Did the Cardinals improve enough to make up for the fact that they will not be hitting .330 with runners in scoring position again this year?
-- Maddelyn V., St. Louis
This RISP question is a central one to the Cardinals in 2014. Whether or not you believe in the validity of "clutch hitting," the Cardinals will almost certainly fall short of the RISP success they had last year. The .330 team average last season was the highest by a club since RISP stats began to be regularly recorded. This RISP phenomenon in St. Louis helped the Cardinals compensate for a surprising drop in power, but it has to be considered a statistical outlier.
There is, though, reason to believe those power numbers should climb back up. Matt Holliday has averaged 25 homers a year over his 10-year career and could realistically be joined in the 20-homer club by Allen Craig and Matt Adams, assuming Adams gets regular playing time. Yadier Molina (12) and Matt Carpenter (11) could easily increase their home run numbers from last year, too.
Aside from power numbers, the Cardinals appear to have the potential for a more balanced offensive unit. Jhonny Peralta should give the club much more production from the shortstop position than Pete Kozma /Daniel Descalso did last year. Kolten Wong and Peter Bourjos will bring an element of speed to the lineup that the Cardinals lacked in 2013. The fact that the Cardinals added right-handed bats this winter should also improve the club's success against lefties.
Clearly, the Cardinals are going to have a change in offensive identity this season as those RISP numbers fall back toward the league mean. The organization was realistic in this expectation, and it factored into much of its offseason decision making.
Is there any chance that Joey Butler makes the Major League team? He might be a good right-handed power bat off the bench and a backup for the corner outfield spots.
-- Dan. H., San Paulo, Brazil
I'll admit I don't know much about Butler aside from the same statistical numbers that any of you can look at. It's one of the reasons I look forward to watching him in Spring Training to see if I can identify why the Cardinals claimed him off waivers in the fall. However, even if Butler does have an impressive spring, it's hard to see him finding a place on the big league roster.
Unfortunately for him, he plays a position at which the Cardinals have exceptional depth. Consider that since the end of the season, the Cardinals have added six outfielders -- Bourjos, Butler, Randal Grichuk, Mike O'Neill, Rafael Ortega and Oscar Taveras -- to the 40-man roster. That list doesn't even include Stephen Piscotty and James Ramsey, two prospects who should make a push for Triple-A this spring.
At the Major League level, Holliday, Craig, Bourjos and Jon Jay all but have outfield spots solidified. Shane Robinson is the favorite to take the final extra outfield bench spot. Taveras will only further complicate this logjam once he proves ready for the Majors. It all creates a difficult path for Butler.
What are the chances that the Cardinals will drop Carpenter to the No. 2 spot in the batting order? He had a lot of RBIs for a leadoff hitter in 2013 and clearly has some power.
-- Stephen S., Tulsa, Okla.
Carpenter is versatile enough that he could seemingly fit well in several spots in the batting order. The key for the Cardinals, though, is to maximize his production. While Carpenter does have the ability to drive in runs and should see his power numbers continue to climb, he was also one of the best in baseball at getting on base in 2013. And that attribute will continue to make him an ideal leadoff hitter for the club.
There has been a shift in philosophy across the game in recent years as it pertains to the leadoff spot. Speed is still a plus, sure. But an ability to get on base is key. While both Wong and Bourjos offer the speed element, both still have to prove they can get on base enough to warrant consideration for a leadoff role. Until then, Carpenter is expected to remain in that top spot.
What happened to John Gast? He was one of the first rookies to plug the pitching gaps in 2013 and did well. He was injured, but where is he?
-- Dan R., Boston
Gast underwent surgery in late July to repair a muscle in the lat region of his left shoulder. At the time, the Cardinals announced a recovery time of eight to 12 months. As a result, Gast will still be in a rehab program when he reports to Spring Training next month. The Cardinals did remove Gast from their 40-man roster this offseason, but he remains in the organization. Once he recovers from his injury, Gast will try to pitch himself back to St. Louis.
You have projected Trevor Rosenthal as closer. What role do you see for Jason Motte this year?
-- George R., Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada
Motte is expected to slide into an eighth-inning setup role, though first, he still has to finish his Tommy John recovery. Motte will not be on a regular throwing program when Spring Training begins. That was to be expected, as a normal recovery time for the procedure is about a year; Motte had the surgery in early May 2013. Motte said recently that he has every intention of returning around that 12-month mark, but he does have to pass some rehab benchmarks first.
When he does return, having Motte as a setup man should boost the Cardinals' bullpen. He has plenty of late-inning experience to fall back on, and should Rosenthal have trouble in the ninth, the Cardinals always have the ability to move Motte back into his old role. It's a win-win for the Cardinals, who can groom a young closer while having another closer on the roster.
I was looking at the defensive numbers for Jay and Bourjos, and it doesn't look like Bourjos is much (if any) of an upgrade. Why does everyone keep saying Bourjos is an immediate starter?
-- Adam M, Plainfield, Ind.
You must be looking at the wrong numbers. Yes, if you want to compare fielding percentages and errors committed, there is little difference between the two. But neither is a strong measure of defensive ability because it leaves out one of the biggest defensive factors (particularly for center fielders) -- range.
Without dispute, Bourjos has much more speed and covers significantly more ground in center field than Jay. Many argue, actually, that Bourjos is among the fastest players in the game. His ability to cover more ground than an average center fielder not only will keep more hits from falling, but it will give the corner outfielders less ground to cover.
When comparing Bourjos and Jay, consider that the Cardinals ranked last in the league in Total Zone Runs Saved in center field in 2013. In contrast, from 2010-2012, Bourjos accounted for 35 Total Zone Runs Saved himself. His numbers slipped a bit in 2013 as he fought through injuries, but the potential for him to be an elite center fielder remains.
Greetings from the frozen tundra. What has happened with my former Maryland Heights (Mo.) neighbor, Kyle McClellan, since his release by the Texas Rangers? Has he hooked on with anyone, or, if not, who would be a likely fit?
-- Jim C., Oak Creek, Wis.
McClellan has not found a baseball home since declaring for free agency in October. I do not know what teams may be pursuing him, but I can tell you that the right-hander will be among the Cardinals alumni signing autographs at Winter Warm-Up this weekend. For those wanting to catch up with the St. Louis native, he'll be signing from 9-11 a.m. CT on Monday.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.