TDG’S Triple Play: St Louis Cardinals!
The Triple Play is back for a fifth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Phil Barrington and he is joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Steven Matz, Age: 30, Position: SP
Analysis by: Ben Sanders
Steven Matz is not the type of pitcher I usually give much thought to in dynasty leagues. Sure, I might pick him to round out a redraft staff, or consider him as a streaming option. But I’d prefer to use my precious dynasty roster space on someone with more upside than a 30-year-old southpaw who strikes out less than a batter per inning.
However, when Matz signed a four-year contract with St. Louis this offseason, it piqued my interest. The Cardinals claimed five NL Gold Gloves in 2021, and Busch Stadium is not an easy place to hit home runs. If you’re wondering how much a pitcher can benefit from this elite defense and park combo, consider that St. Louis ranked dead last in MLB in K-BB% at 10.2%, yet was 12th in ERA at 4.00. Matz produced a 15.6 K-BB% a year ago, and has an above-average 47% groundball rate for his career. If the Cardinals can make bad pitching look decent, they should be able to make Matz look pretty good.
Matz has been consistent in the stats that matter most. Outside of some small-sample noise in 2017 and 2020, he hasn’t strayed too far from his career 22.3% K-rate or 7.1% BB-rate. Helping his reliability is a four-pitch mix that is effective against both lefties (.323 career wOBA allowed) and righties (.324). He throws his sinker more than half the time, and his changeup is the most-used of his three secondary offerings. His curve ball and slider get a little more action against lefties, and the curve is his best strikeout pitch, producing a 31.4% whiff rate last season.
Matz may have been a bit lucky keeping the ball in the park last season, as his 12.3% HR/FB was better than his career 16.5% rate, but leaving the AL East will make avoiding longballs easier. The Cardinals can also hopefully help his .321 BABIP move towards their .272 team mark, second-best in MLB last season. He won’t have the backing of the Toronto offense to help him win 14 games again, but double-digit victories are likely on a good St. Louis team in a bad division, and a mid-3s ERA and a WHIP in the low 1.20s seem very possible.
A blistering start
Matz’s first start in St. Louis did not go well. In what should’ve been a very favorable matchup at home against Pittsburgh, he allowed seven runs in three innings, including a grand slam to Michael Chavis. On the positive side, he struck out five and walked one, getting 12 whiffs and 14 called strikes for a solid 35% CSW. His average fastball velocity of 94.6 was right where it’s been the past two years, and he threw all his pitches. Blame a .667 BABIP and/or a blister he developed during the outing.
Those seven earned runs are going to make his ERA look bad for a while, and the blister will scare away anyone who’s ever rostered Rich Hill. Managers may be quick to give up on Matz, especially given his age and limited strikeout upside, but I see it as an opportunity to cheaply acquire a pitcher in an intriguing situation.
Harrison Bader, Age: 27, Position: CF
Analysis by: Aaron Cumming
Harrison Bader has been simmering with the Cardinals for years now. A cold weather prep bat, he didn’t get any professional attention until his power breakout as a junior at the University of Florida. Pairing that power with his already superlative speed and defense, he vaulted into the third round of the MLB draft in 2015. Upon entering the St. Louis organization, he kept on hitting, with 11 home runs, 17 steals, and a .311 batting average in just 61 games between Low-A and Single-A. He continued to show those power and speed skills as he progressed through the minor leagues, but was always regarded as a good-not-great prospect. Bader has shown the skills to be a top-tier duel threat offensive force, but has yet to put it all together at the same time. He will get everyday play based on his defense, and 2022 could be the year it all comes together.
Harrisons Of The Father
The sabermetric revolution did a lot to advance the quality of play in baseball. But it did so at the cost of a few underappreciated aspects of the game. Bader is a bit of a throwback in that regard; he creates an incredible amount of value for his team with his defense and his plate approach has evolved to prioritize making contact above all else. 2021 saw him join four of his teammates as Gold Glove winners, but he has been deserving of being called the best center fielder in the league pretty much since day one. From his first full year in 2018, he has statistically been the best outfielder in the majors, and it’s not particularly close. He leads all outfielders in Outs Above Average, Defensive Runs Saved, and UZR (three of the most respected measures of defensive prowess), with only Kevin Kiermaier finding himself in the same stratosphere as Bader.
Harrison has also trended towards being a free-swinger, too, another throwback to the game our fathers came to know and love. Nobody is going to confuse him with the likes of Salvador Perez or Javier Báez, but Bader’s swing rate took a big jump up in 2021 and that change has stuck around so far in 2022. Last season was his lowest walk rate (6.7%) since his cup of coffee in 2017, but his more aggressive approach and bat to ball skills also precipitated his lowest strikeout rate (21.2%) by quite a bit (his next lowest was 26.1% in that same small sample to start his career).
Bader To The Bone
For several years, Bader has been a favorite of the inimitable Eno Sarris due to his barrel rate and ability to hit the ball hard. Those skills are still in place for him, but don’t show up as obviously because of his new plate approach. Swinging at more pitches and generating more contact usually comes at the expense of the overall quality of that contact. Bader’s fate fell right in line with that correlation last year. His max exit velocity still screams of someone with excellent raw power, but his “rate” stats took a hit as he put more weak balls in play. It doesn’t take much squinting to see how he can find a middle ground that allows him to be aggressive in the zone while letting his power and speed shine through. Considering the playing time guarantee he has because of the defense he brings to the table, Bader should be a good bet to accrue a lot of plate appearances in a very good Cardinals lineup. A .270 average, 25-homerun, 20-steal season is well within the range of outcomes for this future All-Star.
Juan Yepez, Age: 24, Position: 1B/OF, Level:Triple-A
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
Juan Yepez was my pick to click as soon as we heard the National League was adding the Designated Hitter, because he was not replacing four-time Gold Glove winner Paul Goldschmidt at first base, and the Cards outfield spots looked pretty full as well. So, everything was going great; after Yepez had a big 2021 in the minors (more on that in a minute), he shot up prospect boards and was available in just about every one of my leagues, and I took him in all the minor league drafts I could. Then, the Cardinals decided to re-sign Albert Pujols for a swan song (and who can blame them? The Machine still did really well against lefties) and Yepez will begin the season back at Triple-A Memphis. At least these are Dynasty leagues (though I did take him late in the TGFBI), I tell myself.
When you haven’t got a prayer
Part of the Braves 2014 international signing class, the Venezuelan Yepez signed for a cool million dollars, and he began his professional stateside career in 2015 in Rookie Ball. He spent 2015 there, and made it to Single-A in 2016. He was in Single-A in 2017, when, on May 20th that year, the Braves acquired Matt Adams and sent Yepez to the Cardinals. They moved him to Single-A, where he remained until the 2019 season, and he finally was promoted to Double-A.
Yepez spent part of four seasons at Single-A; and his numbers were nothing of note; only 20 homers and 19 steals in over 1,000 plate appearances, though with a batting average over .270 and an OBP over .320. He was not a part of the Cardinals 60-man roster in the shortened 2020 season, and never a top-100 prospect, expectations were low entering 2021.
Feet ten feet off of Beale
Still only 23 years old, Yepez began 2021 where he ended 2019; at Double-A Springfield. Yepez was always given 55-60 grades on his raw power, but never showed it in games. Well, he did in 2021. Not wanting to stay long in Springfield (and who does?) he stayed for only 19 games before promotion, hitting five home runs and slashing .270/.387/.571. Once he arrived touched down in the land of the Delta Blues, though, the work he put into his body (bulking up) and game were on full display.
For the Memphis Redbirds (originally, I typed Chicks, remember them?) Yepez hit 22 home runs, 119 Runs + RBI, a slash line of .289/.382/.589 in only 92 games, and earning a spot on the Cardinals playoff roster. After not appearing during the playoffs, St. Louis sent Yepez to the Arizona Fall league, where he hit seven home runs, eight doubles, and slashed .302/.388/.640 in just 23 games. Not too shabby.
But do I really feel the way I feel?
Yepez should be owned in all Dynasty leagues, and is in all seven of mine, but 29% in Fantrax means there are a lot of leagues he is still available in. The Cardinals have played him at both corners of the infield and outfield; so they want to get him in their lineup, that much is certain. While there is little chance the Cardinals waive Pujols during his farewell tour; he may be relegated to pinch-hit duty if he performs poorly and Yepez forces their hand. So add him to your team, and if you get a chance to catch him in Memphis before he inevitably joins the big league club (and they have a great stadium for catching a game) you should.