Is the Skill Level of the St. Louis Cardinals' Bench Players to Blame for the Team's Poor Pinch Hitting?

Jeff Curry

The Cardinals did not perform well in pinch-hitting situations during the 2012 season. Is the light-hitting composition of the team's bench to blame?

On Christmas Eve, we took a look at pinch hitting and the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals were one of the worst pinch-hitting clubs in all of baseball last year. I wondered whether Cardinals fans should be worried about this fact as we head into 2013 and concluded that, because there are so few pinch-hitting at-bats, pinch-hitting stats are subject to wide variation and there was little reason for concern. To refresh our recollections, here is the chart of National League pinch hitting stats by team.

NATIONAL LEAGUE PINCH HITTING STATS BY TEAM (2012)

Rank

Team

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

tOPS+

sOPS+

1

WSH

244

.288

.367

.420

.786

112

143

2

CIN

201

.269

.337

.429

.765

111

136

3

NYM

279

.240

.330

.412

.742

111

128

4

LAD

242

.280

.376

.360

.736

115

128

5

COL

263

.240

.331

.402

.733

92

126

6

MIA

232

.246

.339

.392

.731

113

125

7

SD

278

.248

.325

.382

.707

102

118

8

HOU

231

.242

.323

.381

.794

110

117

9

CHC

273

.244

.300

.368

.668

97

106

10

MIL

315

.223

.290

.337

.627

66

93

11

SF

218

.218

.284

.342

.626

73

93

12

ARI

226

.233

.280

.314

.594

60

83

13

PHI

268

.206

.270

.290

.560

58

73

14

STL

279

.190

.275

.256

.532

42

65

15

PIT

268

.176

.284

.229

.513

51

60

16

ATL

250

.158

.237

.239

.475

36

47

One of the things I enjoy most about the internet is the opportunity it affords folks to discuss baseball. Whether it be online discussion boards, blogs and their comments sections, Twitter, or email, fans now have access to baseball stats, baseball studies, and baseball writers. I believe the internet is the primary driving force behind the expanding knowledge and understanding of my favorite sport and I'm thankful for it.

My Christmas Eve post sparked some discussion on the matter. One comment in that discussion came from long-time VEB community member Rejuvenile, who suggested that there may be more cause for concern than my post gave credence to. He brought up a point that I had only given passing consideration to when writing my initial post. Rejuvenile suggested that "one of the Cardinals' problems has been the lack of quality hitters on the bench to start with." He then posted the batting stats of the primary Cardinals bench players, which I've recreated in chart form below.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS BENCH PLAYER STATS (2012)

Player

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

M. Carpenter

340

.294

.365

.463

.828

125

Schumaker

304

.276

.339

.368

.707

94

Greene

197

.218

.272

.358

.629

71

Robinson

181

.253

.309

.355

.665

82

Cruz

131

.254

.267

.365

.632

72

Chambers

62

.222

.300

.296

.596

65

Komatsu

21

.211

.286

.211

.496

40

Jackson

18

.118

.167

.118

.284

-20

Anderson

14

.250

.357

.333

.690

92

Hill

10

.200

.200

.300

.500

35

Total

1278

.259

.316

.378

.694

--

As Rejuvenile notes, the batting stats for the Cardinals substitutes are not very good. His comment got me to thinking. One of the primary qualities of a bench player is that he is not good enough to be a primary position player. To put it another way: bench players are less skilled than starters. If they were better, they'd start. This reality made me wonder how the 2012 Cardinals bench compared to the rest of the National League in terms of batting.

I went to Baseball Reference and their team batting stats pages. Baseball Reference sorts a team's batting stats by primary position players, bench players, and pitchers. I downloaded each of the NL teams' stats and used the Baseball Reference categorization to separate each team's primary position players from their primary bench players. This method admittedly has problems.

One such problem is exampled by the World Series champions. By Baseball Reference's method of categorization, second baseman Marco Scutaro is a bench player for the Giants and Ryan Theriot the starting second baseman. This is because Theriot notched more plate appearances at second base for San Fran than Scutaro, who arrived midseason via trade. In an attempt to remedy this, I went through and attempted to remove players who were midseason trades and were a primary position player after the trade. In the Cardinals' case, call-ups and injuries created a similar problem. I removed Pete Kozma, Matt Adams, and Lance Berkman from the pool of bench players since they were primarily starters during their time on the 25-man roster.

Attempting to correct the pool of players for "true" bench players is very messy. For example, I don't even know where to begin with clubs like the Astros, Phillies, Marlins, and Dodgers--teams that added and subtracted via trade to move people from their job as a primary position player to the bench and vice versa. Because of this, I by and large left the Baseball Reference categorizations alone (although I did removed Hanley Ramirez from the Marlins' and Dodgers' benches). I've included plate appearances (PA) in the chart. This gives you an idea of which benches were used most often, for whatever reason.

Baseball Reference does not have Split On-Base Plus Slugging Plus (sOPS+) for bench players, so I calculated it myself using the sOPS+ formula (which apparently does not incorporate Park Factors) from the Baseball Reference Play Index Glossary. Here is the sOPS+ definition and formula as provided by Baseball Reference:

sOPS+ - OPS+ of this split relative to the major league ops for this split: 100 * ( (split OBP/ML avg. OBP of split) + (split SLG/ML avg. SLG of split) - 1)

We've used sOPS+ before. It looks at a player or team's production in a given situation relative to the league average production in that situation. sOPS+ is scaled to 100 so that 100 is exactly average. The further above 100 an sOPS+, the more above-average the performance has been in a given situation. The further below 100 an sOPS+, the more below-average the performance has been.

NATIONAL LEAGUE BENCH STATS (2012)

Rank

Team

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

sOPS+

1

COL

2551

.280

.324

.426

.750

120

2

NYM

1923

.246

.307

.400

.707

107

3

WSH

1717

.255

.316

.388

.704

107

4

PHI

2181

.250

.306

.399

705

106

5

STL

1278

.259

.316

.378

.694

104

6

PIT

1995

.240

.295

.399

.694

103

7

SD

2044

.248

.314

.377

.691

103

8

ARI

1769

.247

.309

.381

.691

103

9

HOU

2529

.230

.293

.389

.683

100

10

CIN

1679

.244

.292

.384

.676

98

11

MIA

2413

.244

.300

.357

.657

93

12

MIL

1738

.229

.294

.359

.653

92

13

CHI

2090

.223

.292

.359

.651

91

14

LAD

2069

.237

.305

.338

.644

90

15

ATL

1355

.236

.286

.354

.639

88

16

SF

2154

.244

.300

.338

.638

88

Total

NL

31698

.245

.303

.378

.681

--

The Cardinals bench didn't post very impressive batting stats in 2012, but neither did any other NL team's bench. In fact, the Cardinals hit pretty well as a bench relative to the National League average. The .259 batting average (BA) posted by the Cardinals bench players is 14 points higher than the NL average, the Redbirds' .316 on-base percentage (OBP) is 13 points higher than the NL average, and the .378 slugging percentage (SLG) posted by the St. Louis bench is exactly average for an NL bench. The Cards' .694 bench OPS is 13 points higher than the NL average and thus equals a slightly above-average 104 sOPS+.

Most NL benches are not very good at hitting and the 2012 St. Louis bench was less bad at hitting than NL bench players as a whole. The overall hitting performance by the Cardinals' primary bench players relative to NL bench players as a whole suggests that the club's poor performance in pinch-hitting situations is not due to the bench's 2012 composition.

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