Between injuries and slumps, the 2022 St Louis Cardinals have seen significant chaos play out on the lineup they intended to field on an everyday basis. Position Wars simply compares the impact on the won-lost record of the different options that Oliver Marmol has employed in his mix-and-match lineups.
The elements that determine victory and defeat are varied and complex, and rarely as simple as starting X over Y at a particular position, so all of this is to be taken with a grain or two of salt – especially in instances where the sample size is still quite small.
The upheaval here is greater than anticipated. In Yadier Molina’s final season, he was to be the anchor behind the plate. And even though it was determined that he would get more rest than in previous seasons, he went into the season as the number one guy here.
Fast-forward to mid-July, and Yadi has only been on the active roster for 63 of the first 94 games. When on the roster, Yadi has only started 35 games – and when he has played, it’s been a struggle – both at the plate and behind it. So, the first half has belonged to Andrew Knizner – whose trial by fire could have gone better.
Andrew has made 48 starts, leading the team to a 24-24 record. The team is 20-15 in Yadi’s starts. Molina’s absence has prompted the temporary promotion of rookie Ivan Herrera (6 starts) and the acquisition of veteran Austin Romine (5 starts). They have done alright (a combined 6-5).
But this team will need its captain playing at a reasonable facsimile of his former self for the second half and into the playoffs if they are going to achieve what they believe they are capable of.
The story here isn’t quite as simple as Paul Goldschmidt, set it and forget it. With the dh now a permanent stain on National League baseball, Oli has delighted in benching Goldschmidt’s glove. Because he can.
Goldy has already missed 19 games at first base – many more than in any previous healthy season. He is currently just eighth in the 15-team league in innings at first. And it has made a difference. When Paul brings his glove to work, the team is 41-34. They are 9-10 when he’s not at his position.
In fairness, this number has evened out a little recently. The Cards have won 4 of the last 6 games that Goldschmidt didn’t play at first. Of the players who have logged time there as his replacements, the best results have come – surprisingly to me at least – from Albert Pujols. In all honesty, there have been times when Albert has looked like an old man standing at first. Still, he has made 7 starts at first, and the team is 5-2 in those games.
While there has been a slight, recent upturn when Goldy hasn’t been on the field, it will take more than six games to convince me that it doesn’t matter if Paul plays the field or not.
The beginning-of-the-season plan returned Tommy Edman – the NL’s reigning gold glove winner at second. In between then and now, Tommy has relinquished his station – albeit through no fault of his own.
The Cards have employed three different starting second basemen – all three making at least 13 starts there. And the records of all three are fairly similar. Edman has still made the most starts (46), with the team going 24-22 in those games. They are 19-16 in 35 starts from rookie Nolan Gorman, and 7-6 when Donovan starts there.
But if the won-lost records are similar, the paths to these records are not. Of the three, the team ERA is lowest with the gold glover. In Edman’s 46 starts, the club has maintained a 3.41 ERA. Problematically, though, the offense suffers in these games – the 4.46 runs they score per game being the lowest of the three second basemen.
Again, though, the issue is not with Edman. If Tommy is at second, then that will mean that one of the team’s struggling shortstops is in the lineup (we’ll get to them in just a second). The team’s solution has been to move Edman over to shortstop to open opportunities for the other two second basemen.
Offensively, the team has responded better to Donovan (5.08 rpg), but the team ERA is also the highest in his 13 games (4.30). Gorman’s numbers are in between the other two, as the team is scoring 4.57 runs per game, with a 4.00 team ERA in Nolan’s starts at second.
Although he lost the job by the end of last season, Paul DeJong opened the season as the shortstop-apparent after a promising spring. Paul stayed on the big-league roster for 28 games, making 23 starts, before he was banished to AAA, the victim of a disappointing .130/.209/.208 slash line.
The bad news for the Cards is that Edmundo Sosa – the man who replaced DeJong last year – has also suffered through a struggling offensive campaign. He hit the break hitting .188/.246/.265 after hitting .271/.346/.389 last year.
It was the quest for some offensive production from the shortstop position that prompted the sliding of Edman to the left side of the infield.
Surprisingly, the team record is still better when DeJong played there. St Louis was 14-9 (.609) when Paul started at short – although they are solidly over .500 with both principal alternates. They are 13-11 with Sosa (even though they are only scoring 4.00 runs per game in his games), and are 22-19 with Tommy there (although the team ERA is just 4.30 in those games).
Of the three, the team ERA is best with Sosa at short (2.87) – and I’m inclined to buy into that number. Edmundo has the best arm of the three, and plays short with an aggressive athleticism that breeds a lot of confidence.
As impressive as the rookie Gorman has been from time-to-time, the best thing that could happen for the Cards going forward would be to slide Edman back to second and have either Sosa or DeJong reclaim short. But for that to work, one of them will have to hit. In the few games before the break, Sosa started to look more like the hitter from last year. Meanwhile, DeJong has suddenly turned on the power in AAA. If one of those shortstops can re-discover his previous offensive prowess, it would bode very well for the Cardinals’ second half.
Honestly, I’m not sure what to say about third. As with first, the number one guy – Nolan Arenado – has watched a lot of baseball from the dugout. A legendary defender, Oliver has already benched his glove 15 times this season – already costing him more defensive games than any other season in his career – while slotting him in as the team’s dh. As with Goldschmidt, Nolan only ranks eighth in the league in defensive innings at third.
Unlike Goldy at first, though, St Louis continues to win when Nolan is a defensive by-stander. Arenado has made 12 starts at third this month. The Cards are 3-9 in those games, and 4-0 when someone else starts there. For the season Nolan has been the Cardinal third baseman only 79 times. The team is 39-40 in those games, scoring just 4.32 runs per game.
Donovan – who has started everywhere on the field except catcher and center field – Has made 9 starts at third and has played well. It’s only 9 games, but the team record is 6-3 in those games, with an aggregate 3.11 ERA. The team is also 5-1 when Sosa plays third.
In spite of the combined record of 11-4, I’m a long way from believing that this is a better team when only employing Nolan’s bat, but this is a trend worth keeping an eye on.
Injuries and hitting struggles have also scrambled the expected outfield alignments. Back for the last three games before the break, intended starting left fielder Tyler O’Neill (another gold glove winner from last year) has played only 45 games in left. In his absence, a tag-team of 5 other players have manned left – three of them playing at least 13 games there.
His most prominent replacement has been Yepez – himself, now on the injured list. Juan has made 18 starts in left, leading the team to a 9-9 record in those games. Donovan – another infielder by trade – has made 13 starts there. The team is only 5-8 in those games.
Surprisingly, the team’s best record belongs to Corey Dickerson – originally brought aboard to handle the left-handed dh duty. Fifteen starts still represents a small sample size, but the team is 10-5 in those games, and is scoring 5.93 runs in the games that Dickerson starts in left.
As for O’Neill himself, the team is only 23-22 when he has made the start.
Center fielder Harrison Bader (again, currently off the roster as he nurses a painful case of planter fasciitis) joined Arenado, Edman, O’Neill and Goldschmidt as gold glove winners last year – and, as with all the others it is almost a rarity to see him actually playing this year the position he won his gold glove for last year. The supposed everyday center fielder has been available to the Cards for just 65 games. The team is 36-29 (.554) when they have their center-fielder, and 14-15 when they don’t.
Dylan Carlson (his replacement for 24 of those games) has played well – more than credibly, in fact. But St Louis is just 11-13 in the games he’s started there. Lars Nootbaar has made 5 cameo appearances in center, with the team winning three of those games.
Carlson, of course, was supposed to be the everyday right fielder. He missed 17 games, himself, earlier this season nursing a hamstring strain. With that absence added to his time in center, Dylan has only reported to right field for 44 games so far this season – and the team is just 22-22 in those games.
The Cards have had success with almost every other player that have sent to right. Dickerson has repeated a little of his left field magic in right – the team is 4-1 when he starts there. They are also 9-5 when Yepez is in right, and 6-4 with Nootbaar. Of the five players who have replaced Dylan in right, only Donovan and rookie Conner Capel haven’t lifted the team to a better than .500 record in their starts – the team is 6-6 in Donovan’s starts, and 0-4 with Capel.
Management, I’m sure, believes that at some point this season they will have their outfield and their catcher healthy and back on the field all at the same time. If that happens, it should give the squad a substantial boost.
If it doesn’t though, this team will persevere. This is a tough team that wastes no energy worrying about those players they don’t have available, and has complete faith in its depth – which has performed admirably in keeping the team afloat.
Still, it would be nice to see the team management put together play together for a few more games in the second half than in the first. Not counting the middle of the infield – which is undergoing some organizational flux – the Cards have had their starting catcher, corner infielders, and starting outfield on the field for the same game just 13 times in the season’s first 94 contests. Only 4 of those games occurred after April, with the last coming on June 11 – 34 games ago. If we can do better than that in the second half, things can only look up.