The best of the 2021 season: Pitch, System, Front Office
We’re back for the last article in the “Best of” series for 2021! Last week we looked at offense and defense. This week we take a look at pitchers (both starters and relievers), the minor league system, and front office moves. It’s a bit of a mishmash article but, hey, I like to type hodgepodge. So, this is what you get!
Instead of digging deeper into the subject with a long introduction, let’s get straight to the meat. Here are the “best ofs” for the 2021 season.
Best starting pitcher: Adam Wainwright
Something like a hilarious and sad thing happens if you go to Fangraphs and view the starting pitching standings of the St. Louis Cardinals. Only one launcher presents itself. You see, this leaderboard automatically sorts players by “qualified” status – meaning they’ve made enough starts and pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA title with the league. The only name on the list? Adam Wainwright, of course, who wins this by default as the only starter to have come through the season in the rotation.
The good thing – for this article and the Cardinals – is that Adam Wainwright has had a great season. He landed at a 3.05 ERA with a 3.66 FIP and 3.8 fWAR in just over 200 innings pitched. You have to go back to the first seasons of Wainwright – 2014 and before – to find this kind of production of the future Cardinals Hall of Fame.
What is the key to its success? Modern hitters really struggle with quality curved balls. Its curve was still in the 90se percentile in rotation. The hitters only had a .253 wOBA against that pitch. Although he threw it more than 33% of the time, Waino only had a 6.0% walk rate. Curved, high-spinning balls in the strike zone? Yes, hitters can put them in play – his breath% was among the lowest in the league – but they can’t put in enough to get balls past the club’s superb defense or send them out of the way. spacious Busch.
Simply put, despite being 40 years old, Waino’s profile and stuff still fits this club and his stadium perfectly. That’s why the team approached him early for a salary roughly twice that of last year. He’ll be doing one more round with his drum mate Molina and there’s no reason to expect him to be anything but effective next year.
Strong points? There are so many. So let’s take a look at them all! Here’s a great video on Waino’s best from the second half of the season.
Best Performance in One Game: Adam Wainwright
I did not research this category. If I’m wrong I’m wrong, but at the start of this season I argued that “Wainwright” from Wainwright on August 11the was not only Wainwright’s best start to a season, it was also the best start to his career. Here is that article in case you missed it.
In that game, Wainwright pitched a full play in 9 innings, allowing just 2 hits and 0 walks while striking out 7. His game score was a solid 90 – hitter-free territory. The problem with Game Score (among many) is that it doesn’t take into account the number of pitches, which is important. The effectiveness of the pitcher is an important part of being a starter. In that two-hit shutout in August, Wainwright needed just 88 shots. This is called a “Maddux” – a complete game with fewer throws than 10 innings pitched (ie less than 90.)
Like I said at the time, a “Maddux” could be a “Maddux”, but even Maddux didn’t make Maddux at 39! Age matters when it comes to the performance of the pitcher. And if Maddux hasn’t done anything, then he can’t get the credit for the name now, can he? This is why the “Maddux” from Wainwright is not a “Maddux” but the “Maddux” from Wainwright must be, instead, a “Wainwright”.
If this is the best start to Wainwright’s career – and I think I do argue that it is (or at least the top 2) – then it absolutely has to be the best start to the season.
Strong points? Of course we have them!
Best reliever (WPA): Giovanny Gallegos
Another obvious category. Giovanny Gallegos – the only Cardinals reliever who has been good all season – wins the best reliever award. We could use any statistic we want to use. He led the team in the WAR reliever at 2.2 – double what Genesis Cabrera produced. He had the lowest ERA of any ERA title qualifier among relievers at 3.02. If I start playing with the innings, TJ MacFarland (38.2 IP, 2.56 ERA) and Kodi Whitley (25.1 IP, 2.49 ERA) are worth mentioning. Does he record? Well, Alex Reyes wins that one at 29 saves. But if you want to claim Reyes was a better reliever than Gio Gallegos this season, more power for you. That horrible 6.47 BB / 9 rate is the kicker for me.
No, the stat that we’ve been using all season when we got up and looked at the relievers is WPA – Win Probability Added – and Gio has been on top for most of the year. This season he’s come in at +2.40, just under a point higher than MacFarland. Luis Garcia was next in limited action at .53. Gio was not only good, but he was also addicted to high leverage situations. He finished 22sd in the league in this category among qualified relievers. Not too bad!
What about the highlights? For a long time, Gio was ignored by MLB Video Search. Not anymore. He had enough backup opportunities to grab the attention of the videographer. Here he is closing the 17 of the clube consecutive victory.
Best Minor League Player: Nolan Gorman
Now is the time for things to get controversial. I expect almost all of you to disagree with my winner for this category. Its good. I’m not really here to argue with you whether you want to choose Jordan Walker or Juan Yepez. Walker was brilliant at 19 – his first and only season in professional ball. He obtained a 205 wRC + in balloon A in 122 PA. That’s crazy. Its line in A + is stupendous – .292 / .344 / .487. I just wrote an entire article about how good Juan Yepez is this season and how the Cardinals should build their DH offseason plan around him.
But just take a second and think about what Nolan Gorman has been up to this year. The Cardinals’ “third baseman of the future” and top offensive prospect found his way to the majors suddenly blocked by an impassable wall of Gold Gloves and Silver Slugger awards. Nolan Arenado was a cardinal and likely would remain so for the foreseeable future. Right fielder had former best offensive prospect Dylan Carlson. Left had “what if Nolan Gorman was a Gold Glove winning outfielder” Tyler O’Neill in it.
So the 21-year-old – 21 years old – picked up a second baseman’s glove and rushed to Jupiter early to start picking down players and making double plays with Jose Oquendo.
Some – a lot – of fans said at the time, “A fun experience!” But that’s all it is.
Listen, folks, Gorman has done it. This is not a Skip Schumaker situation. This is not about “messing around about the spring training background.” From the reports I’ve heard, Gorman is going to be a pretty decent second baseman. He’s not Tommy Edman or Kolten Wong, but it looks like most would-be observers think he’ll be fine there.
That kind of drastic defensive change is likely to have an impact on the offense, right? Especially in the face of aggressive promotion to AA after a season of taking live BPs for a few weeks at the alternative training site? Well, forget it. Gorman tore through Springfield, producing a .379 wOBA and 129 wRC + at the level with 11 HR and a 9.2% walk rate. A patient franchise with plenty of depth – normally what the Cardinals are – would have allowed Gorman to destroy AA and build confidence with a difficult defensive change for most of the season. Instead, Randy LaRocque and his player development team aggressively pushed Gorman to Memphis after just 43 AA games. There he made 14 home runs in 328 PA. His walk rate fell to 6.1%, but his K’s also fell – just 19.2%. Its ISO was 0.191. This elite power has remained. The result was a 106 wRC +. Not great, but considering age, experience, a position switch, etc. it is really impressive.
All things considered for Gorman, it has been a very successful season. It wasn’t as flashy as Walker and Yepez, but he worked and worked to position himself to fight for a starting role at second base in early 2022 at the age of 22. He entered the season as the Cards organization’s top prospect, faced a challenge as tough as anyone in the organization, and he ends the season retaining the title. It’s “best of”, even with a few other equally worthy fabulous performances.
Look at this swing and the power easy!
Best Front Office Movement: Nolan Arenado
It’s Nolan Arenado. Should I say anything else?
This deal was an absolute heist for Mozeliak. The Rockies continue to give money to the Cardinals. Arenado agreed to defer the money from his deal – not just once, but twice. And we already know that the third baseman in contention for Gold Glove is going to bypass his withdrawal and come back next year. Plan for him to do the same after 2022. (You don’t apply two different deferrals in your contract if you plan to opt out. Arenado is a life cardinal.)
All has not been good for Mozeliak. He made a pretty bad decision in letting Kolten Wong go. This, however, was driven entirely by the need to hit a hard salary floor at the start of the 2021 offseason. It also gave the club the financial flexibility they needed to secure the deal with Arenado. One of these movements cannot be done without the other. So you take the good and take the bad and something something something the facts of life, the facts of life. (Link for you Millenials.)
On that note… highlights!
That’s all for this season’s “best of” series! I’ll have more easygoing content on Saturdays throughout the offseason. Enjoy your beautiful fall weekend.