Cardinals' Offensive Struggles Continue

He'll help - Jason O. Watson

The Cardinals' offense has been mired in mediocrity all season long. Oscar Taveras has been brought up to help and veterans could see their playing time diminished. This post takes a look at the quality of starting pitching the team has faced and looks for any patterns based on the quality of the opponent.

A few games past the midway point of the season, the Cardinals' offense remains in the same state of existence from the end of April. The Cardinals have plenty of good players with good track records or good potential who have disappointed, not to the point of hitting terribly, but hitting slightly below average when much more was expected. Since leaving Colorado, the Cardinals anemic mini-run on offense has produced just six runs in six games and dropped the team down to second-to-last in runs scored ahead of only the pathetic Padres. The Cardinals underlying hitting line indicates the Cardinals should have more runs.

The Cardinals .254 batting average (non-pitchers) ranks eighth in the National League while their .321 comes in at seventh and their lack of power shows with just a .371 slugging percentage, 14th out of fifteen National League teams. Factoring in the park they play in, the Cardinals wRC+ is not terrible. One-hundred is average and the Cardinals come in at 97. However, slightly below average is well below expectations and well below the league leading wRC+ of 113 the Cardinals put up last season.

Every so often, I hear that the Cardinals turn terrible opposing pitchers into aces.  Isolating the opposing pitcher numbers fails to come up with any rhyme or reason regarding the Cardinals' struggles. Just like every other team, the Cardinals tend to perform poorly against the league's best pitchers and do better as the quality of the pitching goes down. To measure the Cardinals' results by pitcher, I used Game Score. From Baseball Reference:

This is a value created by Bill James that evaluates how good a pitcher's start was.

Start with 50 points. Add 1 point for each out recorded, (or 3 points per inning). Add 2 points for each inning completed after the 4th. Add 1 point for each strikeout. Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed. Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed. Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed. Subtract 1 point for each walk.

Game Score is a fairly simple, results-oriented way to determine the quality of a start. Generally speaking, fifty is going to be about average. The average so far this season in the National League is 53. Clayton Kershaw's no-hitter earned him a 102. The highest total against the Cardinals this season has been 80, done by Madison Bumgarner and Tony Cingrani. Adam Wainwright's average start this season heading into last night was 67 with a high of 94 (Stats here). Using all of the Game Scores against the Cardinals can provide information on how the Cardinals perform depending on the level of the pitcher.

The first breakdown looks at the average statistics of the pitcher depending on how good the start was against the Cardinals. I separated the starts into good (61+), average (45-60), and bad (44 and below). Here are the average 2014 season statistics of those starters.

Game Score ERA FIP fWAR

0-44 4.3 3.99 0.8

45-60 3.74 3.76 1.1

61+ 3.36 3.46 1.3

As expected, the Cardinals were more likely to be shut down by good pitchers and they were more likely to capitalize on a bad pitcher. Breaking down the data a different way, I took all of the Cardinals' opposing pitchers and broke them down into good (roughly 1.5 fWAR and above), average (0.8-1.5 fWAR), and bad (0.7 fWAR and below). Here are the average statistics of those pitchers.

ERA FIP fWAR

Good 3.05 3.07 2

Average 3.86 3.74 1

Bad 4.35 4.24 0.3

MLB 3.69 3.69

Cardinals Opponents 3.77 3.72 1.1

The Cardinals have faced a roughly average group of pitchers overall. The fWAR column for MLB is blank as including all starters or just those who qualify for the ERA title is misleading. Separating the above pitchers by Game Score reveals the following graph.

Vs_cardinals

These results also conform to what we might expect. The good pitchers come in right around 58, the average pitchers around 53 and the bad pitchers around 48. The bad pitcher score could be a bit lower, but overall, this is in line with expectations. It might feel like the opposing team's worst pitcher comes in and shuts down the offense, perhaps because it is more memorable, but generally the Cardinals performed roughly as expected.

The Cardinals do hit a little better when they have already faced the pitcher this season. The Cardinals have faced a pitcher more than once fifteen times this season. In their first encounter, the average Game Score was 59.2. When the Cardinals faced those pitchers again, the score dropped to 48.3. Fifteen games is not a lot to go from, but only three of the games saw the pitcher improve from the first start to the second. Going forward, that may aid the Cardinals as they are more likely to face pitchers they have already seen.

The Cardinals offense has continued to underperform halfway through the season. Their lack of power is discouraging, but the recent surge by Matt Adams, the emergence of Oscar Taveras, and the likely return to form by the rest of the team provides reason for optimism. The Cardinals have not moved down or up to the competition when it comes to their opposition. They have struggled somewhat against the best pitchers and performed reasonably well against the bottom of the league. The Cardinals defense and pitching has sustained them and kept them in the race. An inevitable surge by the offense should put them in the playoffs once again.


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