still a lot to learn

a little while ago in a game thread, brian gunn pointed out that pujols has stopped taking so many walks. after drawing 41 free passes (12 intentional) in the team’s first 42 games (through may 14), albert accepted just 6 walks (2 intentional) in the 16 games since. is he expanding his strike zone, or is he seeing better pitches to hit? apparently it’s the latter:

AB BB HR AVG OBP SLG
thru may 14 138 41 8 .355 .505 .601
since may 14 63 6 6 .381 .435 .730

the dropoff in walks coincides with the time that ryan ludwick started mashing out of the cleanup hole --- he hit 8 homers during the first 3 weeks of may --- so perhaps teams decided they’d just as soon attack pujols as the red-hot ludwick. it’ll be interesting to see whether teams change their approach now that ludwick has started coming back down to earth.

albert’s more aggressive approach at the plate is mirrored in the teamwide stats. in their last 3 series (9 games), the cards have drawn only 20 walks --- just over 2 a game. during the previous 9-game segment, they drew 38 walks; the two 9-game segments before that, 43 apiece. you could interpret that any number of ways --- could just be random; could be that the cards ran into a spate of pitchers with good control, or umpires with wide strike zones; could be that opposing pitchers started attacking the cardinals more aggressively. whatever the case, the dropoff in walks did not coincide (as it did in albert’s case) with an increase in overall output; the cardinals during those 9 games hit just .229 / .281 / .355 and scored an even 4 runs a contest, yet they still managed to win 6 of the 9.

with the may stats in the books, let’s put the first two months of the season side by side:

AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BB | AVG OBP SLG
april 977 135 273  64  10  20 144 | .279 .374 .415
may 973 124 263  38    4  29 104 | .270 .342 .407

check out the steep decline in doubles and triples; in total-base terms, it completely offset the cards’ may increase in homers. while st louis was cooling off last month, the rest of the league was heating up --- a 16-point increase in ops between april (.735) and may (.751) --- so the cards’ nl ranks in the various categories sagged notably:

R HR AVG OBP SLG
april 4th 11th 3d 2d 7th
may 9th 8th 6th 5th 12th

aside from pujols (9 homers, 1.160 ops) and ludwick (9 homers, 1.124 ops), they just didn’t do much with the stick; no other player had an ops above .777 for the month, and three of the outfielders were in the .600s. only a slightly-above-normal batting average saved the cardinals from complete offensive oblivion in may; they piled up just enough singles and got just enough good pitching --- and good defense, as we saw yesterday --- to hang in there.

can they keep it up? the schedule gets awfully tough the next couple of months. in june the cards have two 9-game road trips and will face a tough slate that features the phillies, astros, red sox, and tigers, plus the resurgent reds on the road. in july they play 14 games against the mets, phillies, and braves, plus home series against the cubs and the brewers. there’s still a lot to learn about this team.

oh, speaking of the reds: am i the only one who thinks they have an outside chance to climb back into it? after a terrible start they’ve won 11 of 17 to get to within 2 games of .500; they’ve replaced corey patterson w/ jay bruce, a move that’s worth at least 2 or 3 wins going forward, and bronson arroyo is starting to settle down, which solidifies their rotation greatly. on the other hand, they still have a terrible outfield defense (w/ griffey and dunn) and their june schedule is nearly as difficult as the cardinals’. i think they’re at least as dangerous at this point as the brewers, who rate as one of the big disappointments of the year so far.

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