Cards will focus on fundamentals this spring

Proud franchise hopes to get back to doing the little things right

Cards will focus on fundamentals this spring

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Cardinals squad each day this week. Today's topic: What's the vision?

ST. LOUIS -- Just days after the Cardinals wrapped up an 86-win season that left them without a place in the postseason, general manager John Mozeliak laid out a series of objectives that became a blueprint for his offseason work.

Mozeliak described the necessity of "cleaning up our game," which specifically entailed improving the defense and baserunning. To do so, Mozeliak set about building a more athletic roster and emphasized the need to reprioritize fundamentals this spring.

Every club preparing for Spring Training with own vision

With these goals in mind, manager Mike Matheny has assured changes to how he and his staff run Spring Training workouts.

"This year, it's going to be more about work management and efficiency and not falling into maybe some of the traps that are considered consistent with how things were run in the past," Matheny said. "[We're] trying to think outside the box a little bit. But we're going right back to the drawing board when it comes down to the basics of baserunning, when it comes down to how we can be that defensive team that we need to be, which we know internally influences our pitching."

As an organization, the Cardinals have long prided themselves in doing the little things right. Perhaps that's why their fundamental deficiencies were so glaring a year ago.

Fowler fills key Cardinals needs

Not only did the Cardinals steal a National League-low 35 bases in 2016, but, according to Fangraph's baserunning metric, they were the worst team on the bases. Fangraph's formula -- which considers factors such as stolen bases, caught stealing, extra bases taken, outs on the bases and the ability to avoid double plays -- calculated the Cardinals at 19.8 runs below average.

Defensive metrics were not kind to the Cardinals last season, either. Their Defensive Efficiency Ratio, which calculates the percentage of balls in play a team converts to outs, ranked 24th in the Majors at .696.

But the Cardinals are confident that offseason additions, positional stability and individual player growth will lead to organic improvements in these areas. The pursuit of Dexter Fowler came with these needed improvements in mind, as did the organization's decision to double down on its commitment to Kolten Wong and Randal Grichuk as everyday players.

Addressing these fundamental flaws will be necessary in order to maximize production from other contributors.

The Cardinals' pitching staff, which posted a Major League-high 49.5 groundball percentage last year, will rely on an improved defense to turn more of those balls in play into outs. And an offense that was too reliant on the long ball last year could become more dynamic with less station-to-station restriction.

"I think rolling out what we had last year and thinking we're going to get a better outcome, I think that's just harder for me to expect," Mozeliak said over the offseason. "But I do think if we change some things up, we still have a very talented core and some of the young players are trending in the right direction. I think the timing of this and the additions [we've done] are just going to make for a more exciting club and one that, I hope, our pitchers benefit from."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.