Why aren't the St. Louis Cardinals hitting for more power?

Dilip Vishwanat

Before Sunday's jhome runs, the St. Louis Cardinals' last home run had sailed over the wall on Wednesday, April 16, in the final game of the club's three-game set in Milwaukee. The Cards' homer-less streak lasted spanned ten games. Even after Jhonny Peralta's two deep flies against Pittsburgh on Sunday and the homers Matt Holliday and Allen Craig cracked last night, the Cardinals' 16 collective homers tie them with the Mets for the second lowest total among National League clubs, ahead of only the Padres.

A lack of home runs is one of the driving factors in the Cardinals' punchless April offense. The club is batting .242 overall and slugging a collective .355, which ranks fifth lowest in the NL. By Isolated Power (ISO), a stat that removes singles from SLG to isolate extra-base hits, the Cardinals have been even worse. The club's .113 ISO through 27 games is the fourth-lowest in all of baseball; only the Padres (.110), Royals (.101)., and Mets (.100) are worse.

Last week, we looked at a sliver of the St. Louis Cardinals' batted-ball profile. In 2013, the Redbirds led MLB in line-drive rate (LD%) and they rank second in the stat this April. Today, I wanted to look at the other primary component parts of the club's batted-ball profile, grounders and fly balls, and how they are impacting the Cards' power-hitting.

The interplay between batted-ball types is not black and white. In particular, there is a fuzziness as to when a ball hit in the air is a line drive or a flyball. As a result, while the groundball rate for MLB as a whole remains pretty constant, there is typically more fluctuation to the collective line-drive and flyball percentages year in and year out. Usually, when the LD% dips, the FB% rises and vice versa. It's important to keep this in mind when looking at batted-ball profiles so that one can take them with the appropriate grain of salt.

We're going to focus on 2013 first, because it provides us a backdrop against which we can gauge the young 2014 season. Last year, MLB batters as a whole posted the following batting lines when hitting grounders, liners, and flies:

Type

%

PA

H

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

GB

44.5%

57500

13357

.232

.232

.250

.483

.018

.213

27

LD

21.2%

27374

18746

.683

.685

.883

1.568

.193

.681

351

FB

34.3%

44352

9460

.218

.213

.621

.834

.403

.346

119


As you can see, MLBers have the highest batting average on line drives. This makes sense on a gut level since liners are often the hardest hit balls off the bat. Players also post healthy power numbers on liners. As a result, the highest OPS and wOBA come on line drives. However, the top power numbers (as represented by ISO, which does not include singles in its calculation) come via the flyball.

Last season, the Cardinals led the league in LD%, so they had an above-average line-drive rate. They also had an above-average GB% and below-average FB%. The result of the Redbirds' batted-ball profile, predictably, was a team that hit for a higher BA than average, posted a higher OBP than average, but hit for power at a more middling rate.

Type

%

PA

H

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

GB

45.2%

2016

479

.238

.238

.258

.496

.021

.219

35

LD

23.2%

1036

699

.679

.675

.872

1.547

.193

.673

350

FB

31.5%

1405

304

.222

.216

.585

.802

.363

.333

114


The same general principles regarding batted balls have held true for MLB as a whole in 2014:

Type

%

PA

H

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

GB

45.8%

9137

2156

.236

.236

.256

.492

.020

.219

33

LD

20.0%

3987

2744

.687

.688

.885

1.574

.190

.689

354

FB

34.2%

6834

1476

.221

.216

.626

.842

.405

.353

125


Now, let's take a gander at the Cardinals' 2014 batted-ball profile and results:

Type

%

PA

H

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

GB

48.2%

351

479

.202

.202

.222

.425

.020

.189

16

LD

22.8%

165

112

.696

.679

.938

1.617

.242

.699

370

FB

28.6%

207

34

.166

.164

.444

.608

.278

.258

65


The Cardinals have hit a lower-than-average FB% and a higher-than-average GB%. And while the Cards have hit for more power on average when striking a liner, their power-hitting on flies is lacking. Taken together, this appears to be the cause of El Birdos' early season power outage. The Redbirds are unlikely to continue hitting for such little power on flyballs (as the last two games indicate). Hopefully, the team's flies sail further as the weather heats up.

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