Should the 2011 Cardinals Provide Hope for the 2021 Team?

One thing you will hear out of half the Cardinals fanbase is the reminder that the 2011 Cardinals were 8.5 games back of the division and the Wild Card on September 1st. Unfortunately, it’s tough to catch lightening in bottle twice like that. The question is, is it possible?

The 2021 Cardinals have played 132 games as of September 2nd, and sit with a record of 68-64, 12.5 games back of the Brewers for the division and 2.5 back of the second Wild Card. They have scored 544 runs and allowed 565, for a run differential of -21. The 2011 Cardinals played 138 games through the same date, with a record of 73-65; at game 132, their record was 69-63. They scored 650 runs and allowed 606 in those 138 games, for a run differential of 44; for the same 132 game period, it was 617 scored and 576 allowed, for a run differential of 41. When you compare the 2 teams through 132 games, the 2011 Cardinals were a better team; while they had given up 11 more runs then the 2021 team, the also scored 73 more. The 2021 team also had a -62 swing in run differential compared to 2011. Point to 2011.

The 2011 Cardinals had an easier schedule too. They played 2 games against the sub-.500 Reds, 3 against the first place Brewers, 3 against the Wild Card leading Braves, 3 against the bad Pirates, 4 against the first place (and 98 win team at the time) Phillies, 3 against the struggling Mets, 3 against the tanking Cubs, and 3 against the bigger tanking Astros. Other then 2 series against the Cubs, the remaining schedule for this year’s Cardinal team is against the contenders: 3 series against the Brewers and 1 each against the Dodgers, Reds, Mets, and Padres. Another point for 2011.

How did the lineups look? Here are the starting 9 for games on September 2nd for both teams along with their slash lines.

CYadier Molina.294/.333/.417Yadier Molina.251/.294/.361
1BAlbert Pujols.294/.366/.552Paul Goldschmidt.287/.355/.493
2BRyan Theriot.273/.321/.336Tommy Edman.266/.317/.403
3BDavid Freese.306/.354/.443Nolan Arenado.256/.313/.492
SSRafael Furcal.219/.284/.327Paul DeJong.198/.289/.383
LFMatt Holliday.301/.397/.547Tyler O’Neill.273/.343/.503
CFJon Jay.297/.346/.417Harrison Bader.244/.310/.408
RFLance Berkman.283/.399/.554Dylan Carlson.261/.344/.419
SPChris CarpenterJ.A. Happ

If you give points to the teams for best OPS (on base plus slugging), then the 2011 wins 5-3 (Edman, Arenado, and DeJong for the 2021 team). Overall, the 2011 Cardinals had 6 starters and 5 bench players with OPS+ over 100; the 2021 team 4 starters and 4 bench players at that level (Edman is right at 100). Like the runs scored and run differential showed above, the 2011 Cardinals offense is superior to that of this year.

Let’s switch to the rotations.

Chris Carpenter343.453.06Adam Wainwright262.973.50
Jake Westbrook334.664.25Kwang Hyun Kim*203.234.12
Jaime Garcia323.563.23Carlos Martinez166.234.75
Kyle Lohse303.393.67John Gant*143.425.11
Kyle McClellan*174.194.92Jack Flaherty143.084.09
Edwin Jackson*123.584.01Johan Oviedo*134.915.26
Lance Lynn*23.122.88Wade LeBlanc*83.615.57
Miguel Batista*14.605.17Jon Lester65.124.73
Brandon Dickson*13.245.55J.A. Happ64.305.37
Miles Mikolas44.413.52
Jake Woodford*35.085.69
Daniel Ponce de Leon*26.396.16
* Also pitched in bullpen; these are full season numbers

The 2021 has used an additional 3 pitchers in 30 fewer games; only Adam Wainwright has the potential to get to 30 starts for this year’s team. The 2021 rotation is sitting at a 4.06 ERA, 4.41 FIP, and 7.1 WAR. The 2011 rotation had a 3.81 ERA, 3.69 FIP, and 11.4 WAR. When you look at the names in the rotation, the 2011 end of season rotation looks a lot stronger then where the Cardinals are right now (Wainwright, Kim, Lester, Happ, and Mikolas)

The bullpen is another issue for the 2021 team. The bullpen has a 4.21 ERA, 4.15 FIP, and 2.9 WAR (largely from Genesis Cabrera and Giovanny Gallegos, who account for 2.6 WAR). You also have no set closer and an issue with wildness (12.3 BB%). The 2011 bullpen had a 3.73 ERA, 3.87 FIP, and 0.6 WAR. They also only walked 8.6% of their batters.

When you look at the bigger picture of pitching, the 2011 team posted better team ERA, FIP, WHIP, BB/9, and HR/9; the 2021 team currently has a better H/9 and K/9. Overall, the 2011 team had better pitching.

So a team that had an easier schedule with better pitching and hitting would have the easier path to the post-season, so this comparison is not fair to either team; it puts a lot of pressure on an inferior team and gives the fan base some false hope. As of today, Fangraphs gives the Cardinals a 0.0% chance of winning the division and a 5.5% chance of winning a Wild Card spot, with a 0.1% chance of winning the World Series. While Fangraphs is saying there’s a chance, it’s not a good one; but I’ll happily eat crow if they can pull it off.

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