By Paul Ivice with Brian Walton
A much-younger St. Louis Cardinals’ entry team in the US dropped from 40 wins in 2018 to just 20, their worst record since 2008.
The threat posed by Hurricane Dorian to Florida caused the 2019 Gulf Coast League to be shut down two days before the scheduled end to the season, which meant cancellation of the Cardinals’ final two games.
Considering that the Baby Birds had lost their last eight in a row by a combined score of 78-30, the early end to the season was merciful.
The Cardinals finished 20-34, 10 games behind the East Division champion Marlins, which finished percentage points ahead of the Mets. The last-place Cardinals were 6-1/2 games behind the fourth-place Astros, which at 25-26 was the only other team in the division under .500.
The league also canceled the playoffs because of the impending hurricane, so no league champion was crowned.
Though the Cardinals were the worst team in the East Division, they were not the worst in the league.
Four GCL teams had fewer than the Cardinals’ 20 wins, and one of them also had more than 34 losses. Two clubs had a lower winning percentage than the Cardinals’ .370.
That .370 mark is the Cardinals’ worst record in the GCL since the 2008 team went 17-38, .309. It is the lowest winning percentage for any St. Louis minor league club in a difficult 2019 overall for the system.
The Cardinals offense, which at the halfway point of the season had a fifth-best OPS of .713, finished the season with a .672 OPS, which ranked 11th. To get their OPS to drop 41 points over their final 26 games meant they produced a .621 OPS in the second half, with a .214 team batting average.
Though they led the league in home runs, extra base hits and total bases for most of the season, they were overtaken in all three categories at season’s end, so the only offensive category in which they led the GCL at the end was strikeouts, with 510.
The Cardinals’ .384 slugging percentage through the first 28 games was second only to the defending league champion Tigers West team, but in the final 26 games, the Cardinals slugged .320.
They were also last in stolen bases with 32 and steal percentage (51%).
For the season, they were outscored by opponents 327-216, and almost all of that 111-run difference was in the first five innings, when they were outscored 209-105.
Though the offense was often slow to get going, at least it was middle of the pack statistically, 11th in OPS and 10th in runs scored.
The pitching staff produced the league’s worst ERA at 5.17, more than a quarter of a run worse than the next-to-worst Pirates, and nearly a run higher than the next-worst in their division (Astros’ 4.19).
The Cardinals pitchers walked the third-most batters in the 18-team league, and were below average in strikeouts at 10th.
The Cardinals defense was responsible for the league’s highest total of unearned runs, 59. Their fielding percentage of .961 was just 14th.
The catchers were just a tick above the GCL average in caught stealing at 29 percent (vs. the GCL mark of 28 percent).
Age and experience change
The most notable difference between this season’s team and last year’s 40-win league championship club is that most of the players the Cardinals signed out of this year’s draft were assigned to higher classifications. Most of the few drafted players assigned to the GCL were signed out of high school.
At 19.0 years of age, the average age of Cardinals hitters was seventh-youngest in the 18-team league and under the league offensive player average of 19.4. Cards pitchers averaged 19.9 years of age, fifth-youngest in the league and under the 20.3 league midpoint. That compares to 20.2 for hitters and 20.8 for pitchers in 2018, so the 2019 Cardinals were considerably younger.
While 18-year old, second-round draft pick Trejyn Fletcher was promoted out of the GCL after only nine games, comparably drafted Dylan Carlson had played 50 games for the GCL Cardinals in his pro debut season and Nick Plummer played in 51 the year before Carlson.
Drafted players contributed 56 percent of at-bats and 51.5 percent of the innings pitched to the 2018 team, and most of those had college experience. This year’s team had 18.4 percent of at-bats and 18.1 percent of innings pitched from drafted (and non-drafted free agent) players.
The college players bring more experience not only to the field but the clubhouse as well. Draft position has nothing to do with it. Last year, Zack Gahagan, who was 23 and drafted in the 39th round out of a Division I university, was a steadying influence on the younger players.
For most of this season, all of the position players were teenagers, and the oldest member of the pitching staff was 21-year-old Anthony Green, a 33rd-round pick who was mostly a position player at Jefferson College, a community college in Hillsboro, southwest of St. Louis.
Making the GCL team essentially an extension of the Cardinals academy in the Dominican Republic and its two DSL teams there meant the team had much less experience that its competition or previous GCL Cardinals teams.
Add into the equation manager Josh Lopez, who has much less experience in professional baseball than his predecessors — Erick Almonte and Steve Turco – and you have a team overmatched by its competition.
Link to master article with all 2019 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Next up will be our Johnson City Cardinals Team Review.
Bonus for Members of The Cardinal Nation
Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.
© 2019 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.