This season didn’t go like most seasons. The Cardinals were terrible. I stopped writing here very much, with nothing after the blog anniversary. However, some things must go on and that includes the Exit Interview series! Now in its 12th year, it’s our look back at each player that made an appearance in a game for the St. Louis Cardinals. We’re approaching it a little different this season, a little more literary and a little less statistical, but hopefully you enjoy it just the same. As always, I am grateful that cardinalsgifs has agreed to use his talent for the header image!
Player: Andrew Knizner
Stats: 70 G, 241 PA, 30 R, 11 2B, 10 HR, 31 RBI, 2 SB, .241/.288/.424, 1.0 bWAR
Statcast: 7.9% barrel, 26.8% sweet spot, 110.3 max exit velocity, .306 wOBA, .286 xwOBA, 25.7% K, 5.0% BB
Oh captain! My captain! The fearful Molina is done.
The club has weather’d the loss, the roster spot is won.
Opening Day is near, the organ I hear, the people all exulting
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel vim and charming
But O heart! heart! heart!
O flying birds of red
Where on the bench my Captain resides
A Cubbie starting instead.
At least the club didn’t pretend that they wanted Knizner to be anything more than a backup. Going into last winter, John Mozeliak was adamant that the club needed a new catcher and, eventually, wound up signing Willson Contreras instead. Save for that weird debacle in May, which saw Knizner catching regularly for a while, Kiz wound up sitting on the bench.
However, being a backup catcher is different when Yadier Molina isn’t the guy in front of you, even though he played fewer games and got fewer at bats this year than he did last year (due to Molina’s significant time away). Perhaps freed of that burden, Knizner set career highs in doubles, home runs, and RBI. His OPS+ was just eight percent below average, which was a significant improvement from the past and not a bad mark for a catcher in general, much less a backup. He sold out a bit to get that power–his walk rate was slightly more than half what it was in 2022 while his strikeout rate crept up a touch–but it made him a little more than an automatic out when he was in the lineup. (The two times he pinch-hit, not so much.)
There’s also obviously some intangibles that go along with Knizner as well. When Willie McGee names you the captain of the team, you are doing something right, I think. He might not have been super great behind the plate, but he did put up his highest defensive bWAR of his career. All in all, it’s not impossible to think of Knizner starting on a second-division team but for a backup catcher, he’s completely qualified.
What’s in store for 2024: With Ivan Herrera coming and Contreras not going anywhere, Knizner’s in a bit of a rock/hard place dilemma. If the club would rather Herrera’s bat, even with fewer AB than a starter would get, Knizner will be out of a job. However, he seems to fit the role very well and I expect he’ll at least start the year caddying for Contreras once again.