Baseball

Redbird Droppings: Are The 2024 Cardinals Better or Worse Than 2023

Contents

Redbird Droppings compares the 2024 Cardinals to the 2023 team through 40 games.

It’s been a long 40 games to start the season, and coupled with last season’s struggles, there are a lot of unhappy fans. It’s hard to write about teams like this, but there was a topic I was wondering: is this team better or worse than last years? Not looking at the surface and seeing the hitters not hit or the starting pitching only go 5 innings; more of a team comparison of these 40 games with the first 40 games last season.

(Note: All stats are through Sunday, May 12)

Records
The 2023 Cardinals ended with a record of 71-91 (.438 winning percentage); their first 40 games were worse, with a record of 15-25 (.375). This years team has started 16-24 (.400), just a game better than last years team at this point. If the Cardinals were to match last years win percentage for the remaining schedule, they’d finish 72-90, just a game better than last year.

The team has played in 13 series so far; they have won 5 and lost 8 (their last 4 series make up half of the losses). In the first 13 series last year, the Cardinals were 4-8-1; for the season, they were 20-27-5. Again, they saw a bump in winning after playing the first 13 series. The Cardinals haven’t swept a team yet and have been swept once (their first Brewer’s series); the 2023 Cardinals had 1 sweep by this point, but had been swept 4 times.

On top of the series struggles, the Cardinals haven’t been able to close them out either; they are 2-11 in the final day of their series. It’s kept them from sweeping the Padres, Marlins, Mets, and Athletics, taking series from the Phillies, Tigers, and White Sox, and splitting series with the Dodgers and Brewers. Last season, the Cardinals were 8-5 in closing out their first 13 series.

Runs
In the Cardinals first 40 games of 2023, they scored 181 runs (4.53 R/G) and allowed 199 (4.98); this year, they have scored 136 (3.40) and allowed 187 (4.68). They have been slightly better with pitching, which was the expected result by bringing in Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn, and Kyle Gibson; granted, a 12 run improvement is not that substantial.

The bigger issue is the drop in 45 runs scored; the Cardinals are scoring over a run less per game in 2024 than they did in the same period in 2023. They did not add any notable players to the offense, hoping for improvements (either from better performance or more experience) from Nolan Arenado, Dylan Carlson, Nolan Gorman, and Jordan Walker, healthy returns from Tommy Edman and Brendan Donovan, and adding Masyn Winn to the lineup. They also weren’t expecting major regression from Paul Goldschmidt, and to a lesser extent Lars Nootbaar.

Player2023 Avg/OBP/SLG/OPS+2024 Avg/OBP/SLG/OPS+
Nolan Arenado.266/.315/.459/109.266/.324/.380/103
Dylan Carlson.219/.318/.333/79.050/.174/.050/-31
Brendan Donovan.284/.365/.422/115.220/.306/.365/93
Tommy Edman.248/.307/.399/91N/A – Still Injured
Paul Goldschmidt.268/.363/.447/120.205/.287/.282/66
Nolan Gorman.236/.328/.478/117.191/.289/.351/84
Lars Nootbaar.261/.367/.418/115.194/.308/.340/87
Jordan Walker.276/.342/.445/114.155/.239/.259/44
Masyn Winn.172/.230/.238/29.280/.341/.364/104

Winn is the only player who has improved upon his 2023 like the team had hoped. Walker is at Memphis, Edman hasn’t played a game this season (more on my thoughts on his injury here), and the steps forward that Carlson took in spring training got wiped out by his shoulder injury. Arenado is hitting for the same average, but is getting on base slightly less and has seen his power disappear. I’ll be looking at Goldschmidt next week.

The team is on pace for 551 runs this season, well below the 719 they scored last year.

On top of the total run issues, there are also the per game runs; while the Cardinals have been shutout less, they have also fewer games with 9 or more runs. Their games are closer, since they have more games between 1-3 runs scored than last year.

Redbird Droppings: Cardinals Runs Per Game

They didn’t get their first double digit scoring game until game 41 of the season, where as last season it was game 19.

Run Differential and Projected Wins
The Cardinals run differential through 40 games was -51; through the first 40 games last season, it was -18. They are on pace for a run differential of -207, which is bad, but wouldn’t be an all time record (congrats 1932 Red Sox, who had -349; the 1899 Cleveland Spiders have the all time MLB record with -723). It’s bad, but I don’t know if it can stay this bad.

When using run differential to project what the team’s record should be, we see some real issues. When using the Pythagorean Theorem to project a teams record, the Cardinals should be 14-26, or 2 games worse than they really are; this is where they should be, as the standard deviation is +/- 3. They are overperforming somehow, most likely due to pitching. They are on pace for a 56-106 record.

It’s in line with last year’s team; they projected to be 18-22 after 40 games, which was 3 games better than they actually were. Their run differential at the end of the season would have given them a 70-92 record, or 1 game worse than they were.

Conclusion
On paper, this team should be better than last year; the hitters are better than they are playing and the pitching is better than last year. The Cardinals didn’t see their offensive collapse coming, but it’s crippling this team. If they could have matched last season’s offense, they’d be a lot closer to a .500 team and that much closer to being in the Wild Card hunt this early in the season.

Instead they are at a point where they’ll probably be sellers again this deadline; there would be no point in trying to right the ship if guys like Goldschmidt, Gorman, Walker, and Noot can’t get going into June.

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