the biggest change in the cardinal offense since pujols went down is the lack of walks. they drew nary a one last night and have taken just 16 walks since albert left the lineup 7 games ago --- and 8 of those walks came in the first game of his absence. obviously albert himself accounts for some of the shortfall --- he leads the team in walks with 52, so we’d expect the team’s walks total to drop a little bit when he’s not playing. but that hardly tells the whole story. pujols and his .475 obp are gone, and the rest of the hitters are compounding the problem by expanding their strike zones.
we can document that trend w/ the help of fangraphs, which rolled out a new category of stats this year labeled "plate discipline." these numbers show, among other things, how often each batter swings at pitches outside the strike zone. you can slice the stats up by month; i compared the cardinals’ numbers for june w/ their numbers from april/may to see how they compared. i excluded the cardinal pitchers from the survey; only the position players are counted. take a look:
|out of zone
unfortunately we can’t get a precise pre-injury / post-injury breakdown, but this comes pretty close. remember, pujols sat out the last two games of the washington serires in addition to the 7 he’s missed so far on the dl; he only has started 7 of 16 games this month. so the june breakdown is a pretty good proxy for "without pujols." interestingly, these numbers show that the cardinals have been seeing fewer strikes this month (49 percent of the overall pitch count, vs 51 percent when albert was in the lineup). it’s not a significant difference, only about 3 pitches a game; nonetheless, we know that the cards are seeing at least as many out-of-zone pitches as they were before albert went down. i thought perhaps the opposite might be true --- ie, that the cards had stopped drawing walks because opposing pitchers are throwing them more strikes, challenging them with impunity now that albert isn’t around. instead, what’s happening is that the cardinal hitters aren’t forcing pitchers to throw it over the plate; they’re chasing outside the zone far more often than they used to. that explains the sharp dropoff in walks.
let’s name a few names: here are the out-of-zone swing percentages, player by player. for the record, the mlb average is around 24 percent:
only two guys have improved their discipline this month; everybody else has gotten sloppier at the dish. perhaps not surprisingly, the worst offenders are also the worst hitters --- izturis, miles, ryan, and larue --- with the exception of pujols, who took only 2 nonintentional walks this month in 26 plate appearances.
a return to the patience they showed early in the season might help the cards suffer a little less during albert’s absence, but on the whole i think they’re just gonna have to take their lumps. it’s unreasonable to expect this roster to keep winning with pujols and wainwright both out of action; that doesn’t make the losing any more palatable, but i don’t see what else the team is supposed to do. i suppose it couldn’t hurt to call up mather or phelps or stavinoha from triple A to take some at-bats at 1b; i’d be surprised if any of those guys really helped, but you never know. maybe brian barden would give them a spark; that’s a longshot as well, but again there’d be no harm in trying. in any case, i don’t have the sense that any of these players is being considered for promotion . . . . . i’m not as concerned about the bullpen as many people are; i agree w/ red baron and HC that the left side of the bullpen is inadequate, but otherwise i just think it has been a rough couple of weeks for the pen. given the extra load they’re carrying this month due to the absence of wainwright and wellemeyer, that isn’t surprising.
- chris young on the line drive that nearly killed him: "i am fortunate." gotta admire this guy’s attitude and sense of perspective.
- don’t look now, but pj walters is 6-1 at triple A after a strong performance yesterday. his era is unsightly at 5.36, but that’s largely due to one disastrous outing (june 6 against round rock); in his other 8 starts he has a 3.77 era. i know, i’m cherry-picking . . . . his peripherals aren’t very good either. not likely to pitch for st louis this year, but the way pitchers are going down on the big-league team, you never know.
- adam ottavino labored through 5 innings to win his first game of the year. took the kid 94 pitches, and he gave up 3 runs . . . . . tough go for the #1 pick in the 2006 draft. most observers had him as one of the system’s top 5 prospects heading into the year, and the 2d-most promising starting pitcher in the system behind jaime garcia. but he has clearly been passed by clay mortensen and jess todd, and probably by kyle mclellan; pj walters (drafted about 10 rounds behind him) has advanced more quickly, though his ceiling is still probably lower.
- time to get john jay moved up to memphis --- he’s hitting .431 this month with 5 homers, 4 steals, and a 1.202 ops.