The hiring of Mark McGwire as the St. Louis Cardinals hitting coach inspired the light-hearted "dinger camp" meme here at VEB. And why not? With a career .263 batting average, McGwire is world-famous not for his high batting average but his high home-run totals. The round-tripper is to McGwire as the sinker was to former pitching coach Dave Duncan.
As the 2011 Cardinals scuffled and underperformed during their pre-miracle phase, a curious criticism emerged regarding their historically elite offense: it relied too much on the homer. Somehow a team that led the league for much of the season in most of the major hitting statistical categories and finished the year atop many of them, as well, was hitting too many homers. This rumbling even reared its head on the occasion of Lance Berkman berking his 30th home run of the season. The veteran would have none of it, offering this wonderful quote as reported by Matthew Leach of MLB.com:
"Obviously, you get, 'Wow, they depend too much on the home run,'" he said. "Well, we've got guys that that's the kind of hitter they are. ... If you don't like home runs, don't watch us play."
I love this unapologetic response from Berkman. He seems to say, "Yeah, we hit a lot of home runs because we're good at hitting home runs. What about it? Chicks dig the long ball." And that feels like the correct mindset in my gut. Every time a homer is hit by a Cardinal, St. Louis is guaranteed at least one run. Home runs are inherently good things for an offense. This is why I have struggled to wrap my head around the whole "St. Louis is overly reliant on home runs" critique. Home runs are good. The more homers, the better. It's an unimpeachable truism in my mind as well as my gut and so Berkman's retort last summer made me grin then and does now. That being said, Berkman's response accepts the premise that the Cards were overly reliant on home runs in 2011 as true.
The critique has been brought up a few times this 2012, as well, and so I wanted to take a look and see if, in fact, the Cardinals relied on home runs for a disproportionate amount of their offense during their world championship season of 2011 and whether they continue to overly rely on dingers this season. Today, we'll see if this theory is supported by the numbers.
As I thought about this "too many home runs" critique, I came to the conclusion that there were two ways we could look at offensive production through the prism of homer over-reliance. The first stat I came up with was a measure of home runs as a percentage share of overall hits. I call it "Home Run Hit Percentage," or, HRH%. Using the Baseball Reference play index, I was able to find out how many RBI came by way of a homer. The second stat I concocted looks at the share of a club's overall RBI total that come via the home run, which I call "Home Run RBI Percentage," or, HRRBI%.
In 2011, there were 42,267 hits in Major League Baseball and 4,552 of those hits were home runs. This means that homers made up a 10.77% share of the total hits in MLB. Last season, the Cards rapped out 1,513 hits and 162 round-trippers. Homers made up a 10.70% share of the Cardinals' total hits, which is essentially league average.
Looking at RBI in 2011 leaves us with a similar conclusion. There were 19,804 runs batted in league-wide during last season and 7,155 of those RBI came via the dinger. So, 36.13% of the RBI in MLB in 2011 were plated with a home run. The World Champions knocked 262 of their 726 runs batted in by way of the homer. 36.09% of St. Louis RBI occurred on home runs, which is essentially average.
In 2012, the Cardinals are comparatively less reliant on the long ball. Through play on Saturday, there had been 3,074 homers and 26,064 hits. 11.79% of the hits in MLB were home runs. St. Louis had clubbed 110 dingers and smacked out 967 total hits through play on Saturday. 11.38% of the Redbirds' hits have been home runs, which ranks them in the bottom half of HRH% at 18th.
Through play on Saturday, there had been 12,443 RBI in MLB this season; 4,866 were driven in via round-trippers. 39.11% of MLB runs batted in have come on home runs. The Cards have notched 479 RBI on the season with 179 of them coming on home runs. 37.37% of St. Louis RBI have been plated on dingers. As with their 2012 HRH%, this HRRBI% ranks 18th in MLB.
Looking at these stats, it's clear that the claim that the Cardinals were overly reliant on the long ball in 2011 or 2012 is pure balderdash. If the World Series champs were overly reliant on the home run, then MLB as a whole was overly reliant on the home run. The Cards were essentially league-average in HRH% and HRRBI%. In 2012, the Cardinals are actually below average in the share of their hits that are round-trippers and the share of their RBI that are generated with homers. Given these facts, hopefully this baseless bogeyman can be exorcised from media coverage of the Cardinals.