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Explaining the St. Louis Cardinals offensive woes

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Anyone watching the St. Louis Cardinals play their first 22 games can see that the team is struggling offensively. What is harder to decipher is exactly why the team cannot score runs like they did last year. In this article we will attempt to diagnosis the disease that is the St. Louis Cardinals feeble bats by looking at advanced statistics for the team accumulated through last night's 1-2 loss to the New York Mets.

An Overview

The team has scored 79 runs this year, which amounts to 3.59 runs per game. Last year the team averaged 4.83 runs over 162 games, so they are down more than a run per game so far. The team is struggling in all major offensive categories as seen below with accompanying ranks in Major League Baseball.

  • .245 Batting Average (16th)
  • .313 On-Base-Percentage (19th)
  • .353 Slugging Percentage (28th)
  • .238 Batting Average with Runners in Scoring Position (22nd)

Compare those numbers with their 2013 numbers and it easy to see why the team is not scoring runs:

  • .269 Batting Average (4th)
  • .332 On-Base-Percentage (3rd)
  • .401 Slugging Percentage (12th)
  • .330 Batting Average with Runners in Scoring Position (1st)

The Cardinals average with RISP was bound to go down after setting a .330 record in 2013. what is really hurting the team is first a dip in OBP and and dramatic decline in SLUG percentage. Quite simply, the team is not getting on base as much and not hitting for hardly any power.

Another good statistic to look at is BABIP, or Batting Average with Balls in Play. This statistic measures how often a ball put in play equaled a hit for a player or team. In 2013 the Cardinals had .314 BABIP, which is high but certainly not unheard for a good hitting team. In 2014 the team's BABIP is just .292, which suggests the team is hitting into bad luck, or hitting the ball with less authority, or possibly some combination of both.

The Lineup

So now that we know the team is not hitting well, let us take a look at the individual players behind the decline. Here is breakdown of players that are under performing compared to their career and recent averages.

Matt Carpenter

2013: 10.0% BB Rate, 13.7% K Rate, .359 BABIP, .318 AVG, .392 OBP, .481 SLUG

2014: 14.1% BB Rate, 23.9% K Rate, .345 BABIP, .263 AVG, .370 OBP, .303 SLUG

Carpenter plays a crucial role as the team's leadoff hitter. As seen above, Carpenter is still doing a respectable job of getting on base. However, Carpenter's strikeout rate has gone up which is a big concern. In addition, Carpenter seems to have been completely sapped of any power early.

Jhonny Peralta

2013: 7.8% BB Rate, 21.9% K Rate, .374 BABIP, .303 AVG, .358 OBP, .457 SLUG

2014: 11.5% BB Rate, 19.2% K Rate, .140 BABIP, .159 AVG, .256 OBP, .377 SLUG

In some ways Peralta was brought in as a replacement for Carlos Beltran, who was lost via free agency to the New York Yankees. Thus far Peralta has not come close to replacing Beltran's production. Part of Peralta's struggles can just be attributed to bad luck, as his .140 BABIP is bound to go up over time. Peralta is actually walking at a better rate than he did last year, but the power is down, which is a theme you see throughout the lineup with all players not named Matt Adams and Yadier Molina.

Allen Craig

2013: 7.1% BB Rate, 17.8% K Rate, .368 BABIP, .315 AVG, .373 OBP, .457 SLUG

2014: 6.0% BB Rate, 18.1% K Rate, .213 BABIP, .184 AVG, .241 OBP, .263 SLUG

Perhaps no other player explains the Cardinals offensive demise than Allen Craig. Last year Craig consistently hit the ball hard. Of the 426 balls Craig put in play last year 116 (27%) were fly balls and 111 (26%) were line drives. This year of the 65 balls Craig has put in play just 11 (17%) have been fly balls and 10 (15%) have been line drives. Craig has routinely been hitting the ball weakly on the ground to infielders, and the statistics bear this out. Part of Craigs struggles can also be attributed to bad luck, but he needs to find a way to provide more lift on the ball if he wants to return to his 2013 ways.

Matt Holliday

2013: 11.5% BB Rate, 14.3% K Rate, .322 BABIP, .300 AVG, .389 OBP, .490 SLUG

2014: 12.8% BB Rate, 15.1% K Rate, .311 BABIP, .267 AVG, .360 OBP, .373 SLUG

Holliday is yet another chapter in a lineup that is simply not hitting for any power. Once again, Holliday walk rate and strikeout rate are fine when compared to 2013. What is off is the power number from a man who normally hits number three in the lineup.

Kolten Wong

2013: 8.9% BB Rate, 13.0% K Rate, .332 BABIP, .303 AVG, .369 OBP, .466 SLUG (AAA)

2014: 7.4% BB Rate, 11.8% K Rate, .255 BABIP, .222 AVG, .279 OBP, .270 SLUG

It was unrealistic to expect Wong to continue his outstanding AAA numbers in his first full season in the Major Leagues. Still, Wong was expected to provide more pop than his .270 SLUG percentage so far. Wong has expecially struggled in crucial situations with runners on base.

Summary

The team's struggles seem to be a combination of bad luck and a lack of good contact with batted balls. The team is simply hitting too many popups and weak dribblers to infielders. The reason for the lack of good contact is harder to diagnosis. It is possible that pitchers have learned from 2013 and are being more aggressive with Cardinal hitters, thereby getting ahead in the count and making hitters take more defensive swings. It is also possible that the club is emphasizing a hittling approach which stresses taking pitches and seeking to make some kind of contact as opposed to power.

Without any power, the team essentially requires three singles in one inning, or some combination of three walks and/or hits. Three singles in one inning can produce one run, but it is feat that is very hard to accomplish. A walk and a homerun, on the other hand, produces two runs. However, homeruns are about as hard to find for the Cardinals as a World Series is in Chicago.

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