One constant talking point in the National League Central throughout the 162-game schedule was the quality of the young players and rookies on the Chicago Cubs’ roster. Kris Bryant, of course, was a focal point from Spring Training on, but Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler, Starlin Castro, and Addison Russell, all under the age of 26 back in April, saw regular playing time this season. Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez, neither a regular starter during the season, both made immense contributions during the four-game NLDS. Among pitchers, Kyle Hendricks made his mark, as well. For the purposes of this discussion, though, I’m only going to look at players fewer than three full seasons under their belts; that omits Rizzo and Castro, both of whom have played since age 20 and were 25 in April.
The Cardinals also received important contributions during the regular season and in October from their youngsters, despite less acclaim from national media outlets. Jason Heyward, who turned 26 in August, was in his sixth season, so is disqualified. Kolten Wong was the Cardinals regular second baseman, and Randal Grichuk started regularly from mid-May to mid-August, between stints on the DL. Stephen Piscotty, a late-July call-up, also received regular playing time with injuries to Grichuk, Jon Jay, and Matt Holliday. St. Louis also received more significant contributions from young pitchers than did the Cubs. Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, and Kevin Siegrist all have pitched fewer than three seasons, but Trevor Rosenthal, who has been a big-leaguer for about 3 1/2 seasons, is ineligible for this discussion.
For the purposes of statistical comparison, then, I’m looking at Bryant, Soler, Russell, Schwarber, Baez, and Hendricks for the Cubs; and Wong, Piscotty, Grichuk, Martinez, Wacha, and Siegrist for the Cards.
On offense, the Cubs received about 1.5 times as much contribution from their young players as the Cardinals–1700 ABs to 1100. But, overall, the results aren’t that dissimilar, which is somewhat surprising given the hype surrounding Bryant and Russell, in particular.
If you don’t feel like following the link, let me break it down for you a little. The Cardinals’ triumvirate strikes out significant less, though Kris Bryant (one shy of 200) hurt the Cubs the most there. The Cubs’ players hit a homer about every 26 ABs; the Cardinals’, about every 32. Overall, OBP and Slugging % were pretty similar, with Chicago leading the former category, and St. Louis, the latter. The Redbirds also held the advantage in batting average, but overall, it doesn’t appear one set of players is more dominant than the other.
Pitching, on the other hand, swings quite obviously in the Cardinals’ direction. Aside from the Cardinals’ pitchers pitching more games and winning them at a superior rate to Hendricks, most of the comparable “average” stats were similar (Hendricks led in FIP, WHIP, SO/BB ratio, and BB/9, but the Redbird trio held the advantage in ERA+, Hits/9, HR/9, and SO/9), but Cardinals fans should undoubtedly be excited that they have such a deep crop of young pitchers at their disposal for several years to come.
In their NLDS series, Wong, Piscotty, and Grichuk combined to go 10/38 (.263) with 5 HRs and 8 RBI. The five Cubs, meanwhile, went 18/47 (.383) with 6 HRs and 12 RBI. In fact, while the much-ballyhooed Bryant struggled through a 3/17 performance, Soler, Schwarber, and Baez (fewer than 200 games played between the three of them on the regular season) played a huge role in the Cubs’ victory, despite seeing comparatively limited action, going 12/20 with 5 HR and 9 RBI.
On the pitching side, Martinez was placed on the disabled list late in the season and missed the series. Hendricks, though not credited with a victory because he was chased with two outs in the fifth of Game 2, did enough to keep his team in the lead before turning it over to the bullpen, which shut the Redbird bats down for the remaining 4 1/3 innings. Conversely, Wacha and Siegrist greatly impaired the Cards’ chances: Wacha struggled with his command in Game 3, and couldn’t survive through five without surrendering the lead to the Cubs. Siegrist started out well enough, striking out Chris Coghlan and Addison Russell to end the top of the 8th and preserve his team’s 1-0 lead. But in Game 3, Siegrist, on in relief of Wacha, surrendered a crippling solo shot to Anthony Rizzo. In Game 4, attempting to preserve a 4-4 tie in the 6th, he allowed the go-ahead homer to Rizzo, followed by another to Schwarber in the 7th, and was ultimately saddled with the loss in the deciding match.
Overall, not a spectacular four-game stretch for the Cardinals’ youngsters, especially compared to how their counterparts on Chicago performed, but it’s certainly far too soon to proclaim the Cubbies as the new standard-bearers for the NL Central.