Cardinals 2024 fan survey results: Frustration evident after dreadful 2023



The St. Louis Cardinals will report to Jupiter in one week, officially kicking off what could arguably be their most important season in president of baseball operations John Mozeliak’s extensive tenure. After their worst season in three decades, the organization has made bold proclamations throughout the offseason. Perhaps none of them have been bigger than their claim to return to playoff contention in 2024.

Since the beginning of the offseason, Mozeliak has made good on his promise of targeting “pitching, pitching, pitching.” The Cardinals have brought in 10 pitchers (three starters, seven relievers) to the organization dating back to November, including Sonny Gray as their ace, who was largely regarded as one of the top five starting pitchers available in free agency this winter.

But a flurry of offseason activity does little to make up for a 90-loss season. Stakes are high for the Cardinals this year — fans have made that much clear.

3,070 of you participated in The Athletic’s 2024 Cardinals fan survey, nearly doubling the number from our 2022 fan survey. The tone has understandably changed. The general positivity has faded, the angst has grown, and the disappointment and frustration are more than palpable.

We asked, you answered. Let’s break it down.

How would you describe your level of disappointment in the 2023 season?

Response % of Vote

I’ve never been more disappointed by a Cardinals season

40.1%

They were out of it early, so the disappointment also faded early

22.0%

Didn’t enjoy it, but a losing season was bound to happen at some point

18.8%

I’m not disappointed, I’m angry

15.2%

Other

3.90%

More than 40 percent of you described the 2023 season as the most disappointing season you’ve experienced. When you take into consideration that it had been 33 years since the Cardinals finished last in the division, that definitely checks out. Still, some of you are more agreeable about last year than others.

“Disappointed, but also aware that much of what happened was worst-case scenario coming true. Hoping it doesn’t speak to our ability to sustain long-term, high-quality baseball.”

“I was extremely disappointed but since the Cards neglected to address the rotation last offseason, I didn’t exactly have high hopes either. I certainly wasn’t as optimistic going into the season as the front office.”

“I was mostly surprised that the Cardinals were surprised by all the things that went wrong.”

“I didn’t know it would be that bad, but there were obvious shortcomings in the team all along. Most disappointed in the feeling that the front office was just trying to do the bare minimum to sneak out in first place of a weak division.”

“Quite frustrating and disappointing. Any fan who has followed this team for an extended period of time could see a season like this coming for several years. The front office has been ignoring the need for a deeper rotation as well as the need for top-of-the-rotation quality starting pitching.”

“Frustrated. They became too complacent with pitching.”

“Imo’s pizza level of disappointment.”

“What the f— was that?”

What was the biggest problem for the Cardinals in 2023?

Response Percent of vote

Overall roster construction

28.80%

Player performance (or lack thereof)

8.60%

The coaching staff

6.80%

“Pitching, pitching, pitching”

47.90%

Other

7.90%

Mozeliak’s accidental mantra strikes again. Nearly half of those surveyed blamed pitching as the club’s biggest problem last season. The Cardinals posted a team ERA of 4.81 last season (fourth-highest in the National League) and their 1,215 total strikeouts were the second-lowest in all of baseball. Opposing hitters posted a .790 OPS off the pitching staff last year (not what you want) and the lack of quality innings from the rotation and the bullpen’s inability to hold on to late leads was well-documented throughout the year.

How do you currently feel about the state of the franchise?

Response Percent of vote

Very optimisitic

1.60%

Fairly optimistic

21.60%

Neutral

28.30%

Fairly pessimistic

38.30%

Very pessimistic

10.20%

Vibe check. We’ve got a bit of a mixed bag in terms of the current state of the Cardinals, though only 48 total voters described themselves as feeling “very optimistic” about the club. Look, I get it. The team lost 91 games for the first time in three decades. It was a mortifying display. Still, the National League Central is no juggernaut and if the Cardinals have a solid start, some may begin to change their tunes.

How would you rate the job Bill DeWitt Jr. has done in his tenure as owner?

Response Percent of votes

Excellent

14.20%

Above average

46.30%

Average

25.40%

Below average

10.70%

Poor

3.40%

How would you rate the job John Mozeliak has done in his tenure as president of baseball operations?

Response Percent of vote

Excellent

7.40%

Above average

40.90%

Average

28.60%

Below average

14.90%

Poor

8.20%

Horrific 2023 aside, DeWitt Jr. and Mozeliak are still largely regarded as having above-average tenures. This makes sense, given the Cardinals’ remarkable organizational success over the last 20 years. 1,851 surveyors voted DeWitt Jr.’s tenure as above average or higher, with Mozeliak slightly lower at 1,481. But things took a turn when it came to evaluating the fan base’s current confidence level.

How confident are you in ownership?

Response Percent of vote

Very confident

5.10%

Somewhat confident

26%

Unsure

22.80%

Not very confident

34.10%

Not confident at all

11.90%

How confident are you in Mozeliak and the front office?

Response Percent of vote

Very confident

3.80%

Somewhat confident

24.50%

Unsure

19.40%

Not very confident

32.90%

Not confident at all

19.40%

Recency bias is a thing folks, and a valid one at that. When it comes to current confidence in Cardinals ownership, 68.8 percent of you listed your levels as “Unsure” or below. That’s just a tad better than the 71.1 percent recorded regarding the front office.

“It could be much worse, but the DeWitts seem content to rest on their laurels and sell three million tickets. I wish they still displayed a passion for winning like they once did.”

“The Cardinals act like a small-market team though they are not. Disappointing they are never an option for major free agents.”

“I don’t expect the Cards to outspend the Dodgers. But DeWitt has a gem of a franchise and he’s being too frugal with it.”

“It’s disappointing to see the team continue to be so risk-avverse in free agency. They make tons of money off this team and the fans, it’s time to make a splash, even if it hurts.”

“I don’t believe the 71-91 record in 2023 was a true indication of the team given the selling at the deadline, shutting players down early, and giving more opportunities to younger players and fringe MLB players. Regardless, they were likely a .500 team at best and haven’t had playoff success for several years, so I’m concerned about the current trajectory.”

“I found it hard to rate Mo and Dewitt’s performance ‘overall’ because at the beginning of their tenure, I think they were well above average. But they’ve failed to keep up with the game and are well below average now.”

“Baseball has evolved, but the Cardinals haven’t to nearly the same degree.”

How would you rate the job Oli Marmol has done in his tenure as manager?

Response Percent of vote

Excellent

0.50%

Above average

4.10%

Average

33.80%

Below average

38.70%

Poor

22.90%

How confident are you in Marmol and the coaching staff?

Response Percent of vote

Very confident

1.90%

Somewhat confident

15.70%

Unsure

26.30%

Not very confident

34%

Not confident at all

22.10%

Here is where things took a turn.

“I don’t know how to judge Marmol’s performance because nearly everything went wrong last year. He should probably be on a short-ish lease this year.”

“Marmol is doing a pretty good job with what he’s got. I think he can prove himself this year, or if he doesn’t he might be gone before the end of the season.”

“(Yadier) Molina will become the manager at some point soonish. Seems inevitable. Marmol is in a tough spot right now no matter what he does.”

“I’m all for giving Marmol another year to hopefully figure it out, but I think we made a huge mistake firing Mike Shildt and then another huge mistake not hiring Skip Shumaker.”

How would you rate the Cardinals offseason so far?

Response Percent of vote

Excellent

0.90%

Above average

21.90%

Average

49.20%

Below average

22.10%

Poor

5.90%

If the Cardinals made one more move before the season, what would you want that to be?

Response Percent of vote

Trade for a top-tier starting pitcher

65.70%

Sign a mid-tier starting pitcher

10.40%

Sign a bench bat

0.50%

Sign a high-leverage reliever

18.50%

Other

4.90%

Let the record show that the majority of these responses were recorded before the Cardinals signed right-handed reliever Keynan Middleton to a one-year, $6 million deal. Even so, the results were clear. Trading for a starting pitcher remains the fan base’s biggest desire (though debates over who should be included in a potential return package are likely to ensue). Debate away.

How optimistic are you for the 2024 season?

Response Percent of vote

Very optimstic

3.40%

Somewhat optimistic

33.40%

Neutral

24.10%

Not very optimistic

31.80%

Not optimistic at all

7.30%

What would you consider to be a successful 2024 season for the Cardinals?

Response Percent of vote

World Series champions

6.10%

At least one playoff series win

60.90%

Making the playoffs

27.30%

Finishing .500

3.90%

Mixed results here on the optimism for 2024, but one thing that has remained the same is this fan base’s expectations of winning. The Cardinals have not won a playoff series since the 2019 National League Division Series (as you know) and merely qualifying for the playoffs is not good enough. The majority of you still believe that, even after last year’s disaster.

What is your confidence level in Nolan Arenado bouncing back in 2024?

Response Percent of vote

Very confident

41.20%

Somewhat confident

47.10%

Unsure

8.30%

Not very confident

3.20%

Not confident at all

0.30%

What is your confidence level in Paul Goldschmidt bouncing back in 2024?

Response Percent of vote

Very confident

26.90%

Somewhat confident

51.10%

Unsure

14.10%

Not very confident

7.20%

Not confident at all

0.60%

The good news? You still love your superstars. Both Arenado (32) and Goldschmidt (36) are coming off of down years based on their standards. The 2023 season was the first full season in which Arenado didn’t record at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs since 2014, and Goldschmidt’s .810 OPS was his lowest since his rookie year in 2011. Regardless, both veterans seem poised for a comeback — at least in the eyes of the fans. A whopping 88.3 percent of voters listed their confidence level in an Arenado bounce-back year as “Somewhat confident” or higher. Goldschmidt ranked just a tad lower at a clean 78 percent.

Who is your pick for the most impactful player in 2024?

Response Percent of vote

Nolan Arenado

27.50%

Jordan Walker

27.10%

Sonny Gray

24.90%

Willson Contreras

7.20%

Paul Goldschmidt

5.20%

Other

8.10%

This one is interesting. It’s a toss-up between Arenado, Sonny Gray and Jordan Walker, all for different reasons. Arenado is looking to push himself back into MVP conversations after arguably the most disappointing season of his career, both personally and from a team perspective. Gray, the team’s headlining offseason acquisition, is expected to lead a rotation that severely underwhelmed last season. And fan expectations for Walker are still sky-high, especially after he navigated a difficult rookie campaign while adjusting to playing the outfield regularly for the first time in his career. Though he wasn’t listed in the original poll, Lars Nootbaar was the runaway winner from the write-in votes, though a few of you made some valid points with other selections.

“I think the most impactful factor of the season is whether the non-Sonny Gray pitchers step up and deliver. I’ll go with Lance Lynn since I think the worst case and best case are farthest apart with him.”

“I think this will be the year Nolan Gorman puts it all together and is able to be a reliable middle-of-the-order bat with glove upside at second base. He’s shown massive improvements defensively and offensively and I believe he’ll continue to improve this year.”

Which player (excluding those who are eligible for arbitration) would you most want the Cardinals to extend?

Response Percent of vote

Jordan Walker

49.70%

Brendan Donovan

16.60%

Lars Nootbaar

15.60%

Paul Goldschmidt

12.50%

Masyn Winn

2.40%

This time it’s Walker who runs away with the fan vote, and I must admit (with all due respect to Walker) that I’m surprised Nootbaar didn’t see more love here. Still, it’s easy to be high on Walker given his plus power, overall athleticism and exponentially high ceiling (especially if he can become an average major-league outfielder defensively). Walker will turn 22 in late May and isn’t eligible for arbitration until 2026, so an extension at this time is rather unlikely. But that’s not to suggest the organization doesn’t value Walker. He’s regarded as untouchable in trade conversations, and there is no ruling out potential extension conversations when he comes closer to his arb years.

What is your confidence level in the 2024 projected starting rotation?

Response Percent of vote

Very confident

0.50%

Somewhat confident

20.80%

Neutral

31.50%

Not very confident

38.50%

Not confident at all

8.70%

What is your confidence level in the projected starting lineup?

Response Percent of vote

Very confident

19.20%

Somewhat confident

59.10%

Neutral

16.40%

Not very confident

4.90%

Not confident at all

0.50%

What is your confidence level in the projected bullpen?

Response Percent of vote

Very confident

2%

Somewhat confident

24.20%

Neutral

38.90%

Not very confident

29.50%

Not confident at all

5.30%

We can see where the confidence lies in the roster … and where it doesn’t. Nearly 80 percent of voters are “Somewhat confident” or “very confident” in this season’s projected starting lineup, one that will feature Goldschmidt, Arenado, Nootbaar, Walker, Gorman and Willson Contreras making up the bulk of it. But confidence drops when it comes to pitching. It seems fans are unsure how to feel about the bullpen, but relief pitching is difficult to predict in general, so this doesn’t necessarily come across as a mark against the team. What does is the wavering faith in the rotation (a theme Cardinals fans know all too well). Views aren’t as pessimistic as social media vitriol might lead you to believe, but it’s pretty telling that just 16 total voters out of 3,061 responses marked themselves as feeling “Very confident” in the starting pitching this year.

How would you rate Cardinals television broadcasts on Bally Sports Midwest?

Response Percent of Vote

Excellent

14.8%

Above average

33.1%

Average

22.0%

Below average

6.6%

Poor

4.0%

I am unable to watch Bally Sports Midwest due to MLB’s blackout

19.5%

How would you rate Cardinals radio broadcasts on KMOX?

Response Percent of vote

Excellent

37.20%

Above average

41.90%

Average

18.20%

Below average

1.70%

Poor

0.80%

Chip Caray shined in his inaugural season as the lead Cardinals broadcaster on Bally Sports Midwest, winning the National Sports Media Association’s Missouri Broadcaster of the Year award in January for his work during the 2023 season. Brad Thompson saw a major uptick in his time as lead analyst, while Jim Edmonds saw more time as a pregame and postgame host. Fans were mostly agreeable to the broadcasts last season, the actual baseball product aside. However, the fact that nearly 20 percent of voters marked themselves unable to watch Cardinals games on television due to MLB’s blackout restrictions remains a glaring problem. On the radio front, the team of John Rooney, Ricky Horton and Mike Claiborne continues to garner rave reviews.

How many games will the Cardinals win this season?

Response Percent of vote

95

1.10%

90

21.40%

85

47.90%

80

21.90%

75

7.70%

How confident are you that the Cardinals will continue being a competitive franchise?

Response Percent of vote

Very confident

17.70%

Somewhat confident

37.80%

Unsure

25.90%

Not very confident

15.80%

Not confident at all

2.80%

Nearly half of the surveyees matched up with the projections done by our friends at FanGraphs, who projected the Cardinals to win 85 games (though these projections were calculated before the team traded for Andrew Kittredge and signed Middleton). One look at the National League Central will have you start to think: Could an 85-win team win the division? It would sure go a long way for the Cardinals to aim higher than that threshold (obviously), but if St. Louis can return to playoff-caliber form, perhaps the sting of 2023 will begin to fade.

Even after the turmoil of last season, the consensus from respondents remains relatively high when it comes to their favorite ballclub. Over half of those surveyed (55.5 percent, to be exact) still consider themselves at least somewhat confident the Cardinals will remain competitive in the future. But 2024 is a prove-it season, and you all made that abundantly clear in your responses.

Describe your feelings on the state of the team and its future in a sentence or two

“The franchise is on the precipice of either greatness or mediocrity. It seems like any move of substance (or lack thereof) could tip it in either’s favor.”

“The state of the franchise feels like it depends heavily on the outcome of this season. Another lackluster year and it starts to become more normal than competing in the playoffs.”

“The team seems unwilling to take the steps needed to do better than merely make the playoffs.”

“I appreciate the Cardinals’ fiscal responsibility and attempt to field a playoff team every year.”

“Honestly, I’m excited. I know we have an uphill battle ahead of us, but I like the personalities of the new additions and the thump in this lineup.”

“Track record is excellent so I’m positive.”

“The lineup is strong — if healthy and performing to track record. Pitching will be the determining factor. And that’s a great unknown.”

(Photo of Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt: Alika Jenner / Getty Images)





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