Kwang Hyun Kim
There was a lot of attention paid to re-signing Adam Wainwright and the arbitration hearing of Jack Flaherty. The veteran and the ace will both play a huge role in the formation of the rotation but the key pitcher of the entire staff could be the second year lefty from Korea Kwang Hyun Kim.
Kim’s first season in the MLB was fantastic by traditional standards. He had a 1.62 ERA in eight games pitched (seven starts), finishing with a record of 3-0. ERA is a deceiving number, you look at any ERA under two and assume that he was an effective starter but in reality Kim had issues in 2020. His ERA is likely a product of his ability to strand base runners. He stranded 86% of baserunners in 2020, he was one of seven players to do that all season. Through just seven starts, that number can be maintained. How will that play out over the longivity of a 162 game season.
The Cardinals have a lot of options for the rotation, but after Jack Flaherty and Wainwright there lies a lot of strictly potential. Unfortunately potential doesn’t lead to victories. The options of Miles Mikolas (missed most of 2020), the unpredictable Carlos Martinez, the often injured and unproven Alex Reyes, the starter turned reliever turned starter Jon Gant, and the stable Daniel Ponce de Leon all are going to have a chance to compete for a spot but they all bring uncertainty. For St. Louis to be a real contender for a championship they will need stability somewhere in the rotation. Kim is a veteran of professional baseball, he features some nasty stuff that can be effective against major league hitters, but his consistency will be a question and his continued ability to pitch around trouble. There was luck involved in Kim’s success last year. That same luck may not be there this year.
Kim’s performance will dictate the entire staff.
Tommy Edman taking the leadoff spot.
On opening day the Cardinals will not have Kolten Wong on their roster for the first time since the 2015 season. His dazzling defense will be missed but it could be his steady play at the plate over the last few seasons that will leave a gap that even his backhand couldn’t plug up. Wong took over the leadoff spot in 2019, leading to the best offensive season of his career with a .361 OBP, 25 steals and 11 homers. 2020 was not a stellar offensive season for Wong but he still was able to amass a .350 OBP, which was good enough for third on the team behind slugger Paul Goldschmidt and veteran Brad Miller.
The Cardinals have to find an answer for the top of the order. Guys like Dylan Carlson and potentially Matt Carpenter could fit the mold. Carlson fits better in the #2 slot in the lineup, allowing the young hitter to get fastballs being protected by Goldschmidt and the newly acquired Nolan Arenado. Carpenter, entering the age 35 season, has seen nothing but regression. 2020 saw Carpenter have his lowest WRC+ (83), his OBP was decent at .325 but he also had his strikeout rate jump to 28%. Carpenter’s bat speed has dropped at an alarming level ccausing his hard hit percentage to be at just 35%. His time at the top of the order is over.
Edman has the versatility to stay in the lineup. He can play all over the field and can switch hit, making him a great matchup for any starter. Edman will get the first shot at the leadoff spot and if he can bring the same offensive output he brought in 2019 the Cardinals offense will be impossible to stop.
Tyler O’Neill living up to the hype.
The time has come for Tyler O’Neil. Is he a boom or a bust? He won a gold glove last year, so that would be a positive. He has hit 140 career homers in the minor leagues over seven seasons. That is Crash Davis level power at the minor level. It’s time for the organization to find out what they have in the burly bomber.
The Cardinals committed to the youth in the outfield movement. Moving Dexter Fowler, made Harrison Bader the oldest projected starter at 26 years old. Top prospect Dylan Carlson will move into the biggest role on the team, projecting to play multiple spots in the outfield as well as be primed in the middle of the order. The aformentioned Bader will man centerfield and play gold glove level outfield, anything from the plate will be a plus but not much can be expected. The Cardinal’s will need O’Neill to live up to his early career promise. The strikeouts will be there but the power has to show up.
St. Louis showed it’s commitment to a new approach in the outfield, they have to have the confidence to stick with O’Neill and allow him to get comfortable at the plate. Let him go through early growing pains to figure out his swing. He will reward the Cardinals with the power and protection needed for your big bats. Oh, he is also the fastest player in baseball. Let this guy loose.