Finishing with a 71-91 record in 2023, the Cardinals had their worst season in over 30 years
The St. Louis Cardinals 2023 season was a nightmare that never seemed to end for the Cardinals faithful. Hoping that eventually everyone would wake up and turn their fortunes around, fans remained hopeful for a long time, but the nightmare was no dream, it was reality.
Finishing in last place in the NL Central division for the first time since 1990, which was when there were still six teams in the division, was humbling for the winning Cardinals franchise.
The 2023 team finished at 71-91, with this dreadful season being the first time since 2007 that the Cardinals finished below a .500 winning percentage. This is also the first time since 1990 that St. Louis finished with 90 or more losses.
Coming off of a 2022 season where they won 93 games and had the National League MVP in Paul Goldschmidt, this season shocked the baseball world. So, how did a franchise as storied and decorated as the St. Louis Cardinals allow such a pitiful season to happen? Let’s dive into the numbers.
The Numbers Behind the Disaster
In 2022, the Cardinals had the fifth-best on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) in MLB with a .745 mark. That number depreciated by only .003 points as the Cardinals posted a .742 OPS in 2023.
The Cardinals also slugged 209 home runs in 2023 which was 12 more than they hit in 2022. Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt both saw decreases in their offensive numbers, but other members of the offense stepped up to keep the offensive train rolling.
Willson Contreras and Nolan Gorman posted OPS numbers over .800 and Lars Nootbaar and Jordan Walker were not far behind with OPSs in the .780s.
The 2023 offense essentially had the same overall numbers as they did in 2022, which leaves the pitching as the common denominator. Despite being last in pitching strikeouts in MLB in 2022, the pitching staff pitched to a 3.79 ERA, which was good for 10th in MLB.
The 2023 team actually improved in strikeouts from the 2022 squad, moving from 30th to 29th in the league. Despite the slight improvement, edging out the Colorado Rockies for the last place spot, the Cardinals’ team ERA ballooned to 4.79 and collapsed down in the ranks to 24th in MLB.
In 2022, having pitchers that didn’t strike out hitters at high rates worked because the defense was one of the best in MLB. The Cardinals totaled 26 outs above average (OAA) and 67 defensive runs saved (DRS) in 2022.
The Cardinals also won two gold gloves in 2022 and five in 2021. Pitchers simply needed to throw strikes and let the opponent put the ball in play because the ball was likely getting tracked down by one of the seven gold glove winners.
The Cardinals tried to go with a similar approach in 2023, sending out contact pitchers on the mound. The difference: the 2023 Cardinals had -5 OAA and -7 DRS. Pitching to contact does not work when the fielders aren’t exceptional, which was demonstrated by the 91-loss Cardinals.
Possible solutions, what should be done?
The solution sounds simple but it is never as easy as it seems; play good defense and acquire strikeout pitchers.
After trading Jordan Montgomery and Jack Flaherty and losing Adam Wainwright to retirement, there are three vacancies to fill for the 2024 rotation. This gives the Cardinals a prime opportunity to acquire much-needed pitching.
Aaron Nola and Sonny Gray are appealing options as they are both soon-to-be free agents. Nola has struck out 200 or more batters in five seasons, a feat that a Cardinal has not achieved since Flaherty whiffed 231 bats in 2019.
Gray has only totaled 200 strikeouts once in his career, yet he’s still effective on the hill. In 11 years in MLB, Gray has a 3.47 cumulative ERA, with a 2.79 ERA in 2023.
The Cardinals will have to pay a premium price for these premium pitchers, but the need is desperate.
Free Agent Pitching Options
- Shohei Ohtani
- Aaron Nola
- Sonny Gray
- Jordan Montgomery
- Clayton Kershaw
- Julio Urias
- Blake Snell
- Michael Lorenzen