The Cardinals missed the playoffs this year. Can these players bring them back with improved performances?
The Cardinals’ season is over, which means its time to make reckless predictions about the future. Much has been made of the Cardinals’ supposedly “aging” core. Many people seem to think that they are in jeopardy for the future because of a lack of youth on the roster. The fact is, there are a number of Cardinals players who stand to improve their numbers for 2017, and hopefully give the Cardinals a shot at redemption for the next season. I’m going to take a look at the players who were on the Cardinals roster in 2016 and see which ones will improve the most for 2017.
We’ll lead off with the most controversial of the players I’ve picked. Whether or not Jaime Garcia is even on the Cardinals next season is up for debate (and probably unlikely), but regardless of where he ends up he will definitely improve on his 2016. Remember, Garcia was pitching very well for a long stretch of the season, but his sudden collapse in crucial games led many to believe he was not a good pitcher. Recency bias aside, Garcia threw 171.2 IP this year, the most since his age 24 season back in 2011. Garcia is 30, which is not a spring chick but certainly not old enough to write off his decline as old age. Besides, he’s not a Lincecum-esque pitcher that has electric stuff that requires precise command. His pitch-to-contact philosophy should actually age well.
The major problem with Garcia has been injury issues. Garcia has already had Tommy John, rotator cuff and thoracic outlet surgery, and each surgery has limited the amount of games he’s played over the past couple of years. However, because of these injury issues, Garcia was never able to build up the stamina to throw 150+ innings a year, and this may be the root cause of his fade in September. Even if the Cardinals do not pick up Garcia’s option, a healthy and rested Garcia may come back next year stronger than ever.
"I think one thing that has defined this Cardinals team is the emergence of Aledmys Diaz" – @DannyMacTV
— The Fast Lane (@101ESPNFastLane) September 28, 2016
Usually when a random infielder comes out of nowhere and starts raking, there is an expectation of a mild to severe sophomore slump. Somehow, the Cardinals consistently buck this trend (i.e. Matt Carpenter) and I expect it to continue next year for Diaz. As I discussed earlier, Diaz’s success has been built off of solid contact and a broad approach to the plate. Now, entering his age 26 season, Diaz is in a great position to build off of his all star season in 2016. He strikes out less than league average (13.0 K%) and walks more (8.9 BB%), he hits for power across the diamond and his BABIP (.312) is right around league average (.300). Plus, like many other rookies, he doesn’t struggle against a certain type of pitch and he can hit both righties and lefties. There isn’t much else to say about Diaz. He’s young and healthy and should continue to improve going into next year.
Reminder: Alex Reyes just turned 22. After pitching 5 innings of 1 run ball in his first major league start on August 27th, Reyes couldn’t even go out for a beer. He pitched in only 12 games this year and started only 5 of those. When Reyes did pitch though, he was lights out. The first step in evaluating a rookie pitcher’s season is to smack yourself in the face and repeat “small sample size” over and over again. This is especially true for Reyes, he threw only 46 IP. But oh were those 46 IP tantalizing. Reyes displayed some electric stuff with 10.9 SO/9 and a 2.2 WAR in his shortened season. From a statistical stand point, I don’t think Reyes will be strictly better than a 263 ERA+ and a 1.57 ERA, but it is important to remember that about 37% of his innings came in relief. Reyes’ made only one start of 7 IP this year. Be ready to see a lot more of that next season. Reyes is prepared to move into the rotation in 2017, and when he does the 21 year old will be ready to rise to the occasion.
Stephen Piscotty burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2015 when he hit .305/.359/.494 in his age 24 season. Expectations were high for the young Piscotty as he entered 2016 when suddenly the sky darkened, a bolt of lightning cracked down from above and a booming voice thundered down, “SMALL SAMPLE SIZE!” Indeed, in a longer sample size Piscotty’s slash line dropped to .273/.343/.457 which are still excellent numbers across the board. I would advise against doubting Piscotty next year though. He’s still very young, and last year he struggled with a couple injuries that kept him off the field for 9 games. However, his strikeout and walk percentages (20.5 K% and 7.9 BB%) stayed around the same as his stellar rookie season, indicating that his rookie numbers weren’t just a fluke. Most seem to agree that late 20’s early 30’s is the beginning of baseball prime, and Piscotty is now entering that stretch of his career. Expect big things from him in the 2017 season.
Honorable Mentions: Kolten Wong, Luke Weaver, Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez
Photo: Jeff Curry- USA Today