The Cardinals announced on Sunday what their opening day roster would look like; there were some surprises – Lane Thomas and Kodi Whitley going down, John Nogowski staying up – but it was pretty much as expected. The next decision will be how to construct the lineup.
We know the starting lineup will consist of Yadier Molina, Paul Goldschmidt, Tommy Edman, Paul DeJong, Nolan Arenado, Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson, and Justin Williams. The issue is where to bat them.
The Cardinals have established that Edman will start the season leading off. Based off the last few spring games, it appears that 2-4 will be Goldschmidt, Arenado, and DeJong. This is the first issue.
DeJong has struggled this spring, and hasn’t been consistent over the course of his career. If you look at where he’s batted the best, it’s been the 8th and 9th spots (168 and 206 tOPS+ respectively in 77 plate appearances); since there is no chance he’s batting down there, I’m excluding these spots. I’ll also exclude lead off since he’s never batted there and Edman is set in that spot. Of the remaining spots, he’s had the least experience at clean up; in 48 plate appearances, he owns a 65 tOPS+ and a slash line of .205/.271/.364. He’s batted the most in the 3 and 5 holes. When batting 3rd, he has a 104 tOPS+ and slash line of .265/.341/.441; when he’s 5th, it’s 102 and .244/.313/.473. Ideally, 6th would be his best spot; in 147 plate appearances, he has a tOPS+ of 118 and a slash line of .271/.366/.511.
Now, let’s back up to Goldschmidt and Arenado.
Goldschmidt has hit 3rd in 68% of his plate appearances over his career with a tOPS+ of 101 and slash line of .293/.401/.517; the next closest is cleanup with 15% of his plate appearances. Arenado has also spent most of his time hitting 3rd (50% of his plate appearances), but he has done just as well hitting 4th, where he’s spent 28% of his plate appearances. At 4th, he owns a tOPS+ of 107 with a slash line of .295/.353/.571.
For the 2 hole, I’d use Carlson. While he didn’t have an exceptional 2020, his minor league numbers would support hitting in second; he owned a career line of .260/.350/.431 before coming up to the Majors. The Cardinals shouldn’t continue to baby Carlson; batting in front of Goldschmidt and Arenado means he’ll get pitches to hit and the fans will get the best idea of what he’s capable of if he hits his potential.
A riskier play than Carlson at 2 is using O’Neill at 5. Prior to spring, I would not have said this; but this spring he’s hit very well. In 47 plate appearances, he slashed .356/.383/.556 with 2 homers and 10 RBIs; the down side was the 28% strikeout rate. Over his short career, O’Neill has hit better in the 4 spot then the 5 hole, but those are the 2 spots he’s batted the most (122 tOPS+, .252/.292/.514 vs 61, .212/.255/.308). While the numbers aren’t inspiring, I’d hope his hot spring continues into the season; that said, it would be a short leash, which he should have anyways.
7th and 8th are pretty interchangeable; Molina should not be higher than 7th, period. The hitters above them are all superior at this point in his career. Williams doesn’t have the experience, yet, to move up above 7; if he hits and O’Neill and/or DeJong struggle, he could be a candidate to move up.
The everyday lineup should look like this:
- Edman, 2B
- Carlson, CF
- Goldschmidt, 1B
- Arenado, 3B
- O’Neill, LF
- DeJong, SS
- Molina, C
- Williams, RF
For days that Matt Carpenter is in the lineup, he should be no higher then 6th. If Edman is sitting, I’d rather see Carlson lead off and Williams hitting 2. Carp could slide in at 7 and push Molina to 8th.
Truthfully, the Cardinals could have used another hitter to slot into the 5th or 6th spot. Arenado was a huge upgrade, but there is still too many questions in the lineup, specifically with the outfield. If one of O’Neill and DeJong don’t step up, it could be a rough season for Cardinal hitters.