The St. Louis Cardinals' new, sportswriter-fantasy offense

Dilip Vishwanat

I kind of like home runs, personally, but I could get used to this line-drives-everywhere thing.

Give business-book writers enough time, and every possible angle will be taken on any given success story. We St. Louis Cardinals watchers have already taken care of the low-hanging business-book fruit—Jeff Luhnow's prospect , the efficient development pipeline, even the decision to not sign Albert Pujols, around which Malcolm Gladwell is presently anchoring an extended meditation on neuroplasticity.

The guys unfortunate enough to miss the rush—the poor MBAs who arrive after the team has been picked clean of lessons about management and innovation—will find themselves with one last Weird Thing to observe: This team hits a lot of singles and doubles, and not many home runs at all. (I call it Brink: The Power Of Almost Hitting Home Runs Without Hitting Home Runs. Talk to my agent.)

Right now the Cardinals are on pace to hit 138 home runs. The last time they hit so few? 1995, the year before La Russaball. The team leaderboard that year looked like this:

# Name HR
1 Ray Lankford 25
2 Brian Jordan 22
3 Bernard Gilkey 17
4 John Mabry 5
Tripp Cromer

These Cardinals, projected through the end of the season, have at least managed to push Tripp Cromer off the list:

# Name HR
1 Carlos Beltran 37
2 Matt Holliday 23
3 Allen Craig 14
4 Matt Carpenter 12
5 TIE 9

Despite that, these Cardinals have the fourth-highest slugging percentage in the National League (.409.)

Having Carlos Beltran helps—he's basically the difference, home-run-wise, between the 1995 Cardinals and the current model. More important, though, is that the Cardinals are hitting 30 points better than the Cromer model. You're probably right to be skeptical of Yadier Molina's .355 batting average, among other things, but right this instant the Cardinals are one conspicuous stolen base threat away from having the kind of zero-fraud offense that sportswriters dream about, when they allow themselves to dream.

The verdict: It's kind of nice!

And if you absolutely had to write a business book on the subject, and this was all you had left, you could probably get somewhere with it. It's not the doubles—it's the journalist-trend lurking along the infield. The Cardinals' second, third, and fifth-highest batting averages this season are coming from Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig, and David Freese.

All three were, at various points, tweener prospects whose lack of show-stoppingly obvious power at third base (which for whatever reason remains a stereotypical power position) left them underrated. (Freese, oddly, reached the majors before he turned into this kind of hitter.) Jon Jay—the Jon Jay that doesn't hit .245, I mean—was the same kind of prospect; Stephen Piscotty, one of last year's first-rounders, looks like a member of the same species.

The Cardinals not only pushed them methodically through the minor leagues, they found increasingly unlikely places for them to stand between at-bats, so that all of them could play at once. The Cardinals' pitching pipeline is much easier to see in action, since so many young pitchers can fit on the same staff.

But their willingness to draft and stick with players like Carpenter and Craig hasn't just reshaped the offense in 1992's image; it's reshaped the team around its own player development strengths.

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