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early season offensive check-in

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a lot of angst flows in the gamethreads on the number of players we have left on-base this season so far. while three weeks in is too soon to worry about . . . well, almost anything, i think it makes sense to take a look at how we're doing and what offensive trends are sustainable and what aren't (hint: most are not).

as a caveat, take all these stats with a big grain of salt, given the early, early stages of the season. still, i am trying to focus on some luck and discipline stats to try to discern the trends which require the smallest of sample sizes.

batting luck

our team BABIP is .281 right now, notwithstanding a 20.4% LD rate. the BABIP is in the lower third or so for teams, while the LD rate is in the top third. that looks an awful lot like a team that's going regress to a more productive mean.

on the other hand, the team also enjoys a 14.4% HR/FB rate, which is likely to regress in favor of fewer HR and more FB outs. so, going forward, expect fewer dingers and more singles and doubles, from the sheer force of regression to the mean.

team patience

maybe the most startling stat i've run across for the team is the team swing rate. we swing at 48.2% of all pitches, which makes us the most aggressive team in the majors by almost a full percentage point. the conventional - if erroneous - wisdom has been that in the post-hal mcrae era we are more patient. our walk rate (9.3%) is fine but unimpressive, and only a modest improvement on last year's 8.6%.

weirder still, we fit just fine with the norm for swinging at pitches outside the zone (27.2%). our problem is instead that we swing at 70% of pitches in the zone, the highest rate in the majors. now, sure, swinging at pitches in the zone sounds like a good plan - and it is, in small doses. but lots of pitches in the zone are not pitches that are going to go for a hit. dave duncan teaches pitchers to throw in the zone - just down in the zone. basically, we are swinging at a lot of crap pitches that we either miss (with a 10th-worst 86.8% zone contact rate) or hit for outs (with a fairly high 11.3% IFFB rate).

next, below the fold, let's take a look at the heroes and culprits for these trends

individual performances

colby rasmus has set the world on fire this month, making albert pujols the second best hitter on the team so far. is he going to continue to hit at a .454 wOBA level all season? i sure hope so, but i'm not putting anybody's college fund on it.  

his walk rate: 18.2%. he walks so much because his plate discipline is outstanding - swinging at a paltry 15.4% of out of zone pitches, for a 40.5% swing rate generally.

on the other hand, his BABIP, while it comes in at a surprisingly low .280, is a product of a shockingly low LD rate (9.8%) and his slugging is driven by an extreme 29.4% HR/FB rate.  

i love the discipline, but i worry that we'll see some sudden regression from colby. unless muscle is behind the extreme home run rate, i would suspect that in the near future we'll see him start making a lot more fly ball outs and a lot fewer homers. 

on the other hand, we are seeing a lot of players hitting the ball hard, some of them not getting justly rewarded for their outcomes. check out the following LD rates: allen craig (36.4%); skip schumaker (32.0%); david freese (30.3%); yadier molina (22.9%); ryan ludwick (21.7%); brendan ryan (19.4%). of those six, only ludwick and freese have BABIPs of more than .300. either something else is going on, or allen craig has suffered a preposterous string of bad luck (.091 BABIP). skippy and brendan both have a lot of line drive karma coming their way (.255 and .243 BABIPs respectively), while molina is only being somewhat slighted by luck (.283 BABIP). 

FYI - nick stavinoha's LD rate? 0.00%. his BABIP? .400. he is also the second least disciplined position player on the team after jason larue, with a 58.1% swing rate and without a walk to date. granted, he's had 10 PA's so far, but his history also shows him to be a free-swinging fellow who rarely walks or hits line drives. he's shown no reason to think he's improved in the off-season.

albert pujols continues to quietly morph his plate approach from a line drive-heavy output to a player who muscles fly balls over the wall. his LD rate continues to putter along at ~15%, like last season, with an even more extreme FB rate - 51.9%. his home run rate is 22.2% HR/FB. probably not sustainable for a mere mortal, but only a tick above where albert has been the last two seasons. if he is really able to hit 52% of all balls in play for flyballs, and 22% of those flyballs for home runs . . . . he could manage a 60 HR season (for those of you doing math at home: 700 PA - 65 K - 110 BB = 525 balls in play; 525 * .52 * .22 = 60). neither of those rates are necessarily sustainable, and both would be above his career norms (he did hit 22% of his FB for HR in 2003, but has never had a 52% FB rate; last year he peaked at 45.7% FB). 

ryan ludwick looks very nice this year, with the high line drive rate mentioned above. his BABIP is high and more than is sustainable, but i suspect not too much more than sustainable. his patience is tremendous, with the lowest o-swing of his career and an 11.3% walk rate.  expect some recession from these heights, but not too much.

skip schumaker looks better than his AVG/OBP/SLG line this early in the season. he's shown decent discipline, and also shows that, when he does swing, he can do great things. as stated above, his current numbers likely far understate what we will see of him in the near future. he's made himself into an extreme contact hitter, reaching 81.8% of all pitches he swings at outside the strike zone, and more than 90% of those he swings at inside the zone. his line drive rate is sky high, his fly ball rate low. expect great stuff from skippy this year.

i'm a little worried about holliday. his walk rate is poor. his LD rate is down.  he's done well so far, but he looks like he might be in line for some regression. meanwhile, felipe lopez seems to be coming out of his early-season funk and playing basically as well as anyone could ask, with no strong chance of regression either in a positive or negative sense. yadi also looks good, with a real chance of positive results from regression. he's heard our cries about double plays and is hitting a lot more balls in the air. brendan ryan has shown great stuff at the plate, getting a lot of walks and line drives, although luck has not cooperated with that last part.

in conclusion, i want to further emphasize that the worm will turn, and the cardinals  will once again score a man from second this season. there are too many guys making really solid contact for these outs not to turn into hits in the future.

second, our concerns of last year have only really been half answered in terms of discipline; we need more walks from our club and better consideration of which pitches to swing at in the zone to really address the continuing weaknesses in the lineup.

third, a molina stole a base off a molina and the universe did NOT collapse into a singularity. so, we've got that going for us.