Goodwin.

INDIANS:  Offensive WAR of 12.9 …. Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor.

YANKEES:  Offensive WAR of 21.1 … Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks, Clint Frazier.

RED SOX:  Offensive WAR of 13.8 … Xavier Bogarts, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley, Mookie Betts, Rafael Devers.

TWINS: Offensive WAR of 14.4 … Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler.

The Arizona Diamondacks had a collective 5.8 Offensive WAR from younger players, most notably Jake Lamb and Brandon Drury. The Colorado Rockies had 7.6 Offensive War from younger hitters, but the excellent Nolan Arenado delivered most of that.

OK, but what about the Cardinals?

The 2017 Cardinals had a collective Offensive WAR of only 6.5 …

With Paul DeJong (2.8) and Kolten Wong (2.0) responsible for the bulk of it.

No offense to DeJong and Wong, but when you see the elite teams packed with young-hitter foundations — with multiple players that already stand among the best in the game — it’s rather startling to realize that the best the Cardinals can counter with are DeJong and Wong.

I’m concentrating on young hitters here for a couple of reasons:

1. The Cubs’ entire strategy for building the team into a colossus was based on stockpiling young power bats via draft, trade, or international signings. And team president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer succeeded. The Cubs’ baseball executives made a shrewd calculation in reading the future, betting that there would be a shortage of impact hitters … cost-controlled hitters especially. And the teams that went with an alternative roster-building approach would be scrambling to find hitters and catch up.

“It’s hard to find bats, but it’s even harder to find them in free agency,” Hoyer said. “So many teams right now are searching for young bats that they can build the lineup around. Our thought was, ‘Let’s be aggressive and build our offense and build our lineup for a long time.’ ”

The Cubs weren’t alone in their batters-first philosophy. The Astros, Yankees and Dodgers have gone the same way. Go get the young hitters … and then fill in your team’s starting rotation with veterans. When Epstein was the GM of the 2004 Red Sox — who won the organization’s first World Series since 2004 — his pitching staff was among the oldest to ever win the championship.  And Epstein’s 2016 Cubs had the eighth-oldest pitching staff among all-time World Series winners.

In baseball, it used to be said that a GM can always find hitting … and it was a lot more difficult to find pitching.

That’s now the other way around.

“You just can’t find prime age or pre-prime age players anymore,” Epstein said. “They’re not available in free agency. Players are getting tied up in long-term deals and most players that are getting to free agency now are on the wrong side of 30. If you have a player who’s mid-20s available and he’s not subject to any type of restriction, there’s 30 teams interested in that player, and it increases his market value.”

2. Among the top nine teams in MLB for park-adjusted runs created (wRC+) this season, seven made it to the postseason. And that includes the four teams  — Astros, Yankees, Indians, Dodgers — that had the highest total of park-adjusted runs created in 2017.

3. The Cardinals chose another strategy: focus on drafting and developing young pitching. But here’s the problem with that … too many young pitchers break … too many young pitchers suddenly lose their grasp of the strike zone … too many young pitchers never pan out and become young ex-pitchers.

A couple of years ago, Epstein told me that the Cubs had done a comprehensive study of past drafts and concluded that hitters — especially college hitters — had the highest probability of attaining success in the major leagues. And there was more risk — and a higher failure rate — in drafting pitching.

The New York Mets won the NL pennant in 2015 with a young rotation that included Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz. Those four starters combined to every Mets’ postseason start in ’15. But two years later, the 2017 Mets fell to a record of 72-90. And the collapse of their young pitching — due to injuries — was the No. 1 reason for the decline. Harvey, Syndergaard and Matz combined to make only 38 starts this season.

The Cardinals are hoping that their young-pitching movement will give them an advantage going forward. Maybe it will. Maybe the industry trends will revert back to the way it used to be. That’s happened before. This game is always changing.

But the 2017 postseason was glaring.

The Cardinals simply can’t match the imposing young-hitter firepower that provided an obvious advantage for the best teams.

Thanks for reading …


More: Will Matheny Allow New Coaches to Chime in? An Analyst Gives His Thoughts

  • M W

    “The Cubs’ entire strategy for building the team into a colossus was based on stockpiling young power bats via draft, trade, or international signings.”

    You forgot to put “tanking” in their strategy. That was a big part of it as well.

    I agree that the Cards have fallen behind in regards to overall roster talent. But isn’t that normal? Does any team stay on top forever? Obviously no.

    My issue is more with how little top tier talent they have in the minors. It’s a lot of good/not great players. And it seems like their bats are all very similar. Potential power bats that don’t walk and strikeout a ton.

    • Rich Rauch

      Speaking of the Cubs (and Astros), is there any other sport where the champions in consecutive years were two teams who tanked for 5+ years to collect high draft picks? (Since I only follow baseball, I don’t know.)

      • James Berry

        Maybe the NBA with the Warriors. The Browns have been tanking for 18 seasons since they began anew in Cleveland, but not by choice. More ineptness than anything.

        • Rich Rauch

          Maybe but, that’s only one team. Seeing two different teams win it all in consecutive years is what I found fascinating here.

      • Gavin Morgan

        Other sports aren’t set up for as a clear a path. Warriors didn’t really tank 5 years. They really tanked 2011-12, and that did set them up for Harrison Barnes and Draymond. They got Klay Thompson with the 11th pick the year before.

        NFL doesn’t have that clear path to success with tanking. Jax has been bad for years, and now they are starting to reap the benefits with those really good players they’ve been drafting. But Browns always draft high, and they annually stink. Patriots draft late and they are good to very good every season.

        I think in the NHL, if you had a good plan, you could probably pull off what you can do in the MLB. But I don’t know of a tank to championship example there. Blackhawks perhaps?

    • JohnS

      Well the World Series trophies are theirs whether they “tanked” or not. Don’t know why anyone is looking down their noses at the way they won instead of their championship results. If tanking gets us three to five years of 90 plus win seasons in a rown, lets get busy with the “tank” job!

    • LawrenceKScardsfan

      Another thing M W is the Chicago market. Ballplayers can sign very lucrative promotional contracts in larger markets. And there is substantially more advertising revenue available in a larger market – which means more TV revenue. St. Louis is a smaller MLB market with a devoted fan base. But the Cubs have this market size advantage that remains undiscussed (as does LA, Houston, etc.).

  • Rich Rauch

    The Matheny defenders will be terribly disappointed to find no mention of him here and thus no need for their services.

    • J Walls

      Wrong again…Bernie is 100% correct. The point I have been emphasizing all along…this team lacks talent and blaming the failure to make the postseason on the manager is ridiculous.

  • James Berry

    Sorry, but pitching and defense will always be the route to being a contender. Are healthy bats with at least 2 big hitters needed? Absolutely. But what you failed to mention is that most of the teams that made the playoffs this season, were eliminated because their pitching didn’t hold up. Can you recall so many starters going 5 or fewer innings in the playoffs as there were this playoff season? I can’t. Even the WS champs, the Astros, had problems getting past 5 with their starters.

    Do we need 2 big bats? Absolutely. But you have to take in to account where the Cards have been drafting from for years as well. We don’t get those top 5, or even top 10, draft picks. Even in yet another down season, we will draft 19th next June. It’s easy to stockpile top young hitters when you tank for 5 straight seasons.

    • drpinvestco

      I’m not sure this is as axiomatic as it used to be. With the ever shrinking strike zone and whatever is going on with the ball these past several years, its pretty clear that hitting is dominating pitching. Yes, defense is important but good defense is possible with great hitting in the same package. I think the blog nails it. The Cardinals have gone down one path and perhaps a tricky path at that.

      • James Berry

        I’ve been hearing gripes about the strike zone getting smaller for decades now. So much so, that you’d expect it to be 3 inches square in the heart of the plate by now. Fact is, the percentage of free swingers has never been this high. Pitchers don’t need to throw strikes to half the hitters to get them out. What pitchers do need is the ability to spot the ball that’ll make these hitters chase.

        Again, i’ll say that the fact that we routinely draft in or near the bottom third of each round, is one reason we rarely get the best hitting prospects.

        • JDinSTL

          Except that other teams continue to find hitters when drafting behind the Cardinals.

    • JohnS

      Bernie just explained that good hitting is more rare than pitching….everyone virtually has pitching now. To distinguish yourself, you need hitting, top end hitting. Ask yourself, did the Astros have a good bullpen this year (nope, that is why they were depending on starters in their bullpen during the WS). Then ask yourself if the 2015 champion Royals had good starting pitching (nope, that was a decidedly mediocre starting rotation). So two of the last three WS champions had flawed pitching….but good offenses. Unless we go back down to a “deader” baseball, there is no reason to think that the pitching/defense model will arise as pre-eminent again. Like Mozeliak said, “we can always get pitching”. What the Cards have demonstrated is they cannot go out and either buy or trade for top-flight hitting. They have shown this over the last three years or so. The game has changed, teams aren’t getting rid of young top flight hitters, they all have money and don’t need to do so. The rules of the game changed on the Cards, while they were getting pitching (and oddly ignoring defense), the really smart minds like Theo and Luhnow were going after the good young hitters…Our front office is really out of step with what is going on in baseball, but they are likely following the outdated mandate of their aged owner…..

      • James Berry

        When it comes to the World Series, and quite often the LCS’s, teams routinely rely on starters out of the pen. This isn’t suddenly some new innovation.

        We had flawed pitching in 06 and 11. Back when it was still ideal to go after pitching as a team’s mainstay.

        The Astros went after pitching in their drafts as well as hitters. Since Luhnow became GM there, he has chosen 3 position players and 3 pitchers with their 1st round picks. Appel(1st overall) in 2013 and Aiken (1st overall) in 2014.

        A lot of who is chosen by a team is where they pick in a round. 3 of our last 4 first picks have been position players. Now, take the time to look at the difference between the Astros and Cardinals first picks in a draft. The last time the Cards had a top 10 pick was 1998(JD Drew). The Astros have had 7 top 10 picks in that time span and three of them have been 1st overall with another being 2nd overall. There is the difference in quality of players chosen.

        • JDinSTL

          Yes, but our “drafters” can’t evaluate talent.

        • Big T

          Most people forget that Altuve, Springer and Keuchel were acquired long before Luhnow got to Houston. Had they passed on Apel and taken Bryant it would have changed a lot of things for them and those little bears.

          • James Berry

            I remember when Altuve first made his ML debut. Let’s be honest…next to no one(fans) thought he’d stick. Not because little guys have never stuck. There have been hundreds who have. But the game has changed so much, little guys have less of a chance now. Altuve built his game up from where it was originally. He can drive the ball out now, where as he used to be more of a slash hitter. He evolved to meet standards. Smart man.

      • JDinSTL

        The problem with the Cardinals (post-Luhnow) is that they can’t IDENTIFY young hitters. They haven’t been able to run into one in YEARS of drafting players. So, let’s promote everyone with big fat raises and extensions, right?

    • Big T

      Spot on James. Funny stat on game 7 of WS. Neither teams starting pitcher made it past three innings. First time ever.

  • Steve k

    In 2017, the Cards gave 750 AB’s to Grichuk and Piscotty and got a collective 0.2 OWAR from them. They can’t repeat the same mistake in 2018 since they supposedly have a “surplus” of OF talent to draw from.

    I don’t think they will make any big moves in the FA market. Bill Dewitt said on Bernie M. show at end of the season, “We are pretty solid at all positions”, so good luck to SlowMO in convincing him to spend $20+ mil./year on a FA. I also have doubts about the 4 for 1 deals that armchair GM’s come up with that nets the Cards a young, impact player.

    In the OF, I think you shift Fowler to LF(or find a way to shift him off the roster if he does not like it), count on Pham as another OF, then from the rest of the collection take the best 3rd and 4th outfielder you have and start with them on the 25 man roster. Adjust from there, depending on how these guys do. Forget about things like Piscotty’s cotract(it is not that much money) or feelings and focus on who is the best talent and actual performance.

    I think the Cards have a bigger holes in the bullpen and starting pitching that will not be as easy to solve.

    • Mark Steinmann

      Agree on the Grichuk/Piscotty comment. This seem to be the thinking the past few years “we have a surplus of outfielders/starters!”, not realizing that for the most part we are talking about an abundance of average (at best) players. The complete and total eff up of the outfield, esp in the beginning of the season, tells me they don’t really know what they are doing. The problem is outside of DeJong, who needs to play a full season and work through the inevitable adjustments thrown at him, we don’t really have anyone on the 40 man that compares to any of the guys Bernie mentioned.

  • Jaron

    As a Cards fan living in Houston and watching a lot of Astros baseball this summer, Bernie is right. When the Astros got Verlander, there rotation is arguably better than ours now. They have 2 Cy young winners and a young curve ball specialist. Their top 3 matchup to anyone. Our hitters can’t hold a candle to their young bats. As Correa and Bregman improve, they will only get better. I think we started seeing pitching breakdown in postseason because of fatigue and great offense.

    • Steve k

      You also have to give credit to the Astros GM for signing Charlie Morton. He proved to be a very good back of the rotation starter and was terrific in the WS.

      • geoff

        Well, Mo signed Leake, then had to get rid of him to Seattle and pay next year’s salary. But Mo tried. Mo has missed badly on some trades and contracts. Morton could have been bad and we would have been hearing about someone else who rose from the ashes. As well as Morton turned out, Liriano didn’t.

  • Jaron

    I understand the arguments that Houston and Chicago tanked. It stinks but they did it and it works. Now the Cardinals have to prove they can get back to the top without doing that. They have the cash and some prospects to trade to move quickly in that direction. The biggest thing that last two years have proved is that you can’t take years off from adding elite talent. You have to add pieces every year or then you wind up needing 4-5 major pieces at one time.

    • JohnS

      They are trying to serve several masters….trying to rebuild while “staying competitive”. I think the current baseball environment simply doesn’t allow for this to be a successful strategy. Small market teams have to go in for the total rebuilds from time to time. The Cards need to get to cracking, suck it up, and get on with the show. Throwing huge bucks at Stanton, acquiring an aging closer (Holland) and a likely mediocre starter probably is not the recipe for long-term success….

    • JeremyR

      They didn’t just tank though. They signed free agents, got international players, and made trades to find stars.

      The Cardinals don’t do that. They aim for mediocrity in all phases of player acquisition.

      • Big T

        Part of the tanking process is “selling off” pieces so your wins go down AND you acquire top prospects. I.E. when Cubs traded Hamels and Samardzic for Russell when he was 18 and had never played but was a top pick for Oakland. Bryant, Schwarber, Russell, Baez, Almora, all were drafted in first round inside the top 7 picks of their draft class. You don’t get that many top picks without willfully losing. I for one hope the Cardinals NEVER even consider this route. I believe with the number of teams choosing this route that the league will intervene or it will hurt the game. Milwaukee, Phils, Reds, Padres, Braves, all are underway with it. There attendance and plight show that this beloved pastime and sport is in danger if it continues.

        Cards have just got very involved in the international market. Shame we came in second on Luis Robert.

      • LawrenceKScardsfan

        What really got my gaul was their description of Fowler as enough to make the team competitive. While I approved of the Fowler signing, I believed this was just a start. I still wanted them to pursue Turner and Chapman for example. But they instead insisted that Fowler was all that was necessary. Let’s hope they don’t come out of this off-season with the same horse pucky.

  • Chris Moeller

    Did the Cardinals pass on Correa, Springer, or Bregman to grab some pitching? Did they pass on Bryant, Schwarber, Baez, or Happ to load up on pitching? No they didn’t. Those players are only available to teams that are tanking. It’s time for a lottery unless MLB thinks this system is somehow healthy for their game.

    • John Wood

      Schwarber? The guy who hits around the Mendoza line, can’t play defense and can’t run? I would hope the Cards would avoid him like radioactivity.

      • James Berry

        Time will tell if you are correct on Schwarber, but he was very highly thought of coming out of Indiana. The real problem is, the Cubs missed a golden goose opportunity by not trading him in the off season, if he indeed does continue to hit like Rob Deer.

        • Chris Moeller

          Agreed that he should be avoided, but he did bat .412 in last year’s World Series and they don’t win that without him. Bernie would be writing this instead about the Astros and the Indians.

          • James Berry

            Even if the game were still played where base stealing and bunting were prominent, we’d still have the Schwarber types. There’s always a “Dave Kingman” in the league.

      • LawrenceKScardsfan

        I think the jury’s still out on Schwarber. No, I would not like to see him on the Cardinal’s team. But like Grichuk, he may still turn out to be a good player.

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  • JohnS

    Never have understood the antipathy toward the “tanking” route around here. This is the way I look at it….you can continue on the Cards’ path and likely remain mediocre, wild card contender at best, no real serious chance of WS titles (and don’t hand me that “hot hand” theory, the top end teams are simply too talented for that to likely work anymore….)….or they can “tank” or “re-build” which likely necessitates getting rid of old deadwood like Fowler, Carpenter, perhaps even Martinez and Wacha and even (gulp!) Yadi. Also out with the many half-a$$ed prospects (Bader, Piscotty, Voit, Wisdom and others of that ilk). Listening to KC radio today and they are advocating the “tank” or “rebuild” route. If you tank right, you will ultimately have a good 3 to 5 year window of being a serious WS competitor. In the tank years, you can do what you have been doing the last couple of years, watching bad baseball but drinking beer in copious quantities and showing up just because it has become a Cubbies/Wrigley Field Lite “thing to do” phenomena. Or don’t show up, what the he77, who cares if DeWitt is making any money or not since he won’t spend it regardless. End result? 5 years of bad baseball to perhaps get you five years of very good baseball. Divide the ten years by two and you have mediocre as an average perhaps, but at least for about half of those ten years you have had a real shot of winning a WS. To continue on the Cards’ half-a$$ed path of trying to rebuild while not spending real money or being able to draft high enough in the draft to obtain top-end prospects likely insures we will continue onward with the path established for the last two years…and the downward trend has existed since 2013….Go through some pain kiddies, to reap the rewards later. After all, who wants to be mediocre all the time, which is what it looks like we are heading for if nothing changes….

    • John Wood


    • Jaron

      Not a huge fan of tanking but it worked for Houston and Chicago. Plus the Astros MISSED on two #1 overall picks Appel and Aiken. If they would have struck gold on those, they would have a dominant starting rotation for years to come!

    • Cranky Observer

      So… how do you assure yourself the young guns you bring in are any good? With statistics about every player in the world over the age of 6 are instantaneously available it is very difficult to come up with even one unheralded prospect. Yet high draft position doesn’t seem to have a really strong correlation with long-term success either.

  • J Walls

    Bernie is absolutely correct. And until the roster is significantly improved any discussion of the competence of the manager is irrelevant.

    • LawrenceKScardsfan

      Yep. But the weird thing was last week he was praising MO and DeWitt regarding their draft and trade acumen. Glad to see he’s come around.

  • rightthinker4

    A good GM and manager are critical to winning. I’m not a Matheny apologist, he made plenty of mistakes, but MO didn’t provide enough talent for the Cardinals to win. Maybe Maddon could have won with guys like Petalta, Diaz, Broxton, Leake, Grichuk, and Piscotty, but I doubt it.

    I suspect the Cardinals made a bundle of money this year, and that is cause for concern. Maybe they will come to the conclusion, why spend a lot of money on players to upgrade the team, when all you have to do is have an average team, and the fans will continue to come out and spend their hard earned money on mediocrity. Hope I’m wrong.

    • geoff

      Heck, Maddon couldn’t win it with the best roster and lineup in the history of baseball, well best according to Bernie, who is all about his Cubbies. The DeWitts have handed the keys to Mo and Mo has missed badly on some evaluations. Mo is a very lucky man because I can’t imagine anyone, not only keeping their job, but getting a promotion when they carried close to 100 million dollars in dead money over the past few years. Mo made some panic moves. I still wonder what he was thinking when he traded Miller for Heyward, when Adrelton Simmons was available. We know he was available because he was traded to the Angels shortly after for a Coke and a bag of chips compared to what the Cards gave up for a .250 hitting right fielder. Mo had to know he was chin deep in outfielders a year out and that having one of the best shortstops in the game is one heck of a lot more vital to future success.

      • Big T

        Had we obtained Simmons we would not have had the opportunity to see the development of DeJong until this year. So some good did come out of it. With OQ helping him I believe our immediate SS problems are solved. Hopefully Diaz can find his way back and get 3B taken care of. Great # 6 hitter. I see the Cards turning him into a versatile player role.

        • geoff

          Yeah, Simmons is an elite shortstop, DeJong is a shortstop. I would have been happier to see Simmons at short and DeJong at third or second. I like Wong but man he comes with a lot of drama. I wonder if maybe DeWitt would consider getting rid of Mo and bringing back Luhnow as the president of baseball operations, to lead the Cardinals through the deep waters of the tanking process. It seems that right now the teams that are having the best success are those who have been horsefeathers for years or they are the Dodgers, who spent a ridiculous amount of money to put together the team that finished second. Oh and can you imagine what the comment boards would look like if the Cards were to do what these teams did???

          • Big T

            I agree Simmons is one of if not the best SS in baseball defensively. His offense dramatically improved this year. I’d love to have him. Given you scenario I would love to see DeJong take second and have Simmons at SS.

            Cards could not afford Luhnow right now. We are spending our money on those #3 and 4 bats. (Stanton and Hosmer.) LOL..

            The same people calling for MM job would not be patient enough for a tank time.

          • geoff

            I doubt they have any interest in Hosmer. They must realize what a liability Carpenter is in the field…he pretty much has to be at first base. He doesn’t have the range or the arm to play anywhere but first.

          • LawrenceKScardsfan

            Yep – you can pretty much correlate the rise of the Astros with their hiring of Luhnow. It’s been a meteoric rise IMO. I think we kept the wrong horse (MO vs. Luhnow).

          • geoff

            I don’t know that six years is meteoric, but he certainly did what was necessary to change the culture in Houston. I don’t think Mo has done such a great job, and I think this past year may have been his worst. He did a crappy job with the 40 man roster and he must not have understood the new 10 day DL. It wouldn’t bother me to see Luhnow in place of Mo. To be quite honest I think Matheny needs all of the help he can get, be it advanced metrics or coaching or most of all better players. I don’t think he did all that well going old school, so maybe metrics will help him.

          • LawrenceKScardsfan

            I think the boat has sailed on Luhnow returning to the Cardinals. I think with Oquendo back in the dugout, it’s only a matter of time before MM is fired.

          • geoff

            I agree about Luhnow. I don’t think Oquendo would be a good fit if they are going all in on the advanced metrics. He is not an advanced metrics guy. If they go all in, I wrote facetiously that they might as well hire Bernie but, in truth, he has a great grasp of the data. If knowing baseball doesn’t matter , why not just have someone like that run the team on the field. I like metrics as a tool to evaluate a player but not to structure the way the game is played. Did you notice during the series how low the strike zone box was on the TV? The top of the zone was at the belt…no wonder everyone is swinging up. If they called the zone from the nipples to the knees, like it was when I played, the upper cut swing would once again become a bad idea.

        • Mark Lee Arbogast

          It’s been so long sinc we had a great SS that anybody starts to look good. Dejong is an average fielder that KOs at an alarming rate. But he is young and shows promise. Him and Wong need to stop trying to be Babe Ruth at the plate

  • ken

    here’s another way to think of it…repeatedly swinging a bat at great velocity is far less injurious to the human body than repeatedly hurling a baseball at great velocity (and in some cases, depending upon the type of pitch, even less than great velocity) is to the human body.

  • I would like to point out that the team that was on top of the baseball world one season ago has fallen to a sixth place tie in handicapping for 2018. That is not exactly “staying on top of the heap.” Do I think the Cubs are going to be a big factor the next 3-5 years? Certainly. The point is, it is hard to stay at the VERY top. Right now the handicappers expect LA and Houston/Cleveland to appear in the 2018 World Series. Last year the Cubs were supposed to be back at the top in 2017. But baseball just doesn’t work that way, probably in no small part because World Series winners often have the most players having career seasons.

  • JeremyR

    Some of us pointed this out long, long ago. The Cardinals needs a change of GM and philosophy.

    But then, the goal of the Cardinals owner is not to win, but to make as much money as possible and the current philosophy of planned mediocrity will deliver 3 million fans a year. So nothing will change, just the yearly scapegoat as to why the team didn’t win.

  • Steve Unnerstall

    Your same old stuff is tiring. How many 100 loss seasons did the astros suffer through while the cardinals contended year after year? The dodgers have the highest payroll.. the cubs are, well, the cubs. How many World Series titles do these teams have in the last 12 years? Give the cardinal some credit for consiste. Move to Houston or LA or Chicago, but quit the continuous bitching about OUR team

    • Jody Wassmer

      Those Cardinals underwear strapped on a bit tight today? Bernie was simply saying young HITTING is proving more successful in winning MLB games these days. The Cardinals have focused on collecting young pitchers and how’s that going? Martinez, maybe, but there’s no bonafide young pitching star on this team. Reyes might get there but Weaver and the rest are very unproven. Your idea of “bitching” is simply stating FACTS!

  • David B

    Reading this column, Bernie, reminded me of your “too many Cardinals” piece a few weeks back. You made a good point: the Cardinals have developed a lot of talented pitchers and players through the farm system, but they have not acquired nearly as much key talent as these other teams have through trades and FA signings. Since “tanking” to rebuild is apparently out of the question, the task for the FO is pretty clear.

    The theory that a team can always find pitching is curious, since teams always seem to be looking for more pitching, whether starters, bullpen or both, and rarely have enough. If the Cubs can find ways to fill the holes in their pitching staff without breaking up their core of good young position players, I’ll be more persuaded. It’s hard to find good young hitters, yes, but teams manage to identify, acquire & develop players like Justin Turner, who become key parts of their success, without drafting them at the top of the first round. Shrewd talent assessment and luck play parts in building teams for the post-season, too.

    • geoff

      The Mets had Turner and cut him lose. I wonder if the Giants would have any interest in Piscotty.

    • Big T

      David – I am with you on the value of drafting pitchers over hitters. Picking hitters I think is an easier choice when your picking in the top 5 and not necessarily when your picking at 25 or lower every year. Pitchers are more readily trade worthy. Every team the Cards talk to want Reyes

      Also interesting that Bernie supported his argument by pointing out how the Cubs used this philosophy of drafting hitters “into a colossus” of a team yet the Cubs drafted entirely pitching in the first five rounds this year. Truth is that is were their most prominent need is. Ours right now is hitting and the FO has to get us the #3 and 4 bat we need.

      • David B

        The Cubs drafting pitchers makes sense, since that’s their clear need. The Cardinals have some clear needs, too, but they seem to be looking for established talent to fill major league roster needs, and that’s going to be costly. I don’t know if they should draft hitters or pitchers at this point. It’s much easier to have that kind of a strategy if you’re in a rebuilding project.

        • Big T

          My vote would be for hitters. We have a quantity of outstanding pitching prospects at bot High A AA and AAA. Good article last week in STL Today on the state of Cardinal Farm system. If you missed it you should read it. Identifies ALL major pitching prospects.

          By trade or by cash no excuse not to address our need. #3 and 4 bat along with some bull pen help. Some of those AA and AAA pitchers can help there. Hudson,Flaherty Reyes, and Wacha if need be.

  • badgerboy23

    I was lucky enough to spend the entire day yesterday with my 90 year old father yesterday. We were having this exact conversation when Bernie was probably writing this. As my dad compared the Cards position by position to the two WS teams, he commented repeatedly about two things: How quickly both teams got young players that contributed significantly to the ML level and how much better coached they were. Watching the 2016 and 2017 WS teams play defense has been incredibly deflating. They are aggressive going after balls, they know what to do with it when they get it, they handle everything quickly and crisply. They have a plan, they don’t have to think, they just execute. You know–the way we used to play under TLR.

  • geoff

    This World Series featured two teams who differed in their approach to hitting and Pitching. Both were talked about in glowing terms by the saber-metric community. The Astros could hit, abhorred the strike out, the Dodgers could hit for power, didn’t mind the strikeouts at all. The Astros were supposed to be inferior pitching wise, they picked up Verlander but they got to him in both of his starts. The Dodgers went with the “new age” thinking that pitchers are just pitchers and they burned up there bullpen by the end of game three. The Cards, or should I say Mo has missed on his evaluations on some key positions in the organization and his team is mostly middle of the pack, which isn’t bad for a guy who has drafted near the bottom for a long time. It wouldn’t bother me a bit if the Cardinals would make another change in the coaching staff by making Mabry available to the rest of the industry. I can’t think of even one hitter who has improved under his tutelage. Mabry is certainly not the only reason the Cards don’t hit well, their approach as an organization is flawed. If the Cards again try to shorten starts and increase bullpen usage, it is going to be another mediocre season. No team has enough pitching for that to work…the Dodgers proved that. The Cardinals could just change their name to the Mos because the DeWitts have handed him the entire operation…now we’ll see whether or not they made a good choice. From what I have seen, the Cards have regressed since the departure of LaRussa, the dinosaur who knows the game.

    • Big T

      Guess you saw that TLR joined Boston as an advisor to Dave Dombrowski. Someone still sees the value in Dino..

      • geoff

        Yeah, that guy must not like his wife. He took a job that puts him about as far away from Oakland as possible. LOL
        I don’t mind the metrics stuff. If I were younger and smarter and didn’t like to go outside, I would be more into it. I just get a bit rankled when Bernie acts like everyone who doesn’t think like he does is a total idiot. I know I am no expert when it comes to baseball or anything else for that matter but, I had the privilege of learning how to play the game from professionals at Marty Marion sports camp when I was a young kid. So many of the things that were just not good baseball are considered OK today. We live in a world where people prefer the replay to the live action, where they prefer to boil down the numbers rather than see how the number came about in the first place. I enjoy these threads because I get a laugh from some of the comments and I sometimes jibe these guys who complain that the Cardinals don’t do one thing or another , then they complain when the Cardinals do the very thing they were complaining that they didn’t do. I am not a big fan of Mike Matheny. He pretty much lost me when he kept running that Brandon Moss guy out onto the field. Some said he was told to do that by Mo…I would quit my job before I would carry out an order to do something for one guy that would cause failure for everyone else on the team. But I don’t care for a guy like Micklascz assaulting his character and integrity from his bully pulpit almost daily, knowing that Matheny will not respond in kind. Anybody can be sarcastic and mean spirited, and I wish Bernie could find a way to rise above that crap. Maybe Bernie is just becoming a grumpy old guy like I did.

  • Big T

    Interesting parameters of only those 20-27 for your “research” Bernie.

    Just want to let others know that had the parameters been expanded our 28-30 year old players like Carp 4.0 WAR, Pham 5.7 WAR, Fowler 3.5 WAR, and Gryko 2.6 would have been included. Most analysts feel that a player is in his prime from 25-32. I will let you draw your own conclusions as to why these parameters were chosen. I only point that out because Bernie spent most of this year telling all that PHAM was one of the greatest players in our league yet didn’t include him here.

    The list would have been further muddied because LeMahieu, Cargo, Blackmann, Goldschmidt, Pollock, and many more would have been included from other teams. They are top players both offensively and defensively in their positions with significant WAR values. However they are not 20-27.

    Cardinals do have a surplus of tradeable pieces, particularly outfielders and coveted pitching. A big bat and hopefully two with a retool of the pen and we will be fine.

  • flood21

    No attacks on MM. Somebody call a doctor Bernie is not feeling well

  • “They would not make cosmetic decisions, such as wasting money on a free agent or hanging on to a veteran who might instead be converted into future assets, in an effort to keep up appearances.” That is a quote from Ben Reiter on Jeff Luhnow and company in the now-famous June 30, 2014 issue of SI. See, Houston could do this because they were down in the dumps. But the Cardinals face continuous pressure to make cosmetic decisions by fans who are accustomed to making the playoffs EVERY single year. Here’s an example of how small the gap is between the very best team and good teams: the 2016 Cubs and the 2017 Cubs. The Cubs were the best team in baseball in 2016 and about 6th or 7th this season.

  • LawrenceKScardsfan

    Interesting column. When we think about Cardinal post-Pujols strategy, it really centered around Taveras. His loss and the way the Cardinals responded to it was problematic and to me suggested panic rather than sound thinking. Some Cardinals fans believe that Taveras would’ve not met expectations. Who knows? I tend to believe he might’ve.

    A whole lot of Cardinal recent history was a direct result of Taveras’s death. The trade of Miller for Heyward and the loss of Heyward to free agency. The replacement of Miller by Leake (a disastrous move). The unwillingness to offer free agents like Turner or Cespedes a contract. The offer to Price and his rejection of the offer. Presently we’re losing Lynn from the rotation. Wacha’s health remains tenuous. Waino is crawling to retirement. And there really is no power hitter in the farm system that is presently being discussed as a sure bet. So we are in deep doo doo.

    One thing that Bernie neglects to mention is the goal of the organization – 90 wins a season. According to the Cubs record over the last three seasons, a 90-win season is not enough to win the CD. So all we are shooting for is WC contention. And as I’ve droned on and on about, WC contention is a dangerous place to be. Why? Down the stretch you do not necessarily play other WC contending teams and must rely on other teams in other divisions to give you a chance at the WC (especially if you’re behind late). So this goal is problematic.

    Now the young arms drafting philosophy should be examined, not only on its merits, but on its dollars and cents. You see, everything about this team evolves around investments and business acumen. The Cardinals chose to invest in young pitching because they believed that quality starting pitching drives championships and it is the most costly type of free agent. I mean, look at the contract Mike Leake got from the Cardinals as a case in point. But what I don’t like about this philosophy is that it is burdened by another investment strategy – delay bringing up young arms to the majors in order to retain control of these players for as long as possible. So the entire philosophy is being driven by minimizing costs and maximizing profits. We’ve seen this in action for some time. In 2016 most Cardinals fans were pleading for Reyes to be brought to the majors sooner than he was. Why the delay? I think it had something to do with cost control. This season we had needs across the board in the BP and yet the injection of young arms into the fray was delayed. Why? I suspect cost control. So it’s this tight emphasis on cost control that is hurting the teams chances, IMO.

    If you want to stay with starting pitching as the focus of your development, I’m fine with that. Just don’t hesitate to bring them to the majors if the club is in need. As a corollary, if you focus on starting pitching and neglect position players with power, you must be prepared to go after these types of players as free agents or as trades when the need arises. For example, what if Turner had been on the Cards and not on the Dodgers? And going after Stanton will be costly. But I believe it will be worth it. And if the bullpen needs help, you have to be willing to sacrifice control and dip into the projected starter pool to bolster the teams chances. It’s only by doing this that you can put yourself in the contention. And if you’re not willing to put yourself in contention for a championship, then what’s the point?

  • Sage97

    By cherry picking an age group Bernie made things look pretty bad. If you simply check the O-war of the entire team, there is a somewhat different picture. Keep in mind that Gyorko and Jose Martinez are only 28, Pham is 29 and they supplied an O-war of 9. Here are some team O-war totals. Mia 26.1 Dodgers 24.6, Cards 22.0, Mil 18.7, Ariz 18.3, Red Sox 16.0., etc. If the 93 win Red Sox are that weak in their bandbox ballpark, maybe the Cards aren’t that bad off.

  • Sage97

    Another point is that the maturing of younger players is great, but if you don’t retain them when they peak ( possibly KC this offseason) the benefit can be short lived, unless of course you continue to hit the jackpot.

  • jamborewe

    I think if I were DeWitt and Mo, I would target the KC trio of Cain, Hosmer, and Moustakas while holding onto the young pitching. The benefit of developing those arms is close to paying off in a big way. The pitchers are an injury risk but if you are patient enough to allow them to develop arm strength slowly rather than pushing the innings, then the Cards’ many young arms afford them the type of depth that might open a window of opportunity into the playoffs as soon as next season.

    Otherwise, they will wind up dealing the young pitchers for a high payroll bat or bats leaving, little room to afford veteran free agent pitching. This approach assumes that Cain is more talented than any outfielder in the organization that we could start alongside Fowler and Pham. Moustakas and Hosmer we need for their slugging from the left side. DeJong, Gyorko, Martinez, Yadi, and Pham from the right side together with switch-hitters makes them more balanced. In fact, I’d play Wong everyday at second, and Gyorko would float, and pinch hit daily. He is a late or middle inning bat or defensive replacement who can bat DH in American League parks.

  • Realist50

    I have to disagree with a couple of Bernie’s conclusions here.

    First, I dispute that the Cardinals’ philosophy is focused [just] on drafting and developing pitching, with Bernie’s implication that this strategy is to the exclusion of position players. Look at the Cardinals’ first round picks, including comp picks, since 2008, for example – . Those selections include seven position players and eight pitchers. The Cardinals are focused on a broad and balanced strategy of drafting and developing the best available players. Not every player works out obviously – that’s the nature of the MLB draft – but it has produced a lot of successes and isn’t by any means a “pitching only” strategy.

    Second, Bernie’s shorthand for the Cubs’ strategy confuses matters as much as it enlightens.

    A real key for the Cubs’ strategy was that they had five straight top-10 draft picks who all made the majors: Baez (pre-Epstein), Almora, Bryant, Schwarber, and Happ. That was a good run, and they also supplemented that young group with trades that either targeted certain prospects (Rizzo) or sold off veterans for future assets (Russell, Hendricks, Edwards, and to some extent Arrieta). It also, of course, helped the Cubs that several of these players (Bryant, Rizzo, Hendricks, Arrieta) achieved something like the 95th percentile projection of what one would have expected when they were drafted or acquired via trade. The Cardinals, BTW, haven’t had a top 10 draft pick since 1998.

    It’s also worth noting, however, just how little recent Cubs drafts have contributed other than those top 10 picks. Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres were both highly touted international amateur free agents who signed for bonuses of $2.8 million and $1.7 million, respectively. Each was basically the equivalent of a high draft pick. Vogelbach (2nd round draft pick) developed into an OK but not too exciting prospect who returned Montgomery in a trade. Cease (2nd round draft pick and a pitcher) was part of the Quintana trade. After all of the past few years’ promotions and trades, however, the Cubs farm system looks very thin. An end of season ranking rated the Cubs’ farm system at 25th out of the 30th MLB teams –

    Finally, I think that we are starting to see the downside of the Cubs’ “buy free agent pitchers” strategy. Pitching is also very expensive and hard to find in free agency. Top of the rotation quality starters get $25 to $30 million per year in free agency on contracts that usually run 5 to 7 years. Even mid-rotation, league average-ish innings eater starters get about $15 to $20 million per year on 3 to 5 year contracts. So building a quality 5-man starting rotation just in free agency costs something like $75 to $100 million in payroll, typically with fairly long multi-year commitments. It’s true that it’s possible to dumpster dive a bit for pitchers with questions surrounding health or age. The difference between 2016 John Lackey (3.1 fWAR) and 2017 John Lackey (0.5 fWAR) shows that sometimes that strategy works, but sometimes these players flop. And even an older John Lackey signed for 2 years / $32 million: the savings for his age was on years of commitment, not per year salary. Alternately, the cost in prospects to trade for cost-controlled starting pitching is very high, such as the Quintana trade.

    Lastly, there’s a key point here about rotation depth. Pitchers get hurt at a high rate – not just prospects, but established veterans also. So a 5-man rotation isn’t enough. A team also needs enough depth to have another 2-3 starting pitchers available with the expectation that they’ll cumulatively make on the order of 30-50 starts each year. A pipeline of pitching prospects in AAA and AA is the easiest way to have this depth, as otherwise teams are need to pay up (in prospects) for in-season trades or sign more than 5 legitimate starting pitching options, which gets expensive and is sometimes simply difficult to do (pitchers generally prefer to sign somewhere where they know they’ll have an Opening Day rotation spot, other things being equal).