The St. Louis Cardinals have had trouble plating runs in the season's opening three weeks. On Tuesday, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch examined the Redbirds' absent offense in a Bernie Bytes post on stltoday.com. Miklasz ran through the club's lackluster production during the season's first 19 games and concluded that the club has an identity crisis on offense:
So what do the Cardinals turn to? What's the foundation? That's why I say the offense has no identity. Nothing in their statistical profile conveys a particular strength in one area. What do the Cardinals represent? Is there one tangible quality that you can bank on right now?
Three games later and the Cardinals offense has still not come alive. Is it because the Cardinals have no identity on offense? I don't think so. In fact, I'd say their identity (or, offensive profile) portends a fruitful future.
Last season, the Cardinals led the National League in on-base percentage (OBP) despite ranking fifth in BB%. They also managed the league's second-best slugging percentage (SLG) even though they placed just ninth in Isolated Power (ISO), a stat that removes singles from the slugging equation. How did they manage this? The Cardinals posted a league-leading batting average that was fueled by a league-leading line-drive rate (LD%).
The Cardinals were a team of line-drive hitters a season ago. That was the foundation of their offense. And the line-drive foundation has been sturdy once again in the early going of 2014.
As of this writing, Fangraphs has not updated its batted-ball data to include Wednesday's games. Entering play on April 23, the Cardinals as a team had hit line drives on 23.4% of their balls in play, a total that was actually higher than their NL-leading 23.2% LD rate a season ago.
In his Bytes post, Miklasz deduces how manager Mike Matheny would respond to the Cards' early-season struggles:
I know what manager Mike Matheny's answer would be: keep grinding out good at-bats, keep doing what worked for you last year, and the results will come. And as a matter of principle, he's right.
Indeed. The Cardinals need to maintain faith in their identity and skill. The Redbirds are a menagerie of players skilled at barreling the baseball for line drives. They need to continue grinding out good plate appearances, lacing liners, and the results will come.