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St. Louis Cardinals' 2009 Season Preview

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St. Louis Cardinals' 2009 Season Preview
(Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

2008 Record: 86 -76

Key Additions: Khalil Greene

Key Subtractions: Jason Isringhausen, Cesar Izturis, Braden Looper, Felipe Lopez, Aaron Miles

 

A Look at the Lineup

Last October, when all the dust had settled, the St. Louis Cardinals finished with a record of 86–76, chiefly due to the strength of their surprise offence.  

The Cards got surprising production from Right Fielder Ryan Ludwick and newly acquired Third Basemen Troy Glaus who played a shocking 151 games at the hot corner, his second highest total since 2002.

The Cardinals managed to rack up the fourth most runs in the National League behind an attack lead by the heart of the order.

Albert Pujols has established himself as a MVP candidate year in and year out. He got some help last year when pitchers had to worry about the combined 91 home runs belted out by Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel and Troy Glaus.

Throw in Pujols and his 37 dingers and those four men accounted for 73 percent of the Redbirds home runs last season.

 

Catcher

Behind the plate, we have one of the many talented Molina brothers. Yadier is only going to be 26 in 2009, but finally looked like it was coming together for him as an everyday major leaguer in 2008.

He posted career highs in most offensive categories including hits, average, OBP, runs scored, RBI and Slugging. Although his strikeout and walk numbers remained similar to years past, he did see a career high in at bats and subsequently his largest career hit total as well.

On the defensive side of the ball his range factor rated 19th out of the 20 catchers that started more than 100 games in 2008. That being said, his range factor was holding fairly steady at 6.49 compared to his career mark of 6.86.

He also posted a career worst in caught stealing percentage. He allowed 34 stolen bases on 52 attempts. That being said, his 34.6 percent was good enough tie his brother Bengie for fifth among everyday catchers.

Also, 52 was the second lowest number of attempts against and everyday catcher showing that players are still leery of an arm that threw out almost half (47.8 percent) of would be base stealer over his career.

All this, and he is only 26.

 

First Base

What do you even say?

Albert Pujols is having his numbers measured against the all time greats; and why not? He has just collected another MVP award, and amongst active players he is in the top three in average, OBP, Slugging Percentage, and OPS.

After eighth years in the big leagues, he’s 98th all time in home runs, ninth in home runs per at bat, 23rd in batting average, 13th in OBP, fourth in slugging, and fifth in career OPS.

Oh yeah, and in 2006 he threw in a gold glove just to prove he could pick it. I’d write more, but you know score on Albert, Prince. More like King!

 

Second Base

Jared Schumaker...Sorry Skip I just had to.

Schumaker showed great promise for the Cardinals last season making starts at all three outfield positions. But with the release of Adam Kennedy, it looks like the Cardinals have Schumaker penciled in to be one half of their everyday double play combination.

The Cardinals have every intention of this being a full time transition for the accomplished outfielder who became the table setter for the Cardinals in 2008.

When Adam Kennedy was released, this idea seemed crazy, but as of Mar. 26 the St. Louis Dispatch reports general manager John Mozeliak has confirmed that the job belongs to Schumaker.

Defensively, what does that mean? We’ll soon find out.

Offensively, Schumaker gives the Cardinals something dynamic at the second sack.

He’s a little light on power, but in the lead off spot if he can repeat his line from 2008 (.302/.359/.406), or even his career numbers that include limited at bats in 2006 and 2007, he should prove the same kind of spark as a year ago when the Cardinals produced 779 runs, good for fourth in the NL, and 10th in the Majors.

 

Shortstop

The Cardinals biggest move of the off-season was getting former first round pick Khalil Greene from the San Diego Padres. Greene will be asked to replace the defensive stability left behind by Cesar Izturis.

Greene is an interesting case of how a player's overall numbers seem to disguise what kind of player he really is. In the last three years, Greene’s home vs. away splits are staggering.

Keep in mind both of these data sets come from a similar number of at bats, 696 at home vs. 719 on the road.

Overall numbers 2006 – 2008 .240/.291/.421

Home numbers   2006 - 2008: .214/.275/.378

Road numbers     2006 - 2008: .265/.307/.462

His road performance also outdid his home numbers in hits, doubles, home runs, and runs batted in. He also struck out 29 times less.

Greene could be a much more effective player for the Cardinals in 2009 than many would anticipate. Although I do wonder how that double play combination is going to come together with Greene, who posted a 4.19 RF in 2008, and a converted outfield that has never fielded the position before.

 

Third Base

2008 was the first season in the last couple the Cardinals saw some stability at third.

Troy Glaus had an outstanding year, playing in 151 games, posting 27 HR, and 99 RBI. Along with Pujols, Ankiel and Ludwick, he gave the Cardinals substantial pop in their lineup. He also managed to raise his batting average and OBP 15 and 13 points respectively over his career average.

This all looked very promising, until this spring when Glaus ceased all baseball activities and was placed on the 15-day disabled list. Although, even with his injury, Glaus may be capable of the same type of production as last season.

The Cardinals are going to take this opportunity to audition David Freese. He looks to be the heir apparent to the third place job.

It is never sure how a players numbers are going to translate out of Triple-A, but last year looking at his Minor League Equivalency Calculation that take into account league and park factors, Freese projects into a fairly nice major leaguer.

In a full season we’d be look at 464 at bats, 20 home runs and a line of .268/.310/.457 in his first year in 'The Show', based on his Triple A production.

Glaus is expected back in late April. With Freese, the Cardinals may not miss a beat.

 

Left Field

Only six days until opening day, and this position still seems to be a coin flip.

Colby Rasmus? He could be the starter. 

Chris Duncan sounds like he has the inside track on the job though. Both have been hitting the ball well, and we may see a platoon situation between the former first basemen, and the center fielder of the future.

As of right now, my money is on Rasmus to be the everyday out fielder by the end of the season. Duncan has major league experience, but he has proven to be streaky at best. He had an April where he batted .288 with a .839 OPS in April.

That even includes a 10 day stretch at the end of the month that was part of a 63 game stretch where he batted .231 with his OPS at .645.

Rasmus only projects at .216/.292/.328, which may be a little deceiving, as he was injured in 2008. Rasmus is only 23 this year, and I think you’ll see him steal a certain number at bats over the year and work his way into the everyday lineup.

 

Center Field

Rick Ankiel, the former breakout Cardinals pitcher looks to have completed his conversion to big league outfielder.

Although at 29, it looks like the center field might have a little more pop than he has already displayed at 27 dingers in his first full season in the major league outfielders.

Ankiel has locked up the job and there is no discussion as to who will be the everyday center fielder for the Red Birds this year.

Depending on how much promise Rasmus works out, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ankiel go to right and Ludwick go to left by the end of 2009. That's my bold prediction for the year.

 

Right Field

Ryan Ludwick broke out huge last year and blasted 37 Home runs. Although the Slugging percentage dropped slightly in the second half of the season, he raised both his batting average and OBP significantly.

Pre All-Star Break: .289/.365/.5597

Post All-Star Break: .313/.388/.583

Other than June and September he batted over .300 every month, and in September he hit .291.

Ludwick was also fourth in range factor, and tied for fourth in assists among right fielder among right fielders that played two thirds of their team’s games at the position.

 

Starting Pitchers

This will probably be the surprise rotation of the summer, Wainwright and Carpenter if healthy are a great one two punch, and Kyle Lohse has been pegged as many people’s sleeper pick for the year.

Adam Wainwright only made 20 starts in 2008 with an index finger problem that kept him out for two months. That being said he improved in every statistical category over his coming out party in 2007.

Look for Wainwright to be a legitimate CY Young candidate in 2009.

Chris Carpenter a pitcher that went from a pile of unfilled potential in Toronto, to CY Young award winner and World Series champion in St. Louis. Health has always been Carpenters issue. He’s only made four starts in the last two seasons. He won 51 games from 2004-2006.

He doesn’t look like he’ll ever reach that plateau again, but at the same time, in those three years he never had an ERA of over 3.46 since going to the national league.

Kyle Lohse looks to be another product of Dave Duncan. One of a few pitching coaches with the ability to make a pitcher better. He was almost a full run better on his ERA at home last year pitched about up to his maximum potential in 2008.

I’m not sure he’s up to winning 15 games again, but with Duncan staying on top of thing, 15 might be in the cards, 13 seems very plausible as does the ability to eat up close to 200 innings in the process.

Joel Pinero is another Duncan product. The Cardinals are hoping he can be more productive than his 5.15 ERA from a year ago.

Wellenmeyer has spent most of his career in the pen, so there is no telling if his 191.2 innings will be a cause for a trip or two to the pen in 2009. If not he does have the stuff to repeat his 13-9 effort from a year ago.

 

Bullpen

The Cards bullpen is much like its rotation: a ton of upside. Can they be any worse than the Pen that blew 31 leads in 2008? I would say probably not.

 

Outlook

The lineup will sizzle all summer without question. Expect them to be in the top five in the National League in runs scored again.

With a “healthy” Carpenter and Wainwright I think the starting pitching steps up and surprises in 2009. If the bullpen blows half the games it blew last year, that’s another 15 wins.

That would equal 101 wins! I don’t see that happening exactly, but I could certainly see a Cardinals team that improves a lot in 2009.

I see the Cardinals at 10 wins better with a stable pen, 95-67. Firmly believe that they lose the division by a sliver to the Cubs.

Check out this the other 30 MLB Team Previews at www.rbimagazine.com

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