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Cardinals hitter report cards: Stars shined bright, but player development is not linear

From the Making the grade: Read all of columnist Jeff Gordon’s year-end Cardinals report cards series
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Columnist Jeff Gordon assigns year-end grades to St. Louis Cardinals hitters.

Infielders

Cardinals, Brewers at Busch

St. Louis Cardinals Nolan Arenado takes the pepper from the grinder of Andrew Knizner after scoring off a soft line drive by Albert Pujols in the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022 at Busch Stadium. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

Nolan Arenado

He suffered a lull in May when he hit just .196 with a .642 OPS. He also faded in his last 27 games while posting a .221/.302/.347 slash line. Otherwise, Arenado played at an MVP level while building a career-best 7.9 Wins Above Replacement (Baseball Reference version) with brilliant fielding and his restored swing. Overall, he hit .293 with an .891 OPS after batting just .255 with an .807 OPS the season before. Arenado went just 1-for-8 against the Phillies in the wild card series, though he hit into bad luck with hard-hit balls that got caught.

Grade: A


Cardinals kick off last home series against Pittsburgh Pirates

Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt hits a single off pitcher Johan Oviedo in the third inning of a game on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, at Busch Stadium. 

Paul Goldschmidt

He rolled through the first five months of the season as the clear choice for NL MVP. He carried the Cardinals’ offense through long stretches when most of the other hitters were struggling. Then Goldschmidt tailed off in the final month of the season, posting a disappointing .229/.328/.352 slash line in his last 30 games. Then he was completely overmatched in his two playoff games, going 0-for-7 with four strikeouts. He stranded four runners in the exasperating elimination game. Overall Goldschmidt earned 7.8 WAR and a .981 OPS, but that very bad ending will hang over him for a while.

Grade: A


Pujols hits 700

St. Louis Cardinals Albert Pujols hits home run number 700 in the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022 at Dodger Stadium. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

Albert Pujols

His farewell tour was rather lackluster until he got the call to participate in the Home Run Derby and attend the All-Star Game. That opportunity to take one more bow on baseball’s big stage inspired him to relocate his long-lost batting stroke. Pujols was hitting just .198 on July 9 while facing mostly left-handed pitching. In his last 56 games, he hit .323 with a 1.109 OPS, 18 homers and 48 RBIs while carrying the offense down the stretch. Pujols reached two worthy milestones, 703 homers and 2,218 RBIs, and, unlike Goldschmid,t he was a competitive hitter in the playoffs.

Grade: A


St. Louis Cardinals vs Milwaukee Brewers

St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Tommy Edman (19) fields a ball in the first inning during a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field in Milwaukee on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

Tommy Edman

Last year he played Gold Glove defense at second base. This season he had to move over to shortstop after Paul DeJong faltered yet again, but his fielding was terrific on that side of the field as well. He stole 32 bases in 35 tries and produced fairly balanced splits with his switch-hitting. He extended innings by hitting .324 with runners in scoring position. While Edman lacked the consistent on-base skills to flourish as the leadoff hitter, he found his niche in the No. 9 slot — where he posted an .868 OPS. Despite his July slump (.198, .498 OPS) he finished with 6.3 WAR overall. And he did his part in the postseason by reaching base twice.

Grade: A


Cardinals kick off last home series against Pittsburgh Pirates

St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Brendan Donovan (33) fields a RBI bunt single by Pittsburgh Pirates Ji Hwan Bae (71) in the fourth inning of a baseball against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, at Busch Stadium. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

Brendan Donovan

He filled in at all four infield spots and the corner outfield too while adding his .394 on-base percentage to the offense. He hit left-handers and right-handers equally well while earning 4.1 WAR during his surprising rookie season. He was a tough out with runners in scoring position, hitting .347. Like Edman, he suffered an offensive downturn in July (.200, .547 OPS). Like Edman, he failed to seize the leadoff-hitting role. Donovan’s sweet spot was the No. 2 spot in the batting order, where he earned a .399 OBP and .838 OPS. Alas, like many teammates he was an offensive no-show in the playoffs.

Grade: A


Cardinals open series against Dodgers

St. Louis Cardinals Nolan Gorman hits a solo home run in the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday, July 12, 2022 at Busch Stadium. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

Nolan Gorman

He slugged his way up the minor league ladder and reached the big leagues at the age of 22. Gorman hit .361 in his first 11 big league games with three doubles, three homers, 10 RBIs and five walks. He played OK at second base after making the switch from third base in the minors. Ah, but then came the reality check in the form of fastballs above the strike zone and breaking pitches down and in. Gorman hit .207, .211 and .231 in the last three months of the season before finishing out the regular season at Triple-A. He was called back up to get one pinch hit for the Cardinals in postseason play.

Grade: C


Philadelphia Phillies vs St. Louis Cardinals Game 2 National League wild card series

St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina (4) stands in the dugout after being pulled from the game for a pinch runner when Molina singled in Game 2 of the National League Wild Card series agasinst the Philadelphia Phillies at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. 

Yadier Molina

He played one season too many during his Hall of Fame-worthy career. His body couldn’t handle another season behind the plate. Molina needed to take a lengthy midseason break from the game and he was just a part-time player when he returned. He managed to join Adam Wainwright in setting a new big league record for most career starts by battery mates, but Molina’s final season was otherwise sadly devoid of highlights. He finished with career worsts in batting average (.214) and OPS (.535). At least he capped his career with a base hit in the playoffs.

Grade: C-


Game 3 of St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins series

Teammates congratulate St. Louis Cardinals Andrew Knizner (7) who scored on a RBI singly by Dylan Carlson (3) in fifth inning of a baseball game on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Cardinals lead 3-2. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

Andrew Knizner

Molina’s physical struggle forced Knizner to shoulder a larger-than-expected workload this season and it didn’t go great. Overall he hit just .215 with a .601 OPS, which were roughly his career norms. He hit just .174 with runners in scoring position. Knizner was just adequate behind the plate — improved from when he broke into the majors, but not good enough to justify playing regularly while making negligible offensive contributions.

Grade: D


Cardinals lose 1-0 to Padres

Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong strikes out with two men on base to end the seventh inning against the Padres on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022 at Petco Park in San Diego.

Paul DeJong

His contract kept him in the organization for another unproductive year. He earned $6.167 million this season and he is guaranteed another $9.167 million coming next year, plus a $2 million buyout for 2024. DeJong enjoyed one brief power surge after his lengthy stint at Triple-A Memphis, but then he reverted to his previously helpless form. He faded to a .157 batting average while finishing the season as a mere defensive replacement. DeJong is threatening to wash out of baseball at the age of 29.

Grade: F


Chicago Cubs vs St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals catcher Ivan Herrera (47) walks back to the plate after chat on the mound during a game between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Sunday, June 26, 2022. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

Ivan Herrera

He got his first big league look in June while Molina was on his extended midseason holiday. Herrera did not look comfortable hitting (2-for-18, eight strikeouts) or catching at the big league level, which is why the team brought in light-hitting veteran Austin Romine to fill in during July. Herrera had a solid season at Triple-A Memphis, hitting .268 with a .770 OPS, but he didn’t make a strong case to become Molina’s heir.

Grade: Incomplete


Outfielders

Pittsburgh Pirates vs St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Corey Dickerson (25) watches as his first inning grand slam sails toward the outfield seats during a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

Corey Dickerson

He would like to forget the first half of his first Cardinals season. Injuries and weak hitting in his part-time role left him miserable. He hit .183 in with a .515 OPS in his first 40 games while drawing fan heat for being a free-agent bust. But when this team's flagging offense needed a midseason lift, he provided it. Dickerson hit .315 with a .790 OPS in the second half of the season while earning fairly regular corner outfield work. He hit .267 for the full campaign overall and .305 with runners in scoring position.

Grade: B


St. Louis Cardinals kick off National League Wild Card series against Philadelphia Phillies

The Cardinals' Juan Yepez celebrates hitting a two-run home run off Phillies relief pitcher Jose Alvarado, to put the Cards up 2-0 in the seventh inning of Game 1 of the National League Wild Card series on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, at Busch Stadium.

Juan Yepez

He is a corner infielder by trade. His best position is designated hitter. But the Cardinals needed offensive help in the outfield this season, so Yepez filled in on the corners while hitting .253 overall. He got better defensively along the way, although he suffered an untimely arm injury while making a throw home. Yepez provided a lift in his first 53 big league games while hitting .281 with an .844 OPS. Then came the offensive fade, the arm injury, a lengthy stint back at Memphis and then a nice cap to his rookie season. Yepez had balanced splits against right- and left-handed pitching but overall he hit just .200 with runners in scoring position. His pinch-hit playoff homer was the sole Cardinals hitting highlight in postseason play.

Grade: B


Cincinnati Reds vs St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Lars Nootbaar (21)throws home for the out after making the catch in centerfield in the ninth inning during a game between the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

Lars Nootbaar

So what kind of season was it for the Cardinals outfield? Nootbaar hit .228 overall and still emerged as one of the feel-good stories at this position. By drawing lots of walks and hitting for more power during the second half of the season, he posted an .846 OPS in his last 67 games. He delivered a reverse hitting split by batting .273 against left-handers and .217 against right-handers. He hit OK (.262) with runners in scoring position and he proved capable of playing adequately in center field while filling in for the slumping Dylan Carlson. Nootbaar got on base four times in eight playoff plate appearances, so he was blameless for the team’s postseason demise.

Grade: B-


Cardinals play Cincinnati Reds in game 2 of doubleheader

St. Louis Cardinals Alec Burleson (41) points to the dugout after reaching base on a bunt during the fourth inning of game 2 of a doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, at Busch Stadium. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

Alec Burleson

He enjoyed major success at the Triple-A level, batting .331 with a .904 OPS for Memphis. That earned him his first big league promotion late in the campaign. While Burleson did not look overmatched for the Cardinals, he didn’t do much damage while going 9-for-48 with a homer and three RBIs. He is a former collegiate pitcher who needed significant work to become a viable corner outfielder. He can also fill in at first base, but basically he is still another DH candidate for the franchise.

Grade: C


Cardinals play Cincinnati Reds in game 2 of doubleheader

St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Ben DeLuzio (26) catches a fly ball hit by Cincinnati Reds Jose Barrero (2) in the eighth inning of game 2 of a doubleheader on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, at Busch Stadium. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

Ben DeLuzio

After trading away Harrison Bader, the Cardinals needed a strong defensive outfielder who could cover both alleys while playing center field. That gave DeLuzio his chance to finally reach the majors at the age of 28. DeLuzio flashed excellent fielding range as a late-inning replacement, and his speed on the base paths made him an effective pinch-runner. But he was not much of an offensive threat, as he demonstrated while going 3-for-20 with five strikeouts.

Grade: C


Game 3 of St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins series

St. Louis Cardinals Dylan Carlson (3) advances to second base on his a RBI single in the fifth inning of a baseball game on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

Dylan Carlson

A year ago he hit .243 from the left side of the plate, which was at least passable. This season he slumped to .207 against right-handed pitching and raised questions about his long-term viability as a switch-hitter. After Carlson hit .314 overall in May, his batting average dipped to .288, .231. .217 and .189 during the months that followed. Along the way, a thumb injury hindered his ability to regain his stroke. While he did a solid job defensively replacing Bader in center field, his offensive decline reduced his role to part-time duty while mostly batting from the right side.

Grade: C-


Cardinals, Brewers at Busch

The Cardinals' Tyler O'Neill strikes out to end the sixth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, at Busch Stadium. 

Tyler O’Neill

A year ago he looked like a rising star in the sport. O’Neill hit .286 with 34 homers, 80 RBIs, 15 stolen bases, a .912 OPS, Gold Glove fielding and 6.3 WAR. He was arguably one of the NL’s 10 best position players. But he took a huge step back this season: .228 with 14 homers, 58 RBIs, .700 OPS and 1.3 WAR in between his various muscle pulls. He turns 28 next year, so time is running out for him to build a special career. He has two years of arbitration eligibility left, so the Cardinals can continue going year to year with him.

Grade: D

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