Amping Up the Lineup's Power Core

The 2010 Cardinals were a frustrating club to watch on a day-to-day basis, especially with David Freese, Ryan Ludwick, and Colby Rasmus missing large chunks of time due to injury and the eventual trade of Ludwick for pitching and the acquisition of Pedro Feliz to fill-in full-time at the hot corner for Freese after his second injury during a minor-league rehab stint. The lineup was quite polarized, with excellent power hitters making up its heart and a collection of singles hitters who were not going to notch many extra-base hits even on a good day.

Last season, the heart of the St. Louis batting order was comprised of three sluggers so prolific that they each placed in the top 16 of the National League in slugging percentage. Albert Pujols placed third in the NL with a .596 SLG, just four points behind first-place Joey Votto's .600 SLG. Matt Holliday slugged .532, which placed him sixth overall in league. Slugging .498 was the Cardinals super sophomore, Colby Rasmus, who led all NL center fielders and finished a mere three points behind the Brewers' Ryan Braun and just seven points behind the 6'4", 300-pound Philadelphia first baseman, Ryan Howard. The NL average for SLG in 2010 was .397* and no other Cardinal that qualified for the batting crown posted a SLG over that pedestrian watermark. Had the Cardinals not suffered the injuries or made a trade spurred by injuries in the rotation, their lineup would have been a bit more imposing in the extra-base hit sense of the adjective.

*And you, dear readers, say, "Ah, but bgh, 2010 was 'The Year of the Pitcher.'" To which I say, "No, 1968 was the 'The Year of the Pitcher.' Despite the label given 2010, it is a good point. In 2009, the NL average SLG was .409; in 2008, it was .413; and, in 2007, it was .423. As one can see, over the last handful of seasons, it has gotten easier for a Cardinal to have a league-average SLG or better. Nonetheless, only three managed it in 2010.

Ryan Ludwick was both injured for a chunk of and traded away during the 2010 season. As skilled with his mitt in the field as he was powerful with the bat, Ludwick was an asset to the Cardinals. If Ludwick would have made more plate appearances for the Cardinals--due to lack of injury or a lack of trade--the right fielder likely would have posted an above-average SLG for the Cardinals. After all, Ludwick's .484 SLG with an "STL" on his helmet during the 2010 season would have placed 22nd in the NL. That being said, the reality is that, for 2010 as a whole, Ludwick managed only a .410 SLG due to a poor performance after joining the Padres. Even so, his 2010 overall SLG total is still above-average, albeit far lower than his SLG totals during his seasons as a Cardinal: .479, .591, .447, and .484. After both Ludwick's trip to the DL and his trip to San Diego, Jon Jay filled in fairly well for Ludwick, but Jay's offensive production is more of the contact variety than power. Jay slugged .422, which gave right field a collective .450 SLG  for the 2010 season.

Other than the departed Ludwick, losing rookie third baseman David Freese also sapped the lineup of some power, even though Freese's first weeks as a major-league regular were defined more by contact than pop, with Freese mustering only a .404 SLG to go with his .296 BA. (On the Memphis farmstead, Freese cultivated a SLG of .550 in 2009 and .525 in 2009.) Freese's replacements at the hot corner were just that, replacement-level, and not the kind of replacement level that has much power. Felipe Lopez slugged .340 and he led the non-Freese third basemen with that lowly number. Daniel Descalso slugged .324; Aaron Miles, .317; Joe Mather, .283; and, Pedro Feliz, .250. It is little wonder then that the Cardinal third basemen collectively slugged .338 in 2010.

 

With the position's cumulative .352 SLG in 2010, catcher was not much better. Lighning-in-a-bottle call-ups like Steven Hill (1.333) and Matt Pagnozzi (.487) buoyed Yadier Molina (.342), Jason LaRue (.321), and Bryan Anderson (.344). The keystone SLG was .348, with Skip Schumaker contributing a .338 SLG to the effort. The (lack of) power at shortstop harked back to the years of astroturf and Whiteyball with a .311 SLG produced from that position.*

*This is not entirely fair to Ozzie Smith. While he did manage only a .312 SLG in 1982, he then slugged at a level comfortably above the Cardinals' 2010 shortstop level until 1990, when The Wizard slugged .305. To put it another way, despite wizardly fielding, the shortstop position in 2010 had even less pop than it had during the Whiteyball era.

Just how powerful was the order's core? Despite the complete lack of power from catcher, third base, shortstop, and second base (which makes up half of the non-pitcher lineup), the Cardinals finished with an above-average.402 SLG for the season. Pujols, Holliday, and Rasmus combined to account for 93 of the club's 150 HR, or, a 62% share. (If we throw Ludwick in, it's 104 total HR, or, 69.33%.) They also account for 112 of the Cardinals' 285 doubles (39.29%) and 5 of the 18 St. Louis triples (27.77%). Pujols, Holliday, and Rasmus clubbed 221 of the Cardinals' 453 XBH, which is a 48.78% share. Three hitters nearly equalled the XBH total of every other Cardinal to take a PA combined.

While SLG is an adequate stat for measuring a player's power-hitting, we can also look at Isolated Power (ISO), which Lewis Pollis describes in his neat post over at Wahoo Blues titled, "Power Factor: A Better Way to Measure Power,"* as being,

...simply the difference between a player’s slugging percentage and his batting average—or, in other words, his extra-bases-per-at-bat. By subtracting BA from SLG, we reduce the impact of a player’s contact ability so we can get a better idea of his raw power. 

*This is a very good piece. Even though I did not use Power Factor (PF), which is the focus of the Pollis post, it is an interesting idea and definitely worth exploring by reading the post.

Looking at extra-bases-per-at-bat via ISO confirms--perhaps even more dramatically that merely looking at SLG--that the trio of Pujols, Holliday, and Rasmus provided the thump for the 2010 Cards:

PLAYER

ISO

Albert Pujols

.284

Colby Rasmus

.222

Matt Holliday

.220

Ryan Ludwick

.203

Allen Craig

.167

Jon Jay

.122

Felipe Lopez

.109

David Freese

.108

Tyler Greene

.106

Nick Stavinoha

.083

Yadier Molina

.080

Skip Schumaker

.074

Brendan Ryan

.071

Daniel Descalso

.059

Pedro Feliz

.042

Aaron Miles

.036

Some of the names found on this chart are thankfully not in the 2010 mix for the Cardinals, some regretably. The replacements are Nick Punto (in the long-term, anyway), Ryan Theriot, Gerald Laird, and Lance Berkman. Here are their 2010 SLG and ISO numbers:

PLAYER

2010 SLG

2010 ISO

Lance Berkman

.413

.166

Ryan Theriot

.312

.043

Nick Punto

.302

.063

Gerald Laird

.304

.096

Based on 2010, there is not much to be optimistic about in regards to generating more pop from the lineup. The players' career numbers offer more hope (for what it's worth), even if it is mitigated somewhat by their respective ages.

PLAYER

CAREER SLG

CAREER ISO

Lance Berkman

.545

.250

Ryan Theriot

.356

.072

Nick Punto

.322

.075

Gerald Laird

.358

.116

Berkman really is the greatest potential offensive upgrade. Not only does he have tremendous plate discipline, but he is a true power hitter. After his 1999 MLB debut consisting of 106 PA over 34 games, from 2000 to 2009, Berkman did not slug at a rate lower than his .509 in 2009 and he also did not post an ISO below .227.The Cards have gambled $8.5 million that Berkman will be the XBH machine he was for Houston. If Berkman experiences such a renaissance and Freese comes off of ankle surgeries hitting more like the BBQ-fueled Memphis Redbird, the Cardinals lineup will be much more potent and much more balanced. Another ripple effect of the Wainwright injury is the Cardinals being put in a position where they will have to be more reliant on scoring runs and their ability to hit for power will help that cause. Berkman and Freese staying healthy and hitting for power would go a long way toward shifting the Cardinals from an average offensive club with three excellent power hitters to a well-rounded attack readily capable of putting a crooked number on the scoreboard in two innings out of every three they play.

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