Analyzing St. Louis Cardinals Hitters For 2020

Hunter Denson breaks down the St. Louis Cardinals lineup for the 2020 fantasy season.

The Cardinals made a big splash on December 5, 2018, landing Paul Goldshmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks for a package including young catcher Carson Kelly and righty Luke Weaver

The deal was dissected at length by many but few argued that Goldschmidt would not drastically help a Cardinal lineup that already boasted Marcell Ozuna and Matt Carpenter. Improvement did not come. While the Cardinals offense did get slightly better numerically in a few categories (210 HR in 2019, 205 HR in 2018; 764 Runs in 2019, 759 Runs in 2018), they in no way kept up with the offensive explosion seen around the league. 

As a team, they finished 2019 ranked in the bottom-third in SLG, OPS, Runs, Home Runs, and most other offensive categories apart from SB (116 SB in 2019, 63 SB in 2018). So what happened? Goldschmidt’s production, while solid, experienced a big dip from his 2018 season (.346 wOBA in 2019, .390 wOBA in 2018; 116 wRC+ in 2019, 146 wRC+ in 2018). Ozuna produced another mediocre season and Carpenter lost most of the effectiveness he showed in 2018. These disappointments (and others) masked positive gains by Kolten Wong and Tommy Edman and left St. Louis with a mediocre attack that hopes to improve from within in 2020. 

Roster Changes

Hitter Previews

Catchers

Yadier Molina (C|Batting 6th)

2019: 45 R, 10 HR, 57 RBI, 6 SB, .270/.312/.399 | C #11 (Per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: 246.04 (C #15)

Catcher is a frustrating fantasy position but over his career, Yadier Molina has been one of the most consistent and productive backstops in the game. Take a look at how he compares to JT Realmuto over the last three seasons:

2019 was Molina’s 16th season manning the plate for the St. Louis Cardinals and though a thumb injury cost him most of July, he still managed to put up solid numbers at the dish. The diminished power (.129 ISO, -.045 in 2019) he displayed last season is worrisome but his strong quality of contact (.275 xBA/.325 xwOBA/.443 xSLG) curbs fears about an overall offensive decline. His consistent production on the bases (2nd most steals by C in 2019) also adds a wrinkle typically unseen at the position. Age is a factor with Yadi but until he shows decline he displays limited risk for the position.

Strengths: AVG, SB

Weaknesses: HR, RBI

Best Case Scenario

Molina avoids an extended trip to the IL and posts production somewhere in between what he put up in 2018 and 2019, offering owners above-average production in all categories except HR.

Worst Case Scenario

Injuries pile up, his power continues to decline, and age takes away his surprising production on the bases, causing him to become an afterthought in most formats.

2020 Projection: 51 R, 11 HR, 65 RBI, 5 SB, .268/.311/.412

 

Andrew Knizner (C)

2019: 7 R, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 2 SB, .226/.293/.377 | C 
2020 ADP: 635.97

Knizner got his first taste of MLB action in 2019, blasting two home runs in 18 games at the highest level. His bat is solid (.187 ISO, .351 wOBA in AAA) for a catching prospect and has always outshined his defensive capabilities. His lack of ability behind the plate makes his future with the club cloudy, especially given the re-signing of Matt Wieters to act as Molina’s main backup.

Infielders

Paul Goldschmidt (1B|Batting 3rd)

2019: 97 R, 34 HR, 97 RBI, 3 SB, .260/.346/.476 | 1B #13
2020 ADP: 66.86 (1B #7)

Goldschmidt was inconsistent in 2019, either raking half the time (+.850 OPS in April, July, and September) or disappearing during the rest (-.750 OPS in May, June, and August). He still managed to post solid overall production for the position, ranking in the top-10 for HR, R, and RBI. The speed he offered in his earlier days is gone (3 SB in 2019) and he will likely not produce an upper-tier batting average if recent changes in his batted ball profile (+4.5% FB% since 2017, -2.9% LD% in 2019) hold/continue. A three-year dip in his BB% (-2.7% since 2017) and a declining wOBA (.346 in 2019) impact his future value in OBP leagues as well, though not to an extreme extent.

Ok, negative points out of the way. Despite these changes to his offensive profile, Goldschmidt is still a solid option at 1B, provided you are not expecting the version we saw from 2015-2017. He still generates solid contact (.262 xBA/.361 xwOBA/.516 xSLG) and something like Max Muncy‘s 2019 production might be the ceiling now for him moving forward, which is not a bad thing at all.

Strengths: HR, RBI, R

Weaknesses: SB, AVG

Best Case Scenario

Goldschmidt picks up where he left off in September (.260/.405/.548) and finishes the year as a top-5 producer in HR, RBI, and R at the position.

Worst Case Scenario

His batting average hovers around .250 and he continues to experience a decline in his OBP, turning him into a more expensive version of 2019 Edwin Encarnacion.

2020 Projection: 95 R, 36 HR, 101 RBI, 3 SB, .277/.372/.512

 

Kolten Wong (2B|Batting 2nd)

2019: 61 R, 11 HR, 59 RBI, 24 SB, .285/.361/.423 | 2B #15
2020 ADP: 219.79 (2B #20)

Wong was one of only three second-basemen who swiped 20+ bases while notching 10+ HR in 2019. The other two? Jonathan Villar (40 SB, 24 HR) and Whit Merrifield (20 SB, 16 HR). That type of power/speed production is enticing, though it is worth pointing out that Wong only stole a combined 21 bases from 2016-2018. His batted ball profile experienced some positive adjustments last season (+0.5% LD%, -4.9% GB%, +4.4% FB%) and he upped his BB% (+1%) as well, though his quality of contact continued to rank among the worst in the league (Bottom 7% in Barrel%, Bottom 2% in Hard Hit%).

Strengths: SB

Weaknesses: HR, RBI, R

Best Case Scenario

Wong shows that his scorching second half (.342/.409/.487, 3rd most SB among 2B) was not entirely BABIP-fueled (.395 BABIP), improving his run production and cementing his status as a top power/speed option at the keystone.

Worst Case Scenario

Wong’s power erodes and he reverts back to the SB production we have seen over the last three seasons, causing him to be outperformed by David Fletcher in 2020.

2020 Projection: 64 R, 10 HR, 61 RBI, 21 SB, .270/.339/.417

 

Paul DeJong (SS|Batting 5th)

2019: 97 R, 30 HR, 78 RBI, 9 SB, .233/.318/.444 | SS #21
2020 ADP: 191.89 (SS #21)

Dejong was one of only seven shortstops in 2019 to slam over 30 home runs and also posted top-10 marks at the position in R (8th), ISO (8th), and RBI (10th). He threw in nine steals as well, leaving him one theft shy of joining Trevor Story, Marcus Semien, and Francisco Lindor as the only shortstops with at least 30 HR and 10 SB. Despite those counting stats, inconsistency (only two months of production with a +.750 OPS), disappointing production in other areas (.233 AVG, .318 OBP, .322wOBA, 100 wRC+), and his struggles against breaking (.208 xBA/.282 xwOBA/.391 xSLG) and offspeed offerings (.175 xBA/.225 xwOBA/.289 xSLG) keep him from being anything more than a mid-tier option at best heading into 2020.

Strengths: HR, RBI, R

Weaknesses: SB, AVG

Best Case Scenario

DeJong continues to improve at the dish (+2% BB% in 2019, -2.7% K% in 2019), generating a higher AVG (+.250) and OBP (+.330) while maintaining his above-average power.

Worst Case Scenario

DeJong sees even fewer fastballs in 2020 (58.7% in 2019, 64.6% in 2018) and struggles to make enough contact to hold down a starting position with the Redbirds.

2020 Projection: 81 R, 21 HR, 83 RBI, 10 SB, .248/.323/.449

 

Matt Carpenter (3B|Batting 1st)

2019: 59 R, 15 HR, 46 RBI, 6 SB, .226/.334/.392 | 3B #50
2020 ADP: 352.98 (3B #34)

Carpenter was one of the most disappointing hitters in 2019, fading in almost every category and struggling to meet half of the production he showed during his impressive 2018 effort. While injuries played a factor, a diet of fewer fastballs last season is another reason why. Over the years, pitchers have steadily fed Carpenter fewer fastballs given his success against the pitch (.314 xSLG/.456 xwOBA/.663 xSLG in 2018) but never to the degree we saw last season (-7% usage, 57.6% usage overall).

Carpenter still performed well against the pitch when he saw it (.275 XBA/.393 XwOBA/.543 XSLG) but was eaten alive by other offerings, especially offspeed pitches (17.7% usage rate, .171 XBA/.224 XwOBA/.263 XSLG). As a result, his K% jumped 2.9%, he saw an increase in his SwStr% (+1.2%), and generally struggled to generate the same quality of contact we saw in past seasons. At 34, Carpenter’s best days are likely behind him and he has limited upside at a deep position unless he finds a way to succeed against non-fastball offerings in 2020.

Strengths: None (until he shows 2018 was not the norm)

Weaknesses: HR, SB, SLG, RBI

Best Case Scenario

Carpenter is better against non-fastball offerings and puts together a season somewhere in between his 2016 (.271/.380/.505) and 2017 (.241/.384/.451) production.

Worst Case Scenario

Pitchers show Carpenter even fewer fastballs in 2020, his K% continues to climb while his BB% declines and someone else manages the hot corner by mid-season.

2020 Projection: 53 R, 11 HR, 50 RBI, 3 SB, .240/.331/.421

 

Outfielders

Tyler O’Neill (RF|Batting 4th)

2019: 18 R, 5 HR, 16 RBI, 1 SB, .262/.311/.411 | LF #
2020 ADP: 485.21 (OF #112)

Now that Marcell Ozuna is headed to Atlanta, the path is open for Tyler O’Neill to lay claim to LF duties in 2020. O’Neill sure sees it that way, making the following comments to the St. Louis Post Dispatch after Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena were dealt to Tampa Bay for a package including pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore:

“I’m coming down (to Florida) this spring with the intent to win that job. I know I can play in this league. And I know I can excel in this league. I know I can fill those shoes and win this job.”

The Canadian outfielder is known for having prodigious power, something he has showcased in both of his short runs with the Cardinals (one HR every 20.9 PA’s). He is also known for racking up strikeouts, both at the MLB level (35.1% K% in 2019, 40.1% in 2018) and in the minors (30.7% K% in AAA in 2019). His ability to improve his plate discipline (20% SwStr%, 37.2% O-Swing%, 43.5% O-Contact% in 2019) will control his viability in the show.

Strengths: HR

Weaknesses: SB, R, AVG

Best Case Scenario

O’Neill keeps his K% at or just under 30% and shows enough plate discipline improvement to consistently make contact against MLB pitching. He launches 30+ HR, maintains the platoon splits he has shown thus far, and finished with a lower-OBP version of Dan Vogelbach‘s 2019.

Worst Case Scenario

His plate discipline issues allow pitchers to eat him alive and he finds his way back to Memphis in May.

2020 Projection: 61 R, 28 HR, 70 RBI, 2 SB, .221/.300/.443

 

Harrison Bader (CF|Batting 8th)

2019: 54 R, 12 HR, 39 RBI, 11 SB, .205/.314/.366 | CF #
2020 ADP: 439.44 (OF #106)

Bader grew at the plate last season, walking more (+4% BB%) and showing increased plate discipline in several other areas (-1.6% SwStr%, -2.4% O-Swing%, +1.3% O-Contact%). Despite those improvements, he endured a disappointing season that included a demotion to AAA. A high K% (28.8%), platoon issues (.177/.255/.385 in 106 PA’s against lefties), and an inability to handle breaking balls (37.2% usage, .148 xBA/.179 xwOBA/.225 xSLG) all affected his performance, casting questions on his value moving forward.

Much of that value relies on the development of his hitting tool. If he can improve there and lower his K%, he has an interesting mix of power, patience, and speed, especially for a CF. Bader is still young enough to adjust and develop into a useful fantasy option but must show improvement early in 2020 if he is to be fantasy relevant.

Strengths: SB

Weaknesses: RBI, OBP, R

Best Case Scenario

Bader opens up his approach at the plate to swing earlier and more often (41.2% Swing% in 2019), taking advantage of preferable counts and avoiding counts with two strikes or three balls (65.5% of his PA’s were against these counts in 2019). He improves his K% to a manageable level and provides 20/20 production.

Worst Case Scenario

Bader continues to post close to a 30% K% and does not improve against lefties or breaking balls, relegating him to platoon duty at best and limiting the effectiveness of his power and speed for fantasy purposes.

2020 Projection: 68 R, 17 HR, 54 RBI, 19 SB, .247/.329/.419

 

Dexter Fowler (RF|Batting 7th)

2019: 69 R, 19 HR, 67 RBI, 8 SB, .238/.346/.409 | OF #73
2020 ADP: 546.01 (OF #127)

Fowler’s contract status (2-years – $33m remaining, full no-trade clause) limits the Cardinal’s ability to move on from him and likely means the 33-year-old will continue to see ample playing time with the team next season. The double-digit speed he flashed earlier in his career has dried up (has not stolen +10 bases since 2016) and his days of getting on base at a +.350 clip are likely done as well. He did swat 19 home runs last season, though that ranked 42nd among qualified outfielders. Fowler has more real-life value (103 wRC+, 1.5 WAR) than he does in fantasy and only has value in deeper leagues at this point.

Strengths: OBP

Weaknesses: SB, R, AVG, RBI, HR

Best Case Scenario

Fowler’s AVG and OBP  return to 2017 levels and he flirts with 20 HR, making him a back end outfield option in deeper leagues.

Worst Case Scenario

Fowler struggles out of the gate and cedes playing time to one or more of the Cardinal’s young outfield options, limiting any value he can provide in 2020.

2020 Projection: 73 R, 17 HR, 64 RBI, 6 SB, .253/.348/.420

 

Other Noteworthy Players

Tommy Edman (CF)

2019: 59 R, 11 HR, 36 RBI, 15 SB, .304/.350/.500 | 2B #20, 3B #25
2020 ADP: 134.97 (2B #14, 3B #20)

Tommy Edman was a pleasant surprise in 2019, spending time at three positions and offering a solid mix of power/speed for the campaign. He has never had issues with strikeouts in his career (17.5% K% MLB, <16% K% 2017-2019 minors) and did not have large swings in effectiveness based on pitch type. 20+ stolen bases and a solid batting average should continue to be part of Edman’s profile heading into 2020. How much power he will generate moving forward is the bigger question. Coming into this season, Edman’s career-high for HR’s was six (ISO high: .155 in A).

He displayed more power in AAA (.208 ISO, 7 HR) before getting called up to St. Louis and continued to produce at a similar rate there (.196 ISO, 11 HR). A downturn there is likely, though I still think 10 HR is possible. Edman should continue his super-sub role in 2020 and would be the first man in line to take over from Matt Carpenter if he cannot rebound. In 2019, a total of eight 2B eligible (5)/3B eligible (3) players produced a mix of at least 10 HR and 15 SB, making Edman an interesting upside play in the infield.

Strengths: SB, AVG, R

Weaknesses: HR, RBI

Best Case Scenario

Edman’s power remains and he notches 10-15 HR to go along with 30+ steals and 90+ runs.

Worst Case Scenario

The power we saw in 2019 was a mirage and pitchers figure out how to limit Edman’s effectiveness, reducing him to a player capable of providing an empty batting average with 15 SB potential.

2020 Projection: 88 R, 10 HR, 56 RBI, 29 SB, .293/.340/.439

 

Lane Thomas (CF)

2019: 6 R, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 1 SB, .316/.409/.684 | OF N/A
2020 ADP: 727.13 (OF #182)

Thomas was not able to fully replicate his breakout performance from 2018, an effort that saw him slam 27 home runs and steal 17 bases across two levels in the Cardinal’s system. He still played well, continuing to show a solid power/speed blend in AAA (10 HR/11 SB) and holding his own during his first taste of MLB pitching. I like the patience he showed in AAA (10.5% BB%) and think he could surprise if he can carve out consistent playing time in a crowded St. Louis outfield.

Strengths: R, AVG

Weaknesses: RBI

Dylan Carlson (CF)

2019: N/A | OF N/A
2020 ADP: 327.42 (OF #84)

Few would have imagined that Dylan Carlson might be in the conversation for a role in the 2020 St. Louis outfield coming into last season. This is not because of a lack of pedigree (1st round pick in 2016) or talent, rather due to his age (20 at the start of 2019) and the fact that he had yet to face pitching above A+. Carlson started the season at AA and absolutely raked (.387 wOBA, 142 wRC+, 21 HR, 18 SB), earning some PA’s in AAA at the end of the year. That wOBA ranked 2nd among 20-year-olds in AA, right behind Angel’s uber-prospect Jo Adell (.424) and just ahead of Braves prospect Drew Waters (.382).

Carlson’s outlook is bright but a full determination of his value will depend on how his speed translates at the highest level and how his plate discipline holds up (12.1% SwStr% in AA). Cardinals manager Mike Shidt has already mentioned Carlson as someone who could compete to open the season with the club but I would not be surprised if he begins 2020 at Memphis given the currently available options. He could see time withe Cardinals as the season progresses and is an interesting option to stash given his potential.

Strengths: HR, OBP, RBI, R

Weaknesses: AVG

Projected Lineup Battles

Outfield: Now that Marcell Ozuna is officially not coming back to St. Louis, the biggest battles for playing time will happen in the outfield. The Cardinals do not lack depth there, with six options highlighted above and dark horses like out of options Rangel Ravelo also in the mix. I imagine Fowler (contract) and Bader (defense) will be given every chance at a full-time role. Tyler O’Neill will be given every chance to score consistent playing time but I like Lane Thomas as a sleeper if he can carve out a role.  Dylan Carlson is immensely talented but also the most likely to start the season in the minors given his youth (unless he blows the doors off in spring training).

Third Base: Talking about a battle at third would have seemed ludicrous last year but Carpenter’s fast decline makes this a possibility if he struggles in 2020. For various reasons, I doubt the Cardinals would be quick to take away his starting role (recent contract extension, 2018 performance, etc.) and imagine they will start the year with Edman shifting around the diamond as needed.

Projected Lineup

Cardinals Lineup vs. LHP

Projected Lineup

Cardinals Lineup vs. RHP

Conclusion

Ozuna is gone but the rest of the crew returns in some capacity to see if they can right the ship in 2020. A few new names could hold fantasy promise if given consistent playing time but much of the fantasy value in this lineup hinges on Goldschmidt’s fortunes next season.

Photo by Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Hunter Denson

Hunter currently writes for PitcherList. He once fouled off a pitch against former big-leaguer Jon Lieber, only to strike out spectacularly on the next pitch. Representing the Red Sox Nation out in the Pacific Northwest

  • Avatar Brian Kelder says:

    Alright now, who do you think has a better 2020, Goldschmidt or Manny Machado?

    • Avatar Hunter Denson says:

      Hey Brian! Thanks for reading the article. Great question. I think Goldschmidt has the better 2020. If you have not already checked out Daniel Port’s analysis of the San Diego Padres Hitters, I encourage you to do so. The Padres ranked 27th in Runs in 2019 and were close to the bottom in many other categories as well. Outside of Fernando Tatis Jr. and Tommy Pham, Machado does not have a lot of sure bets to support him in that lineup. I think that limits his RBI and Run totals a good bit. His average has yo-yo-ed up and down for the last several years, so there is a chance he could give Goldschmidt a run for his money there.

      Even then, Machado’s struggles at Petco (.219/.297/.406) could keep him closer to a .270 ceiling. Petco is also a less beneficial environment for Machado’s pull power. Dan Richards touches on this in his Going Deep: Barrels and Ballpark Factors Pt. II article (another amazing read that I suggest). The only category I 100% lean Machado’s way on vs Goldschmidt is SB. Goldschmidt has his own protection issues in St. Louis and could see a dip in RBI and Run opportunities as well. He gets on base at a much higher clip than Machado though and hit very well in Busch Stadium (.277/.352/.485, 17 HR) despite it’s own limitations on RHH PullHR/Brl (again, see Dan’s article for more there).

      Thanks for the question and for checking out the article. Links for the articles I mentioned below:

      Analyzing San Diego Padres Hitter for 2020: http://pitcherlist.wpengine.com/analyzing-san-diego-padres-hitters-for-2020/

      Going Deep: Barrels and Ballpark Factors Pt. II: http://pitcherlist.wpengine.com/going-deep-barrels-and-ballpark-factors-pt-ii/

      Hunter Denson

  • Avatar T says:

    IMO Edman is actually more likely to start more games in the OF than O’Neil. He started over him there regularly last year so I don’t see why he wouldn’t continue to next year until Matt Carpenter gets benched. Schildt is obsessed with Edman.

    • Avatar Hunter Denson says:

      Thanks for reading the article. I definitely think Edman will see a good amount of playing time in the OF in 2020 but also think the Cardinals value his versatility more than keeping him in the OF. Additionally, I think they would love to add more power to their 2020 lineup with the departure of Ozuna and O’Neill is their best internal option for delivering that. Outside of Goldschmidt, DeJong is the only lock for 20+ HR in that lineup. Goldschmidt needs more protection than DeJong can offer and if O’Neill can make consistent content he could help shore that up.

      That being said, if O’Neill does not take hold of the job in spring training, or struggles to start the season, I think Edman would be a great fit. I am a big believer in him and think he is an exciting fantasy option no matter where he plays. I just think they would rather have one of their young OF options step up and deploy Edman all over the diamond (and keep him as a security blanket in case Carpenter doesn’t bounce back).

      Again, thanks for reading!

      Hunter Denson

  • Avatar B says:

    Tommy Edman is a CF?

    • Avatar Hunter Denson says:

      Hey! Thanks for reading the article. Meant to list him as a generic OF option, not CF (Thanks for the catch!) and then dive into his IF eligibility in the write-up. Edman will definitely see time in the OF this season but CF will likely be patrolled by other players.

      Appreciate the heads up!

      Hunter Denson

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