After every season (dating back to 2012), we’ve spent time looking at every player that got into a game for the St. Louis Cardinals that season. They might have gotten a couple of innings, they might have played every day, but if they played, they get a post. Usually, I like to term this like the players are packing up their locker and then seeing Mike Shildt before they head off for the winter. This year, of course, was anything but typical. So we’ll look at every player, we’ll take in some of their stats, but we won’t be giving out grades this season or delving too much into the positive/negative. There are just too many variables in the Year of COVID for that to be reasonable. As he has for the past few years, cardinalsgifs has lent his enormous talents to our header image and we thank him for it!
Player: Andrew Knizner
Season stats: 8 games, 17 PA, 1 R, 4 H, 1 2B, 4 RBI, 5 K, .250/.235/.313, 48 OPS+, -0.1 bWAR
Postseason stats: DNP
Statcast: .291 xwOBA, 8.3% barrel %, 94.3 exit velocity, 50.0% hard hit %
Best Statcast category: Sprint Speed (17th percentile)
Worst Statcast category: Sprint Speed (17th percentile)
On COVID IL: No
Overview: This had to be a frustrating season for Knizner. He started the season on the active roster, which was good, but he was also the third catcher behind immovable force Yadier Molina and veteran backup Matt Wieters. He didn’t get to play in the first five games but it looked like maybe COVID would hand him an opportunity when Molina contracted the virus and had to stay on the IL for a week after the Cardinals returned to games. With the number of double headers early on, Knizner and Wieters tended to swap starts, though Wieters may have gotten a bit more than an even split.
Then, when Molina returned, Wieters went down with an injury. It would seem that, with Molina still recovering strength and at least one doubleheader coming, Knizner could get a little bit of time. However, from August 20, when Molina returned, until he was optioned down to the alternate site, Knizner did not get a single start. He got the last four innings of a game the Cardinals lost 14-2 and he got the last four innings of a game they won 16-2. Included in that span was a doubleheader that Molina played both games of in total, something he didn’t do later on in the season when Wieters had returned.
There were different circumstances, of course. In September, after Wieters returned, there were no off days and Molina had been playing for a couple of weeks instead of resting for three. That said, given the use of Molina and the obvious say he has in his playing time, it’s hard not to see this as a way to keep someone that might actually take his job from getting a foothold. Matt Wieters, like Tony Cruz and Jason LaRue before him, is no threat to that. Knizner, like the traded Carson Kelly, could be viewed that way.
Even in this writeup, Molina is casting the shadown and causing us to lose focus on the young prospect the Cardinals are trying to develop. He did struggle a bit, getting two hits in his first start against the White Sox and getting two hits in his last mop-up game against the Reds but nothing in between. Defensively, he seemed fine–I don’t remember any glaring miscues right now. Knizner did what he was asked to do. He just didn’t get asked that often.
Outlook: It’s hard to believe that Knizner could learn much more in Memphis, even if there actually is a season for Memphis next year. However, it would feel his fate is, yet again, tied to Yadier Molina. If Molina signs a two-year extension, unless there is a condition in there that he will cede playing time to Knizner as a part of it (something I suggested for his last contract), then you have to believe the Cardinals would look to trade Knizner. A talented backstop at minimum cost would be very attractive to teams in this time of COVID-related frugality. With Ivan Herrera on the horizon, it would seem like he’d be ready at the end of a couple of season (assuming, of course, Yadi actually would retire at the end of this one, something he said last time but obviously isn’t going to follow through with).
If Molina goes elsewhere, though, it would be very surprising (and extremely frustrating) if Knizner wasn’t your regular catcher for 2021. Perhaps you bring someone like Wieters back for the veteran backup role, but Knizner would need to get a majority of the starts and Mike Shildt should not be tempted to go to Wieters if Knizner initially struggles. It’s about time the Cardinals found out if these lauded catching prospects can actually help them out on the field, rather than as trade assets.