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MLB Is Having Another Home-Run Derby Season and the Cardinals Aren’t Participating

The Cardinals offense is out of whack, and fading fast. The STL lineup can’t even outmuscle Scooter Gennett. Give these guys some protein shakes. Or maybe a new batting coach.

Out of whack? Yep. Again.

Major League Baseball is on pace to shatter its single-season home run record in 2017. And keep in mind that the weather is starting to heat up, and that means more homers flying out of MLB ballparks.

As recently as 2014, MLB teams individually averaged hit 0.86 home runs per game. Hitters pounded a homer every 39.56 at-bats. The home-run rate fell to a 20-year low in ’14, and the game was seemingly settling down and normalizing and no longer a nightly Home Run Derby.

Hah.

As we sit here on June 7, teams are averaging 1.23 homers per game in 2017.

Hitters are using Statcast data to refine and enhance their launch angles, and the result is a homer every 27.62 at-bats.

It’s a stunning increase, with the 2017 MLB home-run rate rising 43.02 percent from 2014.

Meanwhile, the single is dying. Last year the MLB-wide singles count was the lowest in a full season since 1992.

Batting average?

Who needs a good batting average?

At .251, the MLB-wide batting average would be tied for the fourth-lowest over the last 49 seasons, going back to the lowering of the mound in 1969.

The MLB batting average was also .251 in 2014.

The last time MLB had a lower batting average than that was .244 back in 1972.

Walks are up, which means a higher onbase percentage. The current MLB onbase percentage of .322 would be tied for the highest since 2010.

Unfortunately, the Cardinals are sitting out the home-run craze of 2017. After a shocking burst of power last season — 225 total, 1.39 per game, most by a Cardinals team since 2000 — the Cards have petered out. They are averaging exactly 1.0 homer per game this season –tied for 26th in the bigs and 12th in the National League.

After swatting a homer every 24.6 at-bats in 2016, the Cards’ ratio is one homer per 34 ABs in 2017.

If the Cardinals were thriving in other components of offense, they could get away with their sparse home-run total.

When an offense doesn’t hit a lot of homers, then it must rely on a healthy OBP and timely hitting. The Cardinals aren’t tapping into either element these days.

In their first 36 games, the Cardinals had a team .337 OBP.

In their last 20 games, the team OBP is a weak .291.

What about the so-called clutch hitting?

I mentioned this earlier this week, but let’s update: in crucial high-leverage situations that often determine a close game’s outcome, the Cardinals rank 28th in the majors and last in the NL with a .216 batting average. Their high-leverage OPS (.665) is 26th overall and 14th in the NL. Using park-adjusted runs created, the Cardinals’ wRC+ of 71 is 29 percent below the league average.

Just awful. Accordingly it’s no surprise to see the Cardinals languishing at 27th overall and 13th in the NL in runs scored, averaging only 4.04 per game.

And it isn’t exactly stunning to see the Cardinals averaging only 3.1 runs over the current 20-game stretch that’s been poisoned by 15 losses. An offense won’t get healthy by having such an anemic OPB (.291), sickly slugging percentage (.345) and only 0.8 homers per game over the last 20.

I’m not addicted to homers. But what we’re seeing now — subject to change — is the lamest kind of offense a team can have. Not getting on base. Not slicing up opponents with timely hitting. Not producing many quick-strike homers that can turn a game around. Not scoring many runs late. Unless this failing formula changes, and soon, it’s difficult to envision how the Cardinals will score more runs.

Sure, the Cardinals sacrificed power this season in an attempt to improve the overall speed and outfield defense. But that hasn’t played out according to plan. Removing Matt Holliday from left field did not didn’t upgrade the outfield defense. And Holliday has given the NY Yankees 12 homers and a hardy .525 slugging percentage so far.

I don’t know if you noticed what Matt Adams is doing for Atlanta, but here it is: .613 slugging percentage and five homers. After homering every 48 at-bats in limited time with the Cardinals this season, Adams has homered every 12.6 at-bats for the Braves so far. He’s also gone back to pulling the ball, abandoning the Cardinals’ comically misguided hit-to-all-fields approach.

This isn’t just about Holliday, Adams, Brandon Moss and other ex-Cardinals.

Returning regulars or semi-regulars from last year’s team are all experiencing a drop in their home-run rates: Jedd Gyorko, Stephen Piscotty, Aledmys Diaz, Matt Carpenter, the demoted Randal Grichuk, Yadier Molina. Kolten Wong and Greg Garcia.

(Tommy Pham, who wasn’t prominent in last season’s mix, is experiencing a very minor decrease in his 2017 home-run rate. But he’s hitting one every 18 at-bats, and I see no reason to complain about that.)

What’s going on here? With major-league baseball exploding with home-run fireworks, the Cardinals are struggling to light those little hand-carried sparklers.

Maybe the Cardinals can acquire Scooter Gennett in a trade.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: Miklasz – For the Fans Who Want Mike Matheny Fired: It Ain’t Going To Happen

  • JeremyR

    I really hope Statcast puts the final nail in the coffin of BABIP and the idea that hitters have no agency, but are just hooked up to random number generators completely reliant on “luck”

    If you had enough computer power, you could build a robot hitter that could put any given pitch anywhere on the field. Players aren’t quite like that theoretical robot, but they do have some control over their hitting. Can they always do that? Obviously not, but if they can’t, it’s not luck.