With Goldschmidt, How Much Has the Cardinals' Lineup Improved?

Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

With Goldschmidt, How Much Has the Cardinals' Lineup Improved?

St. Louis Cardinals

With Goldschmidt, How Much Has the Cardinals' Lineup Improved?

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Last week the Cardinals acquired Paul Goldschmidt, a Top 2 hitter in the NL since the start of 2013. Ranking 1st in OPS (.947) and 2nd in wRC+ (149) during that 6 season span, he is without a doubt an elite hitter. He now resides at 1B for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Despite his prowess, there is a debate on how much better he really makes the Cardinals lineup.

Does he put them over the top, as the front office and ownership believe he will?

Or does the shifting, and reduction, of roles for other players in response to the acquisition cause this to be just an incremental upgrade?

I was curious, so I launched into several hours of arithmetic, crunching the numbers to find out.

First, I’ll Explain What I Did

I could show you the messy legal pad that contains all the math, but you aren’t really interested in that. So, here is the best explanation I can give to my method.

The Stat

I limited myself to 1 statistic, for sanity’s sake. The number I used is the offensive catch-all, wRC+. If you are unfamiliar with the stat, the full definition can be found here. Put simply, it is a single metric to show a players offensive value, with adjustments for ballpark factors.

The Projections

Next, I decided that I would do 2 sets of projections, plus a wild card. The first set of projections simply carries all players 2018 performances over. This does not result in a carbon copy, as I make adjustments for playing time (explained later) and some players (Tommy Pham) greatly impacted the 2018 numbers but not the 2019 projections.

Basically, this projection is saying that everybody will hit the same way in 2019 as they did in 2018, but their roles will change, thus changing the overall team numbers. I did this one mostly because it’s easy to get fixated on the previous season. This accounts for that.

The 2nd projection pulls the numbers from Steamer, a popular projection system. (Available at Fangraphs, the site that makes all this possible. Thank you.)

Here are the 13 position players used, their 2018 wRC+, and their 2019 Steamer projection:

Player | 2018 | Steamer ’19
Goldschmidt | 145 | 136
Ozuna | 106 | 126
Carpenter | 138 | 125
Martinez | 125 | 117
O’Neill | 114 | 108
DeJong | 102 | 105
Wong | 98 | 104
Gyorko | 110 | 103
Fowler | 62 | 102
Molina | 103 | 99
Bader | 106 | 92
Munoz | 106 | 91
Pena* | 32 | 69

*I used Peña, although there is no guarantee he is with the team in 2019. However he provides a baseline for the backup catcher position.

The wild card I mentioned is where I take the team’s stated hope for Dexter Fowler to rebound and try to apply it mathematically. Simply, I do everything the same as the Steamer projections, except I use Fowler’s 2017 (first year in St. Louis) wRC+ of 121, instead. It’s just an additional step to see how the lineup looks if he fully returns to form.

The Nitty Gritty

I wanted to avoid just making a subjective starting lineup and base the numbers solely off of that. Lineups change, players move. There are more factors than just 8 names on a page.

That’s why I make adjustments for playing time.

When going by defensive position, for example: 1B includes 155 games of Goldschmidt and 7 games of Matt Carpenter. 2B has 130 games of Kolten Wong, 25 of Jedd Gyorko, and 7 of Yairo Munoz.

When going by batting order position, an example would be: I have DeJong playing in 140 games. In Projection #2 (Steamer) I have him batting 2nd in 131 of those, with 7 games in the 3 spot and 2 in the 5th spot.

In both scenarios, I take the number of games for each player, multiply that by their wRC+, add the products together, and then divide by 162. This allows the contribution of each player to the final number to be in proper proportion.

RF, for example:
Dexter Fowler (100 games X 102 wRC+ = 10,200)
Tyler O’Neill (31 games X 108 wRC+ = 3348)
Jose Martinez (31 games X 117 wRC+ = 3627)
Sum of Products = 17,175. Take 17,175 / 162 games = 106 wRC+ combined for RF.

That’s how it went, 40 times over.

The Results

By Defensive Position

So, for this portion, I analyzed it purely by defensive position based on the playing time allotments described above.

RF has some variables, and this is where the Wild Card comes in. For projection #1, if Fowler hits like he did in 2018, he simply will not play very much. I generously gave him 81 games in that scenario, splitting the other 80 between Tyler O’Neill and Jose Martinez. For projection #2, Steamer likes Fowler to return to average with a 102 wRC+. With him being ok, I gave him 100 games. Finally, if he were to post the 121 wRC+ as he did in 2017, he plays 130+ games. I cut it off at 130 for the sake of math.

These are the positional results. Provided in parentheses is the 2018 NL rank, and where the projected figure would have ranked. The ranking allows you to see improvements, or lack thereof.

Def. Position 2018 (Real) 2019 (’18 Carry-over) 2019 (Steamer Proj.) Wild Card
C 82 (11) 89 (9) 93 (7)
1B 129 (4) 144 (1) 135 (4)
2B 98 (8) 106 (5) 107 (4)
3B 125 (3) 136 (2) 123 (4)
SS 101 (4) 103 (4) 103 (4)
LF 108 (9) 106 (10) 125 (5)
CF 103 (7) 108 (5) 95 (10)
RF 91 (13) 90 (13) 106 (11) 119 (4)

Catcher improves some because of a few extra games of Yadi and Streamer likes Peña to be not quite as anemic at the plate. 2B – Steamer likes Wong to be a little better and it gets a bump from more Gyorko due to Carpenter’s move to 3B. Steamer likes Ozuna for a decent bounceback and doesn’t like Bader to sustain. Positionally, the Cardinals project to have 5 of 8 positions in the top 1/3 of the NL. If Fowler finds his mojo, that could increase to 6.

While this shows that the Cardinals are solid all over the field, it does not show the true impact that Goldschmidt has on the lineup.

By Batting Position

This is the projection that I felt was more important in showing the impact of Goldschmidt.

For this, I did have to make a general (subjective) lineup and then adjust it to match the playing time I had allotted in the defensive projections, as described above. The primary lineup I used had Carpenter, DeJong, Goldschmidt, Ozuna in the 1-4 spots and Molina, Wong, Bader as the primary 6-8 guys. The 5 spot shifted based on playing time between Fowler, O’Neill and Gyorko. There was always at least one, typically 2, secondary players for each spot.

Again, with Fowler, I played with 3 sets. For projection #1, where he stinks, he only hit in the 6th or 7th spot. For #2, where he’s average, he hit 5th or 6th. For #3, where he is at his 2017 level, he hit exclusively 2nd, pushing DeJong to 5th.

Again, 2018 NL Rank/where projection would have ranked, in parentheses.

Batting Position 2018 (Real) 2019 (’18 Carry-over) 2019 (Steamer Proj.) Wild Card
1 126 (1) 137(1) 124 (1) 124 (1)
2 114 (4) 108 (6) 107 (7) 119 (4)
3 96 (14) 143 (1) 135 (1) 135 (1)
4 105 (10) 106 (10) 125 (3) 125 (3)
5 104 (8) 110 (7) 104 (8) 106 (8)
6 81 (12) 92 (7) 100 (3) 100 (3)
7 118 (1) 90 (6) 101 (5) 101 (5)
8 86 (5) 91 (3) 88 (5) 88 (5)

Most of the lineup positions move laterally in terms of the rankings, except for a couple really important ones. Notably, the Cardinals #3 hitters ranked 14th in the NL in wRC+ in 2018. Their #4 hitters ranked 10th. While lineup optimization has shifted the traditional view of the 3-spot as the most important location, there is no doubt that that ranking 2nd to last in the spot that takes the 3rd most PA’s over the course of the season is a bad thing.

This is where we see the “tent pole” effect with Goldschmidt. Instead of being among the worst, the Cardinals could boast the NL’s best production from the 3 spot with him there. This allows DeJong to shift elsewhere and the lineup to deepen. Additionally, a healthy Ozuna puts a force in the cleanup spot. We see in the Wild Card column that a good Fowler lifts a good lineup even further as a more dynamic #2 hitter.

Based solely on the Steamer projections, the Cardinals could go from having just 4 batting positions in the top half of the NL, to having 7, with the 8th on the cusp. Additionally, those projections put them Top 3 in 4 spots. That’s…pretty darn good.

Wrap-Up

So what is the overall effect?

With Goldschmidt and the roster as is (at the time of publishing), the addition would take the Cardinals’ 1-8 lineup spots, which ranked 6th in the NL with a combined 104 wRC+ in 2018, and project them to post a 111 wRC+. That figure would have trailed only the Dodgers in the NL and the Astros in the AL in 2018. They leapfrog three playoff teams, the Braves, Brewers, and Cubs (relative to 2018 performance only), in the rankings.

So, in short, the Goldschmidt addition takes what was a decent offensive team and projects them to be among the elite offensive teams, overall. In that sense, he actually does “put them over the top.”

It’s hard to see right now, I know. Especially with a marquee RF still lingering on the market. But this lineup has the potential to be very, very good.

And that’s without discussing the semi-intangible things such as how opponents adjust their pitching approach with a player like Goldschmidt. Joe Maddon has already expressed how not-fun it is to pitch to Goldy. There could be even more widespread influence than the early projections indicate.

Thanks for reading!

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