Fantasy Breakdown: St. Louis Cardinals for 2021

A preview of the Cardinals' lineup, rotation, and bullpen for 2021.

As we prepare for the season ahead, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2021. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2021 hub here.

 

At a Glance

 

The St. Louis Cardinals had maybe the most disjointed and upset schedule of any team in MLB this past season. After an outbreak of COVID-19 in early August, the team was left playing catch-up for the remainder of the shortened season, including 53 games in 44 days with 11 doubleheaders; 29 of those 53 games were played on the road. Despite this, they still managed a 30-28 record and played in the expanded Wild Card Series.

Now, after losing veterans Yadier MolinaBrad Miller, and Kolten Wong their offense is stretched thin. They’ll rely on a Jack Flaherty-led rotation and a bevy of unproven young arms out of the bullpen to compete in the lackluster NL Central.

 

Hitters

By Austin Bristow II

 

Projected Lineup

 

Infielders

 

Nolan Arenado (3B)

2020: 23 R, 8 HR, 26 RBI, 0 SB, .253/.303/.434 | 3B #35

2021 ADP: 29 (3B #4)

 

After years of speculation, Nolan Arenado was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. Arenado represents a drastic upgrade over Matt Carpenter as a third baseman, both offensively and defensively, despite his poor 2020 season. The shortened season saw Arenado battling a shoulder injury that would ultimately end his season in late September. Arenado’s August was more akin to a typical month from him, with 7 of his 8 home runs coming in 27 games along with a .269 batting average.  Of those 27 games, 18 were played in Coors Field, where Arenado hit all 7 of his homers while batting .319.

It is hard to say how Arenado will adjust to playing outside of Colorado. We once believed it would be a death sentence for a hitters career, but one D.J. LeMahieu has proven that is not necessarily the case. I have long believed that looking at the road numbers of Rockies hitters is not a good indicator of how they will perform on a different team. The ball moves differently when pitched in Denver, and I believe many Rockies hitters have trouble adjusting between this and road games. With a consistent setting away from the thin air of Coors Field, Arenado may be able to perform similarly to his 2015-2019 dominance.

 

Paul Goldschmidt (1B)

2020: 31 R, 6 HR, 21 RBI, 1 SB, .304/.417/.446 | 1B #19

2021 ADP: 90.7 (1B #9)

 

After a career-worst year in 2019, Paul Goldschmidt certainly bounced back in the shortened 2020 season, though not to the degree many were hoping. While Goldschmidt did bat over .300, his power output was the lowest it has been in his career, hitting just 6 home runs over 58 games, a 16-homer pace. Goldschmidt did post the lowest strikeout rate of his career (18.6%) and a career-high line drive rate (27.5%), perhaps indicating a shift toward a contact-focused game.

Looking ahead, Goldschmidt is left as one of two Cardinals hitters with a wRC+ above 100 (the mark designating a league-average hitter). The surrounding cast won’t do Goldy any favors, and his counting stats are sure to suffer without additions to the St. Louis lineup. For now, I expect something along the lines of a .280 average with 17-23 home runs and poor run and RBI totals. I’ll be passing on Goldschmidt in drafts at his current ADP.

 

Tommy Edman (2B/3B/SS/OF)

2020: 29 R, 5 HR, 26 RBI, 2 SB, .250/.317/.368 | 2B #24

2021 ADP: 153.3 (2B #18)

 

As of January 25th, Tommy Edman seems to be in line as the starting second baseman for St. Louis. While it seems likely the Cardinals would be interested in reuniting with Kolten Wong, or perhaps bringing in someone like Cesar Hernandez or Jonathan Schoop, we’ll assume for now the job is Edman’s.

Oddly enough, Edman actually won’t be eligible to play 2B in most fantasy leagues to start the season; he only played 8 games there in 2020. He’ll start with eligibility at 3B, SS, and OF, but likely gain 2B within a week or two, depending on the site’s eligibility rules.

After an impressive 2019 rookie campaign, many saw Edman as a sleeper pick for steals and batting average, which resulted in him being taken in the middle rounds of most drafts. Unfortunately, he did not follow up on his potential, stealing only 2 bases (while being caught 4 times), and batting just .250. Statcast’s xBA likes his production a bit better, giving him a .278 mark over his 55 games played. Edman is currently being drafted around the 12th round, and I am personally not all that interested in picking him up for that price.

 

Paul DeJong (SS)

2020: 17 R, 3 HR, 25 RBI, 1 SB, .250/.322/.349 | SS #41

2021 ADP: 257.3 (SS #34)

 

After three seasons with above-average power numbers, everything seemed to go wrong for Paul DeJong in 2020. He hit just 3 homers in 45 games, an 8-homer pace in a full season. This drastic dip in production could be traced back to August, when he was one of the Cardinals players that contracted COVID-19. any players who had the virus have spoken about not feeling quite right the remainder of the season. With that in mind, I am willing to call the entire 45 game stretch for DeJong a wash. Let’s hope a full offseason can get him right and back to hitting 25-30 home runs.

 

Andrew Knizer (C)

2020: 8 games, 1 R, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 0 SB, .250/.235/.313 | C #65

2021 ADP: 537 (C #44)

 

After 17 seasons in St. Louis, Yadier Molina is a free agent for the first time. Assuming he or someone else is not signed before Opening Day, the job would go to Andrew Knizner (KIZZ-ner). He saw very little playing time in 2020, but his 2019 AAA numbers were quite good for a catcher. Knizner slashed .276/.357/.463 with 12 home runs in 66 games.

One factor that may push the Cardinals to sign another catcher is Knizner’s poor defense. He only started catching in his 20s and has not picked up the position well. I would not be at all surprised to see Molina rejoin the Cardinals. Other options like Tyler Flowers or Wilson Ramos seem like cheaper, though less popular options.

 

Outfielders

 

Dylan Carlson (OF)

2020: 11 R, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 1 SB, .200/.252/.364 | OF #150

2021 ADP:157.3 (OF #46)

 

Despite a poor rookie showing in 2020, folks are still excited about Dylan Carlson, and rightfully so! The 22-year-old outfielder has been a highly touted prospect for the past few years, putting up ridiculous numbers in his 2019 season. Over 126 games across Double-A and Tripple-A, Carlson slashed .292/.372/.542 with 26 home runs and 20 steals. He’s generally seen as a below-average fielder, pushing him to a corner role.

With the Cardinals wonky schedule, it may have been difficult for Carlson, or any other hitter for that matter, to get any form a routine in place. I’m willing to give him a pass for his lackluster debut. A 12th round pick is about the time I’d be looking for an upside play like Carlson. I may have him on a few of my teams in 2021.

 

Harrison Bader (OF)

2020: 21 R, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 3 SB, .226/.336/.443 | OF #104

2021 ADP: 493.5 (OF #131)

 

I won’t spend too much time talking about Harrison Bader. He is a very good defender, which will likely keep him in the Cardinals lineup despite his poor bat. A career-worst 32% strikeout rate in 2020 wasn’t a sign of better things to come for Bader, and he isn’t likely to be fantasy relevant outside of NL-only leagues. In those deep leagues, you may look to Bader for consistent playing time and 10-15 home tuns and steals.

 

Dexter Fowler (OF)

2020: 14 R, 4 HR, 15 RBI, 1 SB, .233/.317/.389 | OF #118

2021 ADP: 667 (OF #168)

 

If you weren’t interested in Bader, there is even less to see in Dexter Fowler. He’s in the final year of his contract with the Cardinals, and been productive since the first year after signing in 2017. He’s been on the decline since leaving the Cubs, and his days of fantasy relevance seem to be well behind him. If you’re in an NL-only league, he may give you 13-18 home runs. If you’re in a WorstBall league, he could be a stud if he gets consistent playing time.

 

Watch List Considerations

 

With a number of poor performances across the lineup in 2020, the Cardinals may be willing to try more platoons or even bench some of their aging veterans. Some younger players that could benefit from this include Tyler O’Neill (whose tools have not yet translated into big-league production), Edmundo Sosa (a plus defender that seems lore likely destined for a utility role), or Austin Dean (walked in 3 of his 7 plate appearances in 2020).

The most exciting name to watch for is one of St. Louis’ top prospects, Nolan Gorman. Gorman has been touted for his massive raw power, but has a hit tool that needs work. Many analysts predict strikeouts may hinder Gorman’s performance throughout his career. As for 2021, I doubt we see him, but he may be worth a stash in deep NL-only leagues.

With the addition of Arenado, Matt Carpenter is left without a regular position. Should the DH find its way into the National League, Carpenter would almost certainly see at bats there, but otherwise, he may be a platoon bat at best. That said, 2020 seems to have been another step in a steady decline for Carpenter. Call it a two-month slump if you prefer, but the fact remains that Carpenter has continually struggled to make contact on pitches inside the zone. His Z-contact rate has decreased each year, starting in 2016, down now to a 79.8% rate in 2020. A 28.4% strikeout rate is not a good sign for a 35-year-old, and fantasy baseball players seem to believe he’s no longer relevant with an ADP past 500. He will almost certainly be available as a last round pick for you, and, if you’re in an OBP league, his one saving grace is a 13.6% walk rate.

 

Starting Pitchers

By Jai Correa

 

Jack Flaherty (Locked In Starter)

2020: 4-3, 40.1 IP, 49 K, 4.91 ERA, 1.21 WHIP | SP #74

2021 ADP: 30.5 (P #11)

Repertoire: 44.2% Four-Seam, 28.7% Slider, 13.6% Curveball, 11.4% Sinker, 2.1% Changeup

 

Flaherty regressed in 2020 from his otherworldly 2019 but with a 0.90 ERA in the second half of that season, that was expected. And even though Flaherty wasn’t at his best during the regular season, the right-hander put together a brilliant outing in an eventual loss to the Padres in Game 3 of the NL Wild Card Series, pitching six innings and giving up only one run with eight punchouts. While St. Louis’ ace still undoubtedly has the skills to dominate, there are possible avenues for improvement. One would be to throw the slider for more strikes as it was thrown in the zone only 35.4% of the time, far short of the 42.5% that made it a money pitch in 2019—the only thing hindering Flaherty’s slider in 2020 from the same moniker (40.6% O-Swing and 25.7% SwStr). Another would be doing a better job of locating his fastball. He should get his fastball to the glove side of the plate more often as in 2019 Flaherty threw 18.1% of his heaters (.237 wOBA/.275 xwOBA) in that section of the zone but only 14.8% of the time in 2020 (.350 wOBA/.357 xwOBA) to generate more whiffs. Concentrating his fastball on that side of the plate would help tunnel his four-seam and slider more effectively. Additionally, focusing on getting his fastball up in the zone to generate more whiffs would be beneficial.

 

Kwang Hyun Kim (Locked In Starter)

2020: 3-0, 39.0 IP, 24 K, 1.62 ERA, 1.03 WHIP | SP #45

2021 ADP: 268.2 (P #101)

Repertoire: 48.6% Four-Seam, 31.2% Slider, 11.7% Curveball, 8.5% Changeup

 

2020 was one heck of a year to make your major league debut—especially coming from abroad in the KBO. In completely foreign conditions, Kim found immense success to a 1.62 ERA and became St. Louis’ best starter. The 32-year-old worked primarily around a four-seam fastball and slider combination, while only using the changeup against right-handed batters this season. With a fastball and slider that register below average whiffs—13.1% and 20.6% Whiff, respectively—it’s not entirely shocking that Kim only struck out 15.6% of batters. In lieu of swings and misses, Kim’s success was predicated mainly on generating weak contact with a low 4.1% barrel rate and 31.4% hard-hit rate, so producing similar numbers will be critical to his success in 2021.

 

Carlos Martínez (Likely Starter)

2020: 0-3, 20.0 IP, 17 K, 9.90 ERA, 2.10 WHIP | SP #294

2021 ADP: 432.1 (P #162)

Repertoire: 34.8% Four-Seam, 28.1% Slider, 20.1% Changeup, 15.2% Sinker, 1.7% Cutter

 

Everything that could go wrong did go wrong for Carlos Martínez in 2020. When he was on the field, the right-hander was putrid. Of course, multiple injury list designations also put him on the sidelines for most of the season. Now in 2021, Martínez is going to have to fight for his rotation spot and won’t be given one—if he even is on the team by the time Spring Training rolls around. The good news is that the 29-year-old flamethrower participated in the Dominican Winter League and pitched well in his second start for the Aguilas Cibaenas striking out six over six scoreless innings against the Toros del Este. At his current price, Martínez is worth buying but be ready to jump ship early if things are off to a rocky start again.

 

Adam Wainwright (Likely Starter)

2020: 5-3, 65.2 IP, 54 K, 3.15 ERA, 1.05 WHIP | SP #27

2021 ADP: 428.8 (P #161)

Repertoire: 38.3% Curveball, 27.1% Sinker, 22.9% Cutter, 9.2% Four-Seam, 2.5% Changeup

 

Adam Wainwright will continue to don the Cardinals uniform in 2021 on the back of a stellar 2020 with a 3.15 ERA—his first “full” season with under a 4.00 ERA since 2014. What made the long time Cardinal so effective was being good both at home (3.24 ERA) and on the road (3.00 ERA). The right-hander has generally posted drastic home (2.86 ERA) and away (3.96 ERA) splits for his career, so his 2020 is likely an abnormality. Like most recent years, Wainwright is a worthwhile streamer consideration for starts at Busch Stadium—for those wondering, the Cardinals don’t play at home till their third series of the year (April 8-11 v MIL) so you should just monitor the waiver wire rather than wasting a draft pick.

 

Miles Mikolas (Locked In Starter)

2019*: 9-14, 184.0 IP, 144 K, 4.91 ERA, 1.21 WHIP | Unranked

2021 ADP: 408.8 (P #149)

Repertoire (2019): 27.4% Four-Seam, 23.8% Sinker, 23.6% Slider, 21.4% Curveball, 3.9% Changeup

 

Mikolas missed all of 2020 after being sidelined with a right flexor strain just before the season started. With the veteran right-hander expected to be fine for Spring Training, he’s an interesting pitcher to consider at his current ADP given the success of his 2018 season (2.83 ERA, 200.2 IP). However, for Mikolas to be more than a fringe starter, he’ll need to add more strikeouts to his game—18.1% and 18.8% strikeout rates his past two seasons. Firstly, a big part of that is regaining the dominance of his slider from 2018 (.201 wOBA/.237 xwOBA) that fell short in 2019 (.338 wOBA/.344 xwOBA). Furthermore, Mikolas substituting his fairly poor sinker for more curveballs to pair with his four-seamer could make him more of a strikeout threat.

 

Watch List Considerations

 

St. Louis had the wackiest schedule during the wackiest year in recent baseball memory after experiencing a team COVID-19 outbreak early in the season, forcing the team to play 53 games in 44 days. While not ideal, the experience was beneficial as a number of pitchers got a chance for the Cardinals, starting with Daniel Ponce de Leon. Ponce de Leon should be St. Louis’ swingman, with some appeal in spot starts given his superb 31.5% K rate—if only he could reduce his 14% walk rate from last season. My favorite here is Genesis Cabrera, who was electric as a reliever in 2020 with a 2.42 ERA. Though with experience as a starter throughout the minor leagues and the uncertainty of the Cardinals’ rotation, Cabrera could ride his wicked curveball into a starting gig in 2021. There are also young pitching prospects Jake Woodford and Johan Oviedo. Both weren’t very good in 2020—5.57 ERA/6.72 FIP and 5.47 ERA/5.30 FIP, respectively—so I doubt they end up being important additions for fantasy rosters this season. 

 

 

Relief Pitchers

By Kyle Horton

 

Bullpen Roles

 

Alex Reyes (Closer)

2020: 1 SV, 2 HLD, 19.2 IP, 27 K, 3.20 ERA, 1.42 WHIP | RP #113 

2021 ADP: 378.72 (P# 146)

 

Alex Reyes is set to be their closer after a season where he had a 3.24 FIP and struck out 31.4% of batters. Reyes had a 14.2% swinging strike rate and did a great job limiting hard contact. His fastball averages 97.5 MPH and generates a ton of spin. The drawback of Reyes is his command. He has the stuff and velocity to be a top tier closer, but also gives up a lot of walks. His 16.3% walk rate in 2020 was in the bottom 3 percentile of the league.

 

Jordan Hicks (Setup)

2020: Did not pitch | RP # N/A

2021 ADP: 273.05 (P# 103)

 

Jordan Hicks did not pitch in 2020, but would be next in line for closing duties if Reyes could not do the job. In 2019, Hicks had a 3.14 ERA and struck out 28.2% of hitters. He has some of the best fastball velocity, where he averages over 100 MPH with every sinker he throws. Hicks also has his share of command issues, walking over 10% of hitters in both of his MLB seasons, but also has a fastball that can make him one of the best late inning relievers in the game.

 

Andrew Miller (Setup)

2020: 4 SV, 2 HLD, 13.0 IP, 16 K, 2.77 ERA, 1.08 WHIP | RP # 76

2021 ADP: 614.30 (P# 24)2

 

Andrew Miller isn’t quite the arm he used to be, but in his 13 innings in 2020, he pitched pretty decently. Miller had a 59 FIP- and a 20.0% K-BB%, while holding hitters to a .191 batting average. You can expect Miller to fill his standard lefty specialist role. He may get some holds here and there but he probably won’t be a good option for saves.

 

Giovanny Gallegos (Setup)

2020: 4 SV, 1 HLD, 15.0 IP, 21 K, 3.60 ERA, 0.87 WHIP | RP # 47

2021 ADP: 288.51 (P# 109)

 

Giovanny Gallegos had a 83 ERA- and 48 FIP- last season. Although he didn’t qualify by innings pitched, his 36.8% strikeout rate would have put him in the top 15 of relievers. He was in the 92nd percentile in whiff rate, 97th percentile in xERA, and 97th percentile in wOBA. Gallegos relies on a slider and four-seam fastball. His slider had a 27.3% putAway rate and held hitters to a .159 xwOBA. Gallegos should be a great option for some holds with a high strikeout potential.

 

John Gant (Relief)

2020: 0 SV, 5 HLD, 15.0 IP, 18 K, 2.40 ERA, 1.07 WHIP | RP # 160

2021 ADP: 709.43 (P# 307)

 

John Gant had a 2.19 FIP in 2020 with five holds and a 29.5% strikeout rate. He held hitters to a .167 average partially because of a 62.9% ground ball rate. Although he walked 11.5% of hitters, Gant was great at limiting hard contact. He was in the 94th percentile in xSLG and 98th percentile in barrel rate. Gant may be another decent source of holds as a middle relief option in 2021.

 

Tyler Webb (Relief)

2020: 1 SV, 2 HLD, 21.2 IP, 19 K, 2.08 ERA, 1.11 WHIP | RP # 97

2021 ADP: Undrafted (P# N/A)

 

Tyler Webb posted a solid ERA but his underlying metrics aren’t all that impressive. Although he did well at avoiding barrels, he was still middle of the pack at hard hit rate, and he did not fare well at getting swings and misses. Webb does not have plus velocity or spin on any of his pitches. He won’t be a solid option for strikeouts and probably won’t see too many save or hold opportunities.

 

Ryan Helsley (Relief)

2020: 1 SV, 2 HLD, 12.0 IP, 10 K, 5.25 ERA, 1.33 WHIP | RP # 188

2021 ADP: 687.29 (P# 289)

 

There isn’t much good to say about Ryan Helsley in 2020. He had a mere 3.8% K-BB% rate due to walking 15.4% of hitters. His FIP- was 161 and his FIP was 7.02. Helsey has great fastball spin with some decent velocity, but he’ll have to make some adjustments going forward before he proves to be a fantasy asset.

 

Daniel Ponce de Leon (Relief)

2020: 0 SV, 0 HLD, 32.2 IP, 45 K, 4.96 ERA, 1.32 WHIP | RP # 124

2021 ADP: 436.82 (P# 165)

 

Daniel Ponce de Leon has mainly been a starter in his short MLB career, but is projected to be in the bullpen in 2021. Last season he made 8 starts in 9 appearances and struck out 31.5% of hitters. However, he also walked 14.0% of hitters and got hit awfully hard. His average exit velocity was in the 45th percentile and his hard hit rate was in the 26th percentile. He might be able to get some strikeouts and whiffs, but he hasn’t figured out his craft at the MLB level yet.

ADP data taken from NFC ADPs. Pitcher rankings are currently combined. When SP and RP positional rankings will be updated when made available.

2020 Positional Rankings from Razzball’s 12-team Player Rater (ESPN).

Photo by Tim Spyers/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter)

Kyle Horton

Kyle is a former Division 1 baseball player and Quinnipiac University alumni. Please follow him on Twitter @Hortonimo, he already told his mom that you did.

  • Avatar guywithaclue says:

    Fowler isn’t even on this team anymore.

  • Avatar Brian says:

    And Yadi resigned for 1 year.

  • Avatar Fred says:

    Two easy mistakes in the first two sections…are you guys hiring editors?

  • Avatar duder says:

    The assumption that Alex Reyes will be closer is kinda out there. They are actually trying him as a starter again, and even if he returns to the bullpen he might be more of a 2 inning guy. More likely it either goes to Hicks or it’s a full committee, with the latter the most likely.

    • Avatar Kyle Horton says:

      eh, thinking Reyes will close isn’t really all that out there (even roster resource has him there), but the wording is probably a bit more definitive than it should be. Their rotation is already pretty set, especially after the resigning of Waino. If it isn’t Reyes in the 9th, I’d agree it’s Hicks, or some combo of the two plus Miller/Gallegos.

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