Has the Cardinals' Offense 'Disappeared in Most Close Games'?

HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 07: David Freese #23 of the St. Louis Cardinals receives congratulations from Matt Holliday #7, Allen Craig #21 and Yadier Molina #4 after hitting a grand slam in the seventh inning against the Houston Astros on June 7, 2012 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Lying.

Fraudulent.

Con.

In a column that also features the adjective "phony" in its headline, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch takes the opportunity to slam the Cardinals offense as a collective flimflammer engaged in a swindle. You might be thinking, as I did, that Miklasz has called out the wrong group. After all, the Cardinals bats rank at or near the top in runs scored per game, batting average, on-base percentage, and more. With such a resume, fans have every right to be frustrated over the 19 innings worth of offensive futility the club displayed in Sunday's brutal loss to the Pirates, but to describe the hitters in terms that are typically used for criminal seems hyperbolic.

Who are the primary culprits in this gang of shiftless layabouts? Miklasz doesn't say exactly but two Cardinals players are singled out: Matt Holliday, who went 0 for 7, and David Freese, who went 0 for 8. When Holliday was hitting .357/.442/.607 from May 1 through August 5, Miklasz didn't call his numbers fraudulent even though Holliday isn't that good. When Freese was hitting .348/.494/.696 during the World Series, Miklasz didn't criticize him for conning us numbers far superior to those Freese had produced in his big-league career.

Neither line listed above paragraph nor their 0-for's against the PIrates on Sunday are fraudulent or a con even though they don't represent the players' true talents. This is baseball, a sport filled with streaks that come and go. Some are hot, when mid-90s fastballs look the size of ribbon-winning melons at the State Fair and every breaking ball is self-evident from the moment it leaves the pitcher's hand, and others are cold, when the ball seems the size of a pea and flailing at breaking balls is like trying to club a ghost. The worst thing for a fan to do is use such cold streaks to impugn a player or team's character. And that is what Miklasz does in this column.

Matheny is managing an underachiever. Now 121 games into the season, it's clear that the Cardinals lack a sharp competitive edge. That's among the prime reasons they come up short in so many close games.

Miklasz paints with a broad brush when leveling this accusation. Nonetheless, it makes me wonder who exactly he is talking about. Since the column makes a point of calling the position players a bunch of con artists, I suppose we can assume that he means they are the soft ones who don't care about winning because the offense "disappears in most close games."

The Cardinals hit .272/.339/.429 overall, which equals a .768 OPS. That OPS works out to a 112 OPS+ on the year. Do they disappear like a herd of heartless Houdini's in most close games, as Miklasz accuses? I thought we could look at the stats and see if they show such invisibility during winning time.

To me, a "close game" is one in which the score is within three or fewer runs. This can happen at various points in a ballgame. Baseball Reference has splits for these scenarios. It also has a split tOPS+ which compares how an individual's split compares to his overall line. The tOPS+ split is also available for teams and they have it for the Cardinals as a whole. Since, for whatever reason, Miklasz refuses to name any uncompetitive names, I'll spare you a gigantic chart of individual splits and just give you the lines for the Cardinals collectively.

Split

PA

HR

RBI

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

tOPS+

Tie Game

1262

32

133

.267

.341

.422

.763

99

Within 1 Run

2477

86

365

.269

.338

.425

.763

99

Within 2 Runs

3228

105

365

.275

.342

.430

.773

101

Within 3 Runs

3800

117

438

.274

.342

.433

.775

102


The Cardinals haven't disappeared in close situations. Whether the game is tied, within one run, within two runs, or within three runs, they've hit about as well as they have overall. Sure, Sunday's loss was excruciating and featured horrendous offensive performances up and down the lineup (excluding Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig). But, overall, the Cards have hit as well in close games as they have for the season.

Then I got to wondering whether or not this is a Church of Clutch discussion, so I looked at the splits on Baseball Reference that I typically associate with clutch hitting.

Split

PA

HR

RBI

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

tOPS+

Men On

2200

59

494

.269

.345

.438

.783

108

RISP

1267

34

420

.266

.362

.438

.800

109

RISP & 2 Outs

592

16

167

.247

.361

.414

776

103

Late & Close

817

17

76

.245

.332

.368

.700

84

High Leverage

993

24

222

.272

.350

.422

.772

102


Maybe the disappearing act occurs in "late and close" situations. After all, the St. Louis hitters have underperformed their seasonal OPS during this split. So has the league as a whole. The Cardinals' sOPS+ 105 in these situations tells us that they have hit better in late and close situations than the league average. In fact, they have for each of these splits. (I'd have put it on my chart, but I couldn't get it to fit in terms of width.)

The Cardinals have underperformed their Pythagorean record in 2012 and it has been incredibly frustrating to behold. This underperformance of run differential is no reason to be quesitoning the players' character or will to win, as Miklasz does today. The stats simply don't back up this attack on the character of the Cardinals hitters.

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