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Early Season Offense

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After 12 games – 7.4% of the season – the Cards sit at a pretty strong 8-4, in first place and 1 full game ahead of this weekend’s opponent. Of course, the Padres and Mariners are at 8-3 and the Marlins are at 9-1 but an 8-4 start is pretty strong nonetheless. The team is averaging 6 runs per game and yielding just 4.08 runs per game. It should be noted, however, that we’ve played 7 games against the Astros and Pirates – 2 of what will probably be the weaker teams in the NL – and 3 more against the D-backs, a team who people always anticipate will break out any year but are just 3-7 right now. It’s difficult to tell at such an early stage, but I was curious about how much of the Cards’ success to this point is going to be repeatable throughout the season and how much regression to the mean we’ll see.

Below is a table showing Cards’ offensive peripherals for the season’s 1st 12 games, the Cards’ performance in ’08, and the Major League average in ’08.

Cards ‘09 Cards ‘08 ML Avg
AVG .299 .281 .264
OBP .376 .350 .333
SLG .490 .433 .416
ISO .191 .152 .152
BABIP .326 .315 .303
wOBA .374 .341 .328
BB% 10.9 9.3 8.91
K% 16.4 17.5 19.7
LD% 17.3 21.4 20.2
GB% 44.0 44.4 43.9
FB% 38.7 34.2 36.0
HR/FB 12.1% 10.9% 10.1
O-swing% 24.2 25.2 25.5
Z-swing% 69.4 67.7 65.5
O-contact% 63.0 62.0 61.7
Z-Contact% 90.6 88.5 87.9
Zone% 48.2 51.5 51.1
F-strike% 59.4 58.2 58.9

Clearly right now the offensive numbers are great but most of them just won’t be maintainable throughout the course of the season. Our current batting average, on base %, slugging %, isolated power, and wOBA are all not only higher than we produced last year, but they’re also higher than any team produced all of last season. However, we’re also walking more and striking out less than we did last year. That may be maintainable and, if so, our offensive numbers should increase across the board.

Interestingly, our LD% is down from last year and our GB% is almost exactly the same as it was in ’08. In fact, we should think that our LD% will rise considering the fact that it’s about 3% lower than the major league average in ’08. The big difference w/ our batted ball data is that our FB% is up about 4% from last season, when we had a below average FB% (not necessarily a bad thing, btw, since fly balls end up as outs about 85% of the time) and our HR/FB is up from 10.9% to 12.1% so far this year. Last year’s percentage was slightly above the major league average but only 5 teams had a higher HR/FB% in ’08 than the Cards have this year. More fly balls and more of them leaving the park means more runs…obviously! Can we count on our homers leaving the park at the same rate as they have for the first 2 weeks? I doubt it but as we hit fewer fly balls and fewer of them leave the park, it’s possible that an increased LD% will help compensate for the loss of runs from our HR% declining.

Though we’re seeing a higher % of first strikes than we saw last year, and higher than the major league average, the % of pitches we’re seeing a below average % of pitches in the strike zone. This means that, although we’re seeing a lot of 0-1 counts, we’re ending up ahead in more counts and walking more (we knew that already) or seeing better pitches to hit in 2-1 or 3-1 counts. Ah…the advantages of seeing more pitches, but I digress…We’re swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone – a repeatable skill, I hope – and fewer pitches overall. If this represents better pitch recognition, it’s a repeatable skill and will help us throughout the season. If, however, we’re swinging at fewer pitches outside the zone b/c we’re ahead in counts, once we start seeing better pitchers we may start swinging at more pitches outside the zone – protecting the plate in 1-2 counts. Overall, we’re making contact at a slightly higher rate than last year and higher than ‘08’s major league average. Maintainable? Perhaps, unless it falls when – again – we see better pitches who pitch ahead in counts and get us swinging at 2-strike pitches outside the zone.

These numbers are certainly subject to small sample sizes – that’s the point, we’re trying to see what’s maintainable and what isn’t – as well as representative sample criticisms. We simply haven’t faced enough tough competition to believe these numbers won’t regress somewhat. On the other hand, our LD% should rise as the season progresses. The % of first-pitch strikes we see should fall some and, to the degree that our O-swing % is a function of a repeatable skill and not simply us taking advantage of bad pitching, that’s a maintainable skill that will benefit us against good pitchers and better teams throughout the season.

Tomorrow we’ll look at our pitchers and see what’s maintainable. Hopefully, the last inning and a half goes a little bit better today than yesterday. 4th day game in a row today. Ironically, the streak ends on a Sunday! Strange early season schedule.