photo: Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna (Jeff Curry/Imagn)
This post-mortem of the St. Louis Cardinals’ 2019 regular season is a follow-on article to this in-depth piece on spring training and a month-by-month recap:
The focus here is on key numbers behind the 91-win season that powered the Cards to the National League Central Division title.
Major sections that follow:
- New arrivals
- Medical update
- Defensive improvement
- Team stats
- Player stats leaders
- Standings breakdown
- Ticket sales
- In conclusion
The Cardinals used 43 players in 2019, including 14 who were age 24 or younger. The youngest players were age 22 (Jordan Hicks, Junior Fernandez and Genesis Cabrera) and the oldest 37 (Adam Wainwright).
Eight players made their Major League debuts with St. Louis in 2019 – Randy Arozarena, Genesis Cabrera, Tommy Edman, Junior Fernandez, Ryan Helsley, Andrew Knizner, Rangel Ravelo and Lane Thomas.
Health was a generally positive factor for St. Louis in 2019. 18 players spent time on the injured list, down from 36 in 2018. Two players missed the entire season due to injury (LHP Brett Cecil and LHP Tony Cingrani, acquired in trade).
By the end of the season, the two were joined on the 60-day injured list by outfielder Lane Thomas and closer Jordan Hicks. The latter, who required Tommy John surgery in late June, was the greatest loss.
Defense was a major plus for St. Louis in 2019. The Cardinals set a club record with just 66 errors and posted a league-best .998 fielding percentage. They tied the White Sox for the MLB lead in double plays with 170. This was a major change as the Cardinals led the majors with 133 errors in 2018 and became the first team to go from worst to first in errors in back-to-back seasons.
In new defensive stats, the Cards fared exceptionally well. In Ultimate Zone Rating/150, the Cards were first in the NL at 6.0 (second in MLB) and second in both the NL and MLB in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) with 95.
The coaching staff readily accepted data indicating opposing hitter tendencies, and according to Inside Edge, the Cards made the most effective use of shifts of any MLB team.
One of my favorite things that @InsideEdgeScout provides is shift data captured by eyesight. It is still somewhat subjective but IMO their method is very reliable.
Most shifts: LAD, least WAS.
Most hits prevented: TBR, least WAS.
Most efficient use of shifts: STL, worst NYY. pic.twitter.com/FmcwREmnQV
— CJ Nitkowski (@CJNitkowski) September 30, 2019
Individually, the team had six Gold Glove Award “finalists”, top three finishers, with Kolten Wong winning his first award, as well as The Fielding Bible’s top MLB second baseman. Shortstop Paul DeJong also had an exceptional season defensively per advanced fielding metrics.
Statistically, the Cardinals had the worst hitting of the teams that made the playoffs. In the 15-team National League this season, the Cardinals finished 10th in runs scored, 11th in batting average and 12th in slugging.
As it has in recent years, pitching continued to lead the way for St. Louis. The 2019 team ERA was second in the league, up from sixth in both 2017 and 2018. The actual ERA itself improved year-to-year-year from 4.01 to 3.85 to 3.80.
St. Louis’ starters ERA of 3.78 was third-best in the NL, same ranking as in 2017, though the ERA itself was up from 3.52 the year before. The team’s relief ERA, on the other hand, showed tremendous improvement. The 2018 mark of 4.38 had been fourth-worst in the 15-team league, but was second-best in 2019 at 3.82. St. Louis’ bullpen WHIP, a surrogate for baserunners allowed, went from second-worst in the NL at 1.47 to second-best at 1.22 this season.
The offense was disappointing, with the 10th place finish in the National League in runs scored a drop from fifth the year before. In the slash stats, the Cardinals were also down in all four measures compared to 2018 as a bottom-third unit – just 11th in average (.245), 10th in OBP (.322) and 12th in slugging (.415) and OPS (.737).
The 2019 Cardinals made major improvement on the bases, improving from 63/14th in steals to 116/2nd. Further, their success rate was a good 80 percent.
Player stats leaders
|Home runs||34||Paul Goldschmidt||K rate||33.3%||Giovanny Gallegos|
|RBI||97||Goldschmidt||BB rate||4.2%||Miles Mikolas|
|Stolen bases||24||Kolten Wong||HR/9||0.037||Carlos Martinez|
|Walk rate||12.9%||Dexter Fowler||LOB %||87.3%||Gallegos|
|Strikeout rate||12.8%||Yadier Molina||GB %||67.2%||Jordan Hicks|
|Isolated power||0.231||Marcell Ozuna||ERA||2.31||Gallegos|
|Batting average||0.304||Tommy Edman||FIP||2.86||Martinez|
Detailed articles on key individual player stats from the 2019 Cardinals have already been posted. To dig into those, check out these four articles:
- TCN’s 2019 St. Louis Cardinals Rookie of the Year
- TCN’s 2019 St. Louis Cardinals Relief Pitcher of the Year
- TCN’s 2019 St. Louis Cardinals Starting Pitcher of the Year
- TCN’s 2019 St. Louis Cardinals Player of the Year
The Cardinals hung around first place all season in the tight NL Central, never more than five games out, though they slipped into fourth place for 10 days in May. While St. Louis was in first place at some point in every month except June, they were out of the top spot continuously from May 7 until July 25.
The 2019 Cardinals last had a losing record on July 12 (44-45) and left .500 behind for the last time just two days later. The club reached its high-water mark of 23 games over .500 on September 23 (90-67).
The team won six consecutive games three times, once in each of the final three months of the regular season – from July 21-26 (Cin, Pit, Hou), August 23-27 (Col, Mil) and September 18-23 (Was, ChC, Ari). The club lost five straight twice – from June 23-29 (LAA, Oak, SD) and August 3-7 (Oak, LAD).
There were no major areas in which St. Louis had a negative split, and on the positive side, they were 19 games over .500 at Busch Stadium (50-31) and 16 games over .500 (46-30) in the NL Central.
After being dominated by the Cubs in 2016 and 2017, the Cards won the season series 10-9 for the second consecutive year. St. Louis played Wild Card Milwaukee to the same 10-9 advantage in 2019.
In one-run contests, St. Louis finished only slightly above .500 at 25-22 but fared better in extra-inning games at 8-4.
The Cardinals surpassed the three million mark in season attendance for the 16th-straight year (2004-19) and the 23rd time overall. The total of 3,480,393 (42,968 per game average) ranked second only to the Dodgers in MLB. It was fifth-best in franchise history and included 22 sell outs. Even so, there seemed more empty seats than usual even though discounts were prevalent, television ratings were down and all playoff games did not sell out.
Put that all together and the St. Louis Cardinals returned to the post-season after a three-year drought in Mike Shildt’s first full year at the helm.
The defense was exceptional and the pitching was also very good, but the offense was inconsistent thanks to subpar seasons from most of the starters, especially, but not limited to Matt Carpenter. Marcell Ozuna is likely to leave in free agency, leaving a gap in the middle of the lineup that probably cannot be filled by internal candidates.
There is optimism that this core can improve in 2020, but that will be difficult without a number of players, including Paul Goldschmidt, Carpenter, Dexter Fowler and Miles Mikolas, returning to their prior career norms.
With unfavorable Carpenter and Fowler contracts on the books and committed salary increases to a number of others, keeping the current roster seems the path of least resistance. This also indicates there is little payroll room for major improvements from the outside this winter.
As a result, despite how successful 2019 was, a segment of the team’s fan base is restless about 2020.
Link to master article with all 2019 award winners and team recaps for the entire system. This 50-article annual series will conclude with a look back at St. Louis’ 2019 post-season.
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