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The Cardinals’ Improved Hitting Approach Should Lead to Better Results

The Cardinals’ offense is inconsistent. It can be frustrating to watch. Absolutely. Remember the most recent series at Wrigley Field? The Cards scored 18 runs in a Friday rout of the Cubs. Next game: two runs, and a loss. Then cranking up again for six runs, and another victory over the Cubs … followed by two runs, and another defeat.

Since Mike Shildt took over as manager on July 15, the Cardinals have scored six or more runs in eight games, and three runs or fewer in nine games.

It’s maddening!

No, it’s baseball in 2018: Strikeouts, home runs, strikeouts, home runs, strikeouts, home runs.

Well, even then … the Cardinals must have the most inconsistent offense in the majors … or at least one of the most erratic attacks in the game. You never know what to expect. They go to extremes. A feast of runs, then starvation.

That’s true to an extent. But the Cardinals aren’t close to being the most extreme — the most inconsistent offense — out there. They aren’t like the Pirates, who have been held to two runs or fewer in 39 games this season — the seventh-highest total in the majors. But the same Pirates have scored six or more runs 42 times — also the seventh-highest total in the majors.

Few teams score enough runs, or a lot of runs, consistently.

The Cardinals reside in about middle of the pack.

Number of games scoring  two runs or fewer:

St. Louis 33 times. But 16 MLB teams have scored two or fewer runs more frequently than that. And nine NL teams have scored 2 or less in a game more times than the Cardinals. That list includes the Pirates (39), Nationals (39), Brewers (37 ), Cubs (36), and Diamondbacks (34). And other NL playoff contenders Phillies and Dodgers, have scored two or fewer runs in 32 games. Heck, even the defending World Series champs, the Astros, have been held to two or fewer runs 30 times. And they have a loaded lineup that includes a DH.

Number of games scoring three runs or fewer: 

St. Louis, 50 times.

That’s a BIG number.

Yes it is. But 14 MLB teams have sputtered to more games with 3-or-less runs than the Cardinals. And in the NL, the seven teams have scored under four runs in a game more often than St. Louis including the Giants (57), Nationals (54), Diamondbacks (52) and Brewers (52). With the Cubs (49), Phillies (48),  Dodgers (47) and Pirates (47) near to the Cards’ 50.

The Cardinals have scored six runs or more in 33 games.

Just as they have scored two runs or fewer in 33 games.

The Cards have scored five runs or more in 50 games.

And they’ve scored three runs or fewer in 50 games.

Baseball in 2018.

Now, here’s the good news. Let’s call it “Trust the Process.” 

The Cardinals have refined their hitting approach under Shildt and new batting coaches Mark Budaska and George Greer. Result: Walks are up; strikeouts are down, onbase percentage is up, slugging is up, OPS is up…

Here’s a comparison of “Before” and “After” the change in manager and hitting coaches:

Walk rate: 8.4%, 9th in the NL … 9.9%, 4th in NL

Strikeout rate:  22.8%, 6th worst in NL …. 17.4%,  2nd lowest in NL.

Onbase percentage: .315,  11th in NL … .348,  t-4th in NL.

Slugging percentage: .399,  9th in NL … .418, t-8th NL

OPS:  .714, 9th in NL … .766, 5th in NL

Park-adjusted runs created (100 is average): 64,  6th in NL …. 109, t-3rd NL.

Bird Bytes:

 I don’t like Kolten Wong hitting in a big spot. This season with runners in scoring position, Wong is 79 percent below the league average in park adjusted runs created (wRC+) … After three singles on Monday night in Miami, Cards left fielder Marcell Ozuna ranks 7th in the majors and fourth in the NL with 90 singles. Of Ozuna’s 115 hits for the season, 78.2% have been singles. During his career-best season with the Marlins in 2017, Ozuna had 191 hits; 63.8% were singles and 19.3% were homers.

Relative to most other teams, the Cardinals are getting very little from the No. 3 and No. 4 lineup spots this season. If we combine the total production and rates from the Cardinals’ No. 3 and No. 4 lineup spots this season and rank each category, this is what we come up with:

Batting average, .250,  22nd out of 30

Onbase percentage, .315,  25th

Slugging pct.,  .387,  29th

OPS,  .702,  29th

Doubles,  35,  29th.

Homers, 28,   27th

RBIs,  122,  22nd

Yikes.

⇒ Harrison Bader and Gyorko should have had home runs in Monday’s 2-1 loss at Miami — Gyorko especially. The tell-tale sign was the Miami catcher’s reaction when Gyorko connected; J.T. Realmuto immediately dropped his head; he knew it was gone. A three-run homer for Gyorko in the 8th, and probably a 3-2 win for the Cardinals. Except that it wasn’t a home run. Gyorko’s ball died on the warning track.

The Marlins were smart to open the retractable roof on Monday night. Aa a Marlin, Marcell Ozuna had big power numbers when the roof is closed in that ballpark. And led by Matt Carpenter, who leads the majors with 19 road homers, the Cardinals have 83 road homers this season, which leads the National League. (Colorado is second with 77 road homers.) And the Cardinals are second in the NL in road slugging (.428.) I know Starlin Castro pulverized an awful Luke Weaver changeup for a long homer in Monday’s game, but the ball does not travel well when the roof is open in Miami. The Marlins actually looked at some stats. Saw the Cardinals’ power numbers on the road. So make it tough to hit homers.

Wei-Yin Chen: Don’t ask me why, but the dude is Lefty Grove when he pitches at home. This season, in 37.2 road innings and 184 batters faced: 10.27 ERA. But when he pitches at home for the Markins, Chen’s inner Steve Carlton kicks in; 45.1 innings, 183 batters faced, 2.18 ERA. Nuts.

⇒ Best bullpen ERA in MLB since July 27: 

1. Oakland, 0.91 ERA in 29.2 innings

2. St. Louis, 1.50  ERA in 42.0 IP

3. Atlanta,  1.82 ERA in 29.2  IP

4. Cincinnati,  2.18 ERA in 33 IP

5. LA Angels,  2.21  ERA in 41.0 IP

Tracking Matt Carpenter: In 327 plate appearances since May 16, Carpenter leads the National League in doubles (27), homers (26), hits (94), runs scored (62), batting average (.341), onbase percentage (.440), slugging percentage (.721), OPS (1.161), ISO (.380). And Carpenter has an NL best wRC+ of 204 since May 16; that means he’s 104 percent above league average offensively in park adjusted runs created over that time. Incredible.

 Not sure why Shildt had Yairo Munoz trying bunt in the top of the ninth with runners on first and second and no one out. On the plus side, a successful bunt puts two runners in scoring position and that’s important because the Cardinals trailed 2-0. A successful bunt also (obviously) keeps the Cardinals from hitting into a double play. On the down side, a sacrifice bunt gives up an out. And what if the bunt fails? You’ve wasted a potent bat, and Munoz’ extra-base capability. And if it’s a really bad bunt, maybe the Marlins turn it into an out a third, or a double play. The plans for a bunt turned irrelevant when Munoz was walked by wild Miami reliever Kyle Barraclough to load the bases.

I guess I come down on this side: Let Munoz swing it. He’s a dangerous hitter, with a chance to clear the bases with a two-run double … or jack a three-run homer.

Munoz, the 23-year-old rookie, is a special hitter in money situations…

Top Cardinals, High-Leverage wRC+ 

Matt Carpenter 44 PA,   201 wRC+

Jose Martinez 36 PA,  172 wRC+

Yairo Munoz 23 PA,  165 wRC+

That mens Munoz is 65 percent above the league average offensively in high-leverage plate appearances.

Top Cardinals, High-Leverage wRC+ with runners in scoring position

Munoz  17 PA, 228 wRC+

Carpenter  26 PA , 227 wRC+

This season when Munoz bats with RISP in high leverage situations he has  .385 average,  .529 OBP and  .692  slug for a 1.222 OPS.

Top Cardinals, wRC+ with runners in scoring position

Munoz 61 PA,  wRC+ 156

Jedd Gyorko  54 PA , 147 wRC+

Carpenter 104 PA,  137 wRC+

J. Martinez 122 PA,  127 wRC+

With runners in scoring position this season, Munoz is hitting .333 with a  .426 OBP and  .569 slug for a  .995 OPS.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: After Their Best Homestand In More Than 3 Years, Cards Take Revived Hope On the Road