Were the Cardinals unlucky with home runs in 2013?

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

In 2013, the Cardinals batted extremely well with runners on base while coming up empty with the bases clear. There is some basis to think the Cardinals offense will regress this season, but the effect might be negated somewhat by hitting more home runs.

(Note: I am a new writer here, but I am a Cardinals fan for life. I will be contributing analysis as well as some news. Feel free to treat this post as the main post, and hopefully comment here throughout the day.)

Much of the narrative during the 2013 season concerned the Cardinals apparent clutch ability. When the bases were empty, the Cardinals hit a Daniel Descalso-like .236/.297/.356. When runners were on, the Cardinals moved into Allen Craig territory, hitting .313/.376/.463. With runners in scoring position, the Cardinals nearly morphed into Cardinals-era Albert Pujols with a line of .330/.402/.463. The common line of thought in the mainstream media was that the Cardinals changed their approach and took better at-bats leading to higher averages. Most of the advanced statistics community chalked the Cardinals solid hitting up to mostly luck.

Assuming Don Mattingly's accusations regarding sign-stealing are not the basis for the Cardinals better hitting with runners on base, some luck likely played a part. Hitting with runners on base only plays part of the complete equation when it comes to luck and total runs scored. The Cardinals scored 783 runs in 2013. Taking out any luck/skill/magic from how the Cardinals sequenced their hits, the Cardinals ended up with a wRC of 715. Using simple arithmetic, it would be pretty easy to say the Cardinals had 68 "lucky" runs and end the discussion there. Even without those runs, the Cardinals would still have had the highest run differential in the division. Ending the discussion ignores any unlucky factors that may have contributed to the Cardinals not scoring even more runs in 2013.

The Cardinals struggled to hit home runs last season. Only the Royals, Giants, and Marlins hit fewer home runs than the Cardinals' 125 last year. Some of the lack of power can be attributed to the park the Cardinals play in, but this was a sharp decline from the 159 home runs they hit in 2012. The easy guess for the decline would be a change in personnel. In both 2012 and 2013, ten Cardinal players had more than 300 plate appearances. In 2013, the Cardinals switched out Skip Schumaker and Rafael Furcal for Matt Adams and Pete Kozma. The switch in personnel did not seem to cause the drop in home runs.

In 2012, the Cardinals HR/FB rate was 11.5%. In 2013, the rate dropped to 8.9%. No other National League team experienced a drop that large with only the Marlins at 2% anywhere near the Cardinals. From 2010-2012, the Cardinals HR/FB rate was 10.5%. Year-to-year, HR/FB ratios correlate fairly well, yet the Cardinals dropped 2.6% from 2012 and a percent and a half from its previous three-year average. That drop may not seem like a huge amount until you consider the Cardinals hit roughly 1400 fly balls last year. A one percent increase in HR/FB ratio in 2013 would have resulted in 14 more homers.

Splitting the difference between 2012 and the three-year average would have netted the Cardinals around 25 more homers last season. Even if many of those would-be homers were doubles, that is an extra 30 runs for the Cardinals in 2013 with a little bit of luck. The Cardinals benefited from timely hits in 2013, but even if they had not, getting rid of some bad luck when it came to home runs would have made up a decent amount of the difference. Those expecting a huge drop in runs for the Cardinals might be surprised by an increase in power in 2014.

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