The St. Louis Cardinals vs. Southpaws: 2012 & Beyond

Harry How

Should fans expect the St. Louis Cardinals' struggles against lefthanded starters to continue?

The St. Louis Cardinals had gotten off to a slow start against lefthanded starters before this weekend's series against the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine. Heading into the series, many a commenter noted that the Dodgers would trot out a lefty starter in each of the club's contests this LA series. Some were concerned with this turn of events. Other than Clayton Kershaw--a pitcher of such skill that any time he takes the ball against your favorite team should cause consternation--fans should have been pleased. For it was only a matter of time before the Cardinals broke out against a slop-tossing southpaw.

The breakout commenced Friday night when Chris Capuano got the start for the onetime streetcar Dodgers. Former enforcer in the Memphis Mafia and current Cardinal clubber Allen Craig led the assault. The professional hitter laced a two-RBI double to the Dodger blue outfield wall in the third off Capuano and followed that laser with one that was hit harder and sailed further, to the seats beyond the wall his third-inning double hit. Craig's third homer of the season pushed the Cards' tally to four.

After Craig staggered Capuano, October hero David Freese provided the coup de grace. Jon Jay led off the sixth with a single. Immediately following a coaching visit to the mound, Freese laced a dinger that once would have made Mark McGwire smile but undoubtedly made the once red but now blue-blooded hitting coach cringe. Mattingly promptly gave Capuano the hook. Freese's homer punctuated Capuano's line for the night: 5 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 4 SO, and 2 HR.

Friday night's result was not surprising and perhaps predictable. The Cardinals were due to breakout against a lefty starter. The statical line posted over the nine games leading up to el Birdos' series in LA were bound to bend the career numbers against lefties of the team's batters.

We need only look to 2012 for evidence of the Cards' inherent skill in hitting lefthanded starters.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS VS. LEFTHANDED STARTING PITCHERS (2012 VS. 2013)


Year

G

PA

H

2B

HR

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

sOPS+

tOPS+

2012

48

1892

478

92

68

.287

.358

.478

.835

129

120

2013

10

361

70

14

8

.221

.300

.341

.640

81

74


The Cards hit lefthanded starters very well in 2012. We can start our analysis with the OPS+ stat. Split OPS+ (sOPS+) is a stat available at Baseball Reference that compares a club's performance to the league's in a particular split. Our split in this particular chart is OPS vs. lefthanded starters. sOPS+ is calculated so that 100 is exactly league average. The higher above 100, the better a team's OPS in the given split. The lower, the worse. The Cards' sOPS+ of 129 was excellent. In 2013, even after bludgeoning Capuano's offerings last night, the Cards are still well below average against lefthanded starters.

Next to sOPS+ is tOPS+ which compares a team's performance in a given split to its overall performance. The Cards batters performed best against southpaw starters in 2012. In 2013, the Redbirds sluggers are hitting incredibly poorly against lefty starters as opposed to righthanded starers and relief pitchers.

The problem players in this split so far this season are an unlikely bunch that features Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, David Freese, and Matt Carpenter (as well as the less surprising Ty Wigginton and Pete Kozma, who each have a hitting skill level low enough that their poor performance in any particular situation is never particularly unexpected).

In 2013, Molina, Holliday, Freese, and Carpenter have hit in an underwhelming fashion against southpaw starters.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS VS. LEFTHANDED STARTERS (2013)

Player

PA

H

2B

HR

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

sOPS+

tOPS+

Molina

37

10

1

0

.303

.351

.333

.685

95

73

Carpenter

38

6

1

1

.188

.316

.313

.628

79

55

Holliday

38

6

1

0

.200

.368

.233

.602

75

61

Freese

34

5

2

1

.161

.235

.323

.558

56

74


Molina has hit for a perfectly good average but no power. Carpenter and Holliday haven't hit for much power or average against lefty starters. Freese has hit for some power but a horrible average.

Given their respective career lines, there is reason to expect improvement.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS VS. LEFTHANDED STARTERS (CAREER)


Player

PA

H

2B

HR

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

tOPS+

Molina

1389

338

71

25

.273

.339

.391

.730

99

Carpenter

136

33

5

7

.284

.390

.543

.933

129

Holliday

1614

423

91

64

.301

.389

.516

.905

98

Freese

425

112

21

11

.296

.363

.443

.806

103


As you can see, the righthanded batters--Molina, Holliday, and Freese--don't have a pronounced platoon split. They're good hitters against lefties and righties alike. Their poor performance against lefthanded starters to date is unlikely to continue because, in their careers, they've hit such pitchers like they've hit all pitchers: quite well. Carpenter, on the other hand, mashed lefty starters last year. Even if he doesn't maintain that blistering level of production, there is nonetheless reason to expect some improvement.

Tonight the Cardinals face southpaw starter Ted Lilly.

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