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2016 Team Previews: St. Louis Cardinals

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Throughout the long, cold offseason, I am doing team by team previews to get you ready for the 2016 fantasy baseball season. Today it's the Cardinals.

Jason Heyward is gone, but Randall Grichuk leads a strong group of youngsters in St. Louis. How will they do this year?
Jason Heyward is gone, but Randall Grichuk leads a strong group of youngsters in St. Louis. How will they do this year?
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to my 2016 fantasy team previews. I will be breaking down 2016 prospects for the relevant fantasy players on all 30 teams, one team at a time. Check back throughout the offseason for new team previews. You can catch up on old ones in my archive (here) or in the section (here). Because there are 30 teams to cover in limited time, I have to get started now, even though there will certainly be some trades that move players around and open up larger roles for existing players. Also, free agents and guys that moved midseason will be analyzed with one of the teams they played for, even though they likely (or definitely) won't be on that team in 2016 so they don't get missed. Hopefully you can bear with me on those issues and remember that these were written before those trades occurred.

I am starting at the bottom of the standings and working my way up. In each team preview, I will attempt to follow the same layout. First, there will be two tables of stats for hitters (showing stats acquired while playing for this team; traded players will be missing some stats) followed by quick analysis of the most fantasy relevant of those hitters (relevance at my discretion). After that, two tables for the pitching stats and some pitcher analysis. I will then present one breakout player (aka sleeper) and one breakdown player (or bust, if you prefer) for the team. Got it? Ok, let's get started.

St. Louis Cardinals

Hitters

Name Position PA HR R RBI SB CS BB% K% AVG OBP SLG
Mark Reynolds 1B 432 13 35 48 2 3 10.20% 28.00% 0.23 0.315 0.398
Matt Adams 1B 186 5 14 24 1 0 5.40% 22.00% 0.24 0.28 0.377
Brandon Moss 1B, OF 151 4 11 8 0 1 11.30% 27.80% 0.25 0.344 0.409
Kolten Wong 2B 613 11 71 61 15 8 5.90% 15.50% 0.262 0.321 0.386
Matt Carpenter 3B, 2B* 665 28 101 84 4 3 12.20% 22.70% 0.272 0.365 0.505
Yadier Molina C 530 4 34 61 3 1 6.00% 11.10% 0.27 0.31 0.35
Tony Cruz C 151 2 6 11 0 0 4.00% 21.20% 0.204 0.235 0.31
Randal Grichuk OF 350 17 49 47 4 2 6.30% 31.40% 0.276 0.329 0.548
Tommy Pham OF 173 5 28 18 2 0 11.00% 23.70% 0.268 0.347 0.477
Matt Holliday OF 277 4 24 35 2 1 14.10% 17.70% 0.279 0.394 0.41
Jason Heyward OF 610 13 79 60 23 3 9.20% 14.80% 0.293 0.359 0.439
Peter Bourjos OF 225 4 32 13 5 8 8.40% 26.20% 0.2 0.29 0.333
Jon Jay OF 245 1 25 10 0 2 7.80% 14.70% 0.21 0.306 0.257
Stephen Piscotty OF, 1B, 3B* 256 7 29 39 2 1 7.80% 21.90% 0.305 0.359 0.494
Jhonny Peralta SS 640 17 64 71 1 4 7.80% 17.30% 0.275 0.334 0.411
Pete Kozma SS, 2B*, 3B* 111 0 15 2 3 1 9.00% 18.90% 0.152 0.236 0.152

Name BABIP LD% GB% FB% HR/FB SwStr% Soft% Med% Hard% ESPN Player Rater
Mark Reynolds 0.3 19.00% 41.40% 39.50% 12.50% 13.80% 24.70% 44.10% 31.20% -0.22
Matt Adams 0.285 20.10% 41.00% 38.80% 9.60% 11.70% 11.90% 51.10% 37.00% -2.03
Brandon Moss 0.337 20.20% 36.00% 43.80% 10.30% 13.00% 18.90% 38.90% 42.20% 0.49
Kolten Wong 0.296 22.50% 44.70% 32.80% 7.20% 8.90% 21.40% 51.40% 27.20% 4.37
Matt Carpenter 0.321 28.50% 29.70% 41.70% 15.80% 7.70% 11.20% 52.00% 36.80% 7.04
Yadier Molina 0.295 20.30% 47.70% 32.00% 2.90% 8.00% 17.50% 57.20% 25.30% 1.05
Tony Cruz 0.248 14.40% 53.20% 32.40% 5.60% 10.90% 23.90% 54.00% 22.10% #N/A
Randal Grichuk 0.365 20.60% 37.90% 41.60% 19.10% 15.60% 15.90% 47.20% 36.90% 2.63
Thomas Pham 0.333 21.20% 51.30% 27.40% 16.10% 9.90% 23.00% 38.90% 38.10% -1.10
Matt Holliday 0.335 23.00% 48.10% 29.00% 7.50% 10.60% 20.80% 45.90% 33.30% -0.40
Jason Heyward 0.329 19.30% 57.20% 23.50% 12.00% 6.50% 22.40% 48.70% 28.90% 7.58
Peter Bourjos 0.263 16.30% 48.90% 34.80% 8.50% 13.00% 22.70% 54.60% 22.70% -2.23
Jon Jay 0.246 21.60% 60.20% 18.20% 3.10% 6.30% 20.10% 58.10% 21.80% -3.47
Stephen Piscotty 0.372 21.20% 45.30% 33.50% 11.70% 11.20% 15.60% 46.90% 37.40% 0.88
Jhonny Peralta 0.311 24.70% 44.10% 31.20% 11.50% 10.60% 13.30% 54.90% 31.90% 3.88
Pete Kozma 0.192 16.00% 29.30% 54.70% 0.00% 6.80% 24.10% 65.80% 10.10% #N/A

*Will lose this eligibility in 2016

**The ESPN player rater is based on a player's standard 5 x 5 category performance relative to average. A score of 0 is replacement level and negative values mean the player is actually hurting your team. Values in the 1-2 range generally are for your worst starting player, unless you are unlucky. There are no positional adjustments, though, so shortstops and catchers will often have very low scores relative to everyone else. It is normalized so that guys with little playing time can be compared to guys that played all year.

Analysis

Well, we're here at the end of all things. Ok, maybe not the end of all things, but this is the end of my 2016 Fantasy Team Previews. The Cardinals set the pace for the rest of the league in the regular season and for that reason get the last spot in my previews.

An injured Matt Adams had a rough season. I'm mostly writing off last year and I would expect something much closer to his 2014 season in 2016. Unfortunately for him, the Cardinals have Brandon Moss and Adams can't hit lefties. Moss has almost no career splits, despite being platooned in the past. Stephen Piscotty will also be in the crowded 1B mix. All this means Matt Adams will need injuries in front of him to be relevant in just about any fantasy league. He showed so much promise in 2013, but now looks like he just won't get a chance to play enough to matter.

Moss should get a good number of at bats between 1B and RF and I am bullish on his 2016 prospects. He had a rough season in 2015 but hit 25 HR in 2014 and 30 in 2013. He walks a good amount and had three seasons of wRC+ values of 121 or higher before last year. He's 32, which isn't old enough to expect a big decline. He should be fully healthy after dealing with injuries in 2014. I think 20 HR with good R and RBI totals and a 0.250 average are in store. That has value in deeper leagues.

While Kolten Wong will be locked into a platoon with newly-acquired Jedd Gyorko, he will be on the strong side and get most of the at-bats. He should continue to offer 10+ HR and 15 or so steals. I think his batting average will actually go up because his BABIP is low for a hitter with his speed and scouts seemed to think his hit tool would be better than average, giving him 60 to 70 grades on his hit tool. He hit over 0.300 most of his time in the minors. I think an average of 0.275 is a good bet. That makes him valuable, even in a platoon, as a second baseman.

Speaking of valuable second basemen (he won't qualify there in ESPN or CBS in 2016, though), we have Matt Carpenter. He exchanged batting average for power in a dramatic change in approach in 2015. His exchange was surprisingly easy and straightforward. It rarely works that way. He increased his HR output from just 8 in 2015 to 28. His batting average actually didn't even change from 2015, but it is down from his height of 0.318 in 2014. He sold out for power in such a sustainable way that I can't predict much of a change in 2016. His high FB% and great hard hit% show the power was very real. I expect another 0.270 average, 20-25 HR, a truck load of runs and RBI,  and 5 token steals for this guy. That should put him around the seventh 3B off the board.

I'm going to give the aging Yadier Molina a pass for last season after playing with an injured thumb and other ailments. The bigger concern is his three year decline. The best we can hope for here is 8 HR, a 0.280 average, and a 0.390 slugging. That puts him beyond 10-team, 1 catcher leagues. He is probably catcher number 12 or 13 at best. He seems much older than 33, but maybe he has just enough left for one more season with a near 0.300 average, that's about the most optimistic thing you could say. He is still recovering from thumb surgery and may not make opening day, so keep that in mind also.

Randall Grichuk is one of my favorites of the young guys on this team. He has my favorite characteristic: great power. Sure, he was lucky to have the average he did with a very high BABIP, and team-high strikeout and swinging strike rates, but the power was real. He hit lots of fly balls, pulled the ball a lot, and had a great hard hit %. I think his plate discipline needs to improve or he could end up with a 0.230 average this year. I'm going to bet on some improvement in his skills and a correction based on BABIP and the strikeouts and end up with a 0.240 average for 2016. That should come with 25 HR and good counting stats. The power will come down to 25 from his 30+ HR pace last year because I don't expect a 19% HR/FB ratio again.

I really like what I saw in Tommy Pham last season and wish he was on a team where he could get full playing time. He's a name to keep in mind for deeper leagues, but he is too buried on the depth chart for shallow leagues. If Grichuk gets hurt, Pham will be the everyday CF, though. I like his all-around skill set and he reminds me of David Peralta a little bit.

Matt Holliday had an injury-plagued season that we should just ignore. Given that and his advancing age, I still think his 2014 season could easily be achieved in 2016. That year he hit 0.272/0.370/0.441, with 20 HR, 80 R, and 93 RBI. He's got another one of those in him, I believe.

Jason Heyward has long been a fantasy darling since his very young MLB debut. I've never really gotten the hype around him. He has only had average power (13-14 HR) four out of the last five years. He's had a good 20 steals the last two years, but his batting average is just OK. I'm not saying he's not valuable, especially now that he will be hitting near the top of a powerful Cubs lineup, but you shouldn't over pay for him in drafts. I don't see a big difference in value between him and Christian Yelich or David Peralta in value. That would make him the #23 or 24 outfielder. He's not a top 20 OF in my view.

Stephen Piscotty looked great in his first MLB look, but that batting average is not for real. His BABIP was just too high and his minor league track record does not support it. Hitters that have a 0.272 average in AAA don't just suddenly hit 0.305 in the majors very often. I think his average will fall to 0.260 or so. He had a good hard hit %, but it was a small sample and scouts gave him just average power grades, so I think 15 HR is the most likely scenario. That puts him around OF #55 or so, which obviously isn't great and means he should be left for deep leagues.

Now we arrive at one of the most underrated SS in fantasy. Jhonny "J-Hone-e" Peralta hit in the three or four spot in this lineup for much of last year due to injuries and underperformance on the roster. That still shows just how good the Cardinals think he is as a hitter and that is very rare for a shortstop. He has consistently put up numbers that wouldn't be bad for an OF or 3B in deep leagues. Despite all that he is viewed as boring and old in most drafts and can be had for cheap. He has stayed mostly healthy and has a high floor. He has good power for a SS, puts up an average that won't hurt you and gets very good counting stats for the position. He could easily be SS#10 in most leagues. If you took him as the number 8 or 9 shortstop, I wouldn't call it a reach.

With the promotions of Wong, Piscotty, Grichuk and others in recent years, the upper levels of the farm are pretty bare. There aren't any impact hitters expected to debut in 2016.

Pitchers

Name Position IP ERA FIP xFIP WHIP BABIP LOB% GB% SwStr%
Miguel Socolovich RP 29.2 1.82 2.76 3.82 1.18 0.276 83.30% 47.70% 10.80%
Trevor Rosenthal RP 68.2 2.1 2.42 3.19 1.27 0.337 85.90% 45.80% 11.60%
Kevin Siegrist RP 74.2 2.17 2.91 3.93 1.17 0.271 82.90% 31.10% 10.10%
Steve Cishek RP 23.1 2.31 4.33 4.55 1.33 0.254 85.60% 43.10% 9.00%
Jonathan Broxton RP 23.2 2.66 3.56 3.33 1.35 0.295 82.20% 58.60% 10.80%
Matt Belisle RP 33.2 2.67 3.64 4.52 1.46 0.314 83.00% 52.40% 8.80%
Mitchell Harris RP 27 3.67 5.39 5.49 1.59 0.289 77.50% 45.10% 8.50%
Randy Choate RP 27.1 3.95 3.68 3.7 1.24 0.329 69.90% 61.70% 11.10%
Seth Maness RP 63.1 4.26 3.78 3.53 1.42 0.345 69.00% 55.90% 9.00%
Carlos Villanueva RP, SP 61 2.95 3.74 4.06 1.16 0.265 80.50% 42.40% 12.10%
Adam Wainwright SP 28 1.61 2.13 3.14 1.04 0.287 75.90% 51.20% 7.80%
Jaime Garcia SP 129.2 2.43 3 3.36 1.05 0.267 78.10% 61.20% 9.20%
John Lackey SP 218 2.77 3.57 3.77 1.21 0.295 82.60% 46.00% 9.40%
Lance Lynn SP 175.1 3.03 3.44 3.9 1.37 0.319 78.90% 44.20% 8.90%
Tim Cooney SP 31.1 3.16 3.58 3.94 1.21 0.287 77.60% 37.90% 8.30%
Michael Wacha SP 181.1 3.38 3.87 3.88 1.21 0.272 76.20% 45.80% 9.50%
Carlos Martinez SP, RP* 179.2 3.01 3.21 3.28 1.29 0.318 78.80% 54.50% 10.50%
Tyler Lyons SP, RP* 60 3.75 4.53 3.46 1.23 0.281 79.00% 39.30% 9.60%

Name SV HLD K% BB% Soft% Med% Hard% ESPN Player Rater
Miguel Socolovich 0 1 21.60% 8.00% 22.70% 55.70% 21.60% 0.46
Trevor Rosenthal 48 0 28.90% 8.70% 21.90% 51.70% 26.40% 7.51
Kevin Siegrist 6 28 28.90% 10.90% 15.10% 58.40% 26.50% 3.94
Steve Cishek 1 3 20.20% 13.10% 12.30% 58.50% 29.20% -0.53
Jonathan Broxton 0 6 25.70% 11.90% 15.90% 49.20% 34.90% -0.70
Matt Belisle 0 7 16.80% 10.10% 11.30% 55.70% 33.00% -1.04
Mitchell Harris 0 0 12.30% 10.70% 11.70% 55.30% 33.00% #N/A
Randy Choate 1 8 18.80% 4.30% 16.70% 69.10% 14.30% -1.03
Seth Maness 3 20 17.00% 4.80% 21.40% 48.10% 30.50% -0.56
Carlos Villanueva 2 0 22.00% 8.40% 16.30% 54.10% 29.70% 1.37
Adam Wainwright 0 0 18.00% 3.60% 13.80% 64.40% 21.80% 0.21
Jaime Garcia 0 0 19.00% 5.90% 21.10% 51.80% 27.10% 5.59
John Lackey 0 0 19.50% 5.90% 17.60% 52.30% 30.10% 6.87
Lance Lynn 0 0 22.20% 9.10% 18.40% 53.40% 28.20% 4.27
Tim Cooney 0 0 22.30% 7.70% 15.60% 53.30% 31.10% -0.66
Michael Wacha 0 0 20.10% 7.60% 20.70% 49.70% 29.50% 5.98
Carlos Martinez 0 1 24.40% 8.30% 21.20% 51.60% 27.20% 5.78
Tyler Lyons 0 0 23.50% 5.90% 27.90% 41.30% 30.70% 0.17

*If they were outside the top 550 pitchers on the player rater, they will show up as #N/A

Analysis

A now fully-healthy Adam Wainwright returns to lead the rotation. He's still an excellent pitcher, but he is very much in the danger zone for post-Tommy John surgery, where re-injury is very common. I wrote about this in more detail before last season. The same situation is still true this year. His short sample from last year showed his usual elite control and command, but a poor swinging strike rate and strikeout rate. There is just way more risk here than most people think. Starting pitching is so deep this season that I will gladly take another option. Felix Hernandez, Carlos Carrasco, and Noah Syndergaard are all guys I would rather have.

Jaime Garcia (if he stays healthy, wait, I should bold that and italicize and capitalize: IF he stays healthy) can be a good fantasy starter. He limits hard contact and keeps the ball on the ground at an elite level. He doesn't get a lot of strikeouts but can get enough to not be a big drag in that category. He can keep his ERA in the low 3s and his WHIP under 1.1. Health, of course, is his biggest problem, not skills. He hasn't pitcher over 130 innings since 2011. That big risk will keep his cost down and keep him from being a top 30 starter. He is still draftable in all leagues, but not as a top 3 starter on your staff because you can't rely on him.

John Lackey is now in Chicago with the Cubbies, but remains a solid fantasy pitcher. The 3.77 xFIP from last year is scary, but I trust his long track record of consistent performance. His ERA has bounced around a lot, but his underlying stats have been very much the same from year to year. He's like the Jhonny Peralta of starting pitchers: boring, consistent, above average, reliable. That has real value in fantasy. He's got a high floor and I expect an ERA of around 3.5 or 3.6 to go with 7.4 K/9, a great walk rate, and about 200 innings.

Lance Lynn unfortunately will miss the entire season with Tommy John surgery recovery.

Michael Wacha gets too much hype, in my opinion. Look at his stats from last year and compare them to John Lackey. Sure, Wacha is younger and could still improve, but they really aren't all that different and are being taken rounds apart from each other in most drafts (ADP of 90 at Fantasy Pros for Wacha, 145 for Lackey). His 3.88 xFIP and even worse 4.03 SIERA from last year show that he isn't really some ace-in-waiting. I think the projection I made for Lackey is the same one I would use for Wacha, so don't buy the hype. He's still ownable in all leagues, but he shouldn't be your number one or two starter.

Carlos Martinez, on the other hand, is poised to become the second best starter on this team. He has the complete package: the highest swinging strike rate in this rotation, the second highest ground ball rate, and the best K%-BB%. Throw in excellent FIP, xFIP, and SIERA values and an arsenal score that is near the top in baseball and you've got a great starter. I love this guy and he has been improving every year. Confidently take him as the 27-30 starter off the board in drafts, and maybe even higher.

Despite decent performances last year, neither Tim Cooney or Tyler Lyons are relevant outside of NL-only leagues. Neither is expected to be in the rotation until injuries strike.

I covered new addition Mike Leake with the San Francisco Giants preview. I don't have faith that he will do well in St. Louis.

Down in the 'pen, Trevor Rosenthal is a top 5-7 closer option once again with great strikeout ability and a team that will win 95-100 games again. Kevin Siegrist racked up holds, finishing tied for sixth in baseball. His skills did decline somewhat, but he should still be the main setup guy and get lots of strikeouts, but with some ERA and WHIP risk. He will get lots of holds chances once again. There aren't many great fantasy options behind him, with groundballer Seth Maness the best option for holds after Siegrist.

There aren't any top pitching prospects set to debut in 2016, but Marco Gonzales (a former prospect) should be fully healthy and ready to fill in after Jaime Garcia gets hurt (you know it will happen). He's got an elite changeup and his a "crafty" lefty that doesn't throw hard but has good control and command. He doesn't have great upside but he might be useful later in the season off waivers.

Breakout

Carlos Martinez

Maybe he already had his breakout, but I think it is possible he gets even better. He's probably my favorite pitcher on this team and might end up with the best fantasy season of any pitcher on the team, especially if Wainwright gets hurt again or struggles a little bit. Grichuk is runner-up in this category for his great power potential.

Breakdown

Adam Wainwright

There are a number of candidates for this prestigious award on this team including Wacha, Piscotty, and Garcia, but I'm going with the old ace here. I'm still standing by my bold prediction from 2015 (which turned out to be correct, just not for the injury I was expecting). He will not be a top 25 pitcher in 2016.

That wraps up all 30 team previews. I hope you found them useful. At about 3500 words per team, they total 105,000 words. I'll be back writing player profiles and other stuff soon. Tschus!