I think the 2011 Cardinals would be less frustrating if they were scoring no runs at all. Just zeros every time, like the Cleveland Spiders' offense attached amateur-surgically to a competent pitching staff. After a while every hit would become an event—every near-hit would become an event. We would spend 200 gamethread comments analyzing the time Skip Schumaker nearly sneaked one past Neil Walker, or the time Ryan Theriot had that pitch almost hit him. (Which, admittedly, we could do anyway.)
It's worse like it is now, with the Cardinals coming very close, at times, to looking like a real offense. Working so close to adequacy without partaking of it puts you right in the uncanny valley, and it's unnerving to see them draw some walks, hit some doubles, get two-hit games from the likes of Schumaker, and after all that put just one run on the line-score. There's something really unnerving about things that look almost right, and this offense is currently in full-on psychological-horror mode.
The obvious problems aside—Albert Pujols is encouraged to initiate April 2006 mode any day now—it's becoming difficult for me to figure out what's wrong, aside from a general offense-wide case of terminal brain cloud. So on the off-day it's worth taking a look at which small sample sizes are doing the most to get us down. Going around the horn:
Pitchers: 14 AB, .071/.071/.071. The pitchers have contributed -0.6 Extrapolated Runs to the offense in their 14 at-bats, because they weren't sure you missed Adam Wainwright enough. After Brad Penny it might still be a little too soon to wish for bigger things from the pitchers' bats, but it's worth noting, in the interest of thoroughness, that in 2010 pitchers as a group hit .143/.177/.176.
Add a walk and another single to get them within flailing distance of typical pitchers and they gain eight-tenths of a run. Which seems somehow appropriate for this team, which seems, at their gloomiest, one rule change away from losing a game 1-0.8.
Yadier Molina: 18 AB, .167/.211/.222. That's 0.7 runs from Yadi, who's in a tough position inasmuch as he rarely seems to look like a decent hitter, no matter how competent he actually is. Slow, punchless, and GIDP-happy is no way to build an offensive brand, which is presumably why brother Bengie decided to swing hard and frequently when it came time to get a multi-year deal.
So far Molina's contributed about two runs below what he would have if he were a ZiPS-animated automaton hitting .277/.340/.366. Which—people always worry about robots, but they make the trains run on time. If, immediately prior to the robot insurrection, I was given a glimpse into a future in which baseball players could not disappoint, I'd probably join Robo-Vichy SB Nation. At least I'd think about it.
Albert Pujols: 22 AB, .182/.240/.318. Pujols has had a remarkable amount of his offensive value wiped out by those four double play balls, something I couldn't quite visualize until I put them into the spreadsheet. Without them, he's produced just 2.4 extrapolated runs. Put them in, that drops to 0.9.
Give him some Pujols-y numbers, if you can wipe the tears off your keyboard long enough—add some doubles, some walks, and take away two of those double play balls—and you've got, on the optimistic end, about four extra runs to work with. That would be nice, wouldn't it?
The good news, if you're looking for some, is that the usual Albert-Pujols-is-Done stat, ugly strikeouts, hasn't yet made its appearance; he's fanned just once in 22 tries. Which means his BAbip is—I don't even want to know about it.
Skip Schumaker: 22 AB, .318/.348/.364. Just keep on doing whatever it is you're doing, I guess.
David Freese: 16 AB, .125/.176/.125. Freese has been a pleasure to watch on defense, but he's also been completely invisible on offense. XR has him at -0.3 so far, and with six strikeouts and a double-play ball among his 14 outs he's hit about as ugly a .125 as you can manage. That's another one to two runs off the ZiPS numbers that we've had to deal with, and unfortunately Freese's nasty case of the ugly-strikeouts is currently targeting Daniel Descalso, who will probably not keep that Joel Hanrahan game-tape on his YouTube montage.
Ryan Theriot: 22 AB, .182/.308/.182. True to his word, Theriot has returned to his walking ways after a few years in the "Hey, short guy, swing harder!" wilderness to which the Cubs apparently (and confusingly) banished him. His four walks are behind only Lance Berkman for the team lead, and even more impressive than they would be because he's yet to hit the ball in a way that can't be euphemized as "swinging bunt."
Theriot also has four strikeouts, which means that his current numbers suggest an unlucky Jack Cust more than an unpopular middle infielder. Theriot's produced 1.3-ish runs so far, which is maybe half a run off his usual pace. If he keeps walking like he is now as his balls in play become a little more authoritative he might become—well, not popular, but maybe un-hated.
Matt Hollicraig: 19 AB, .421/.500/.578. Allen Craig's hitting was one of the few good things to come out of the first week of the season, and combined with Matt Holliday's Opening Day rampage the left field position has produced a little less than five runs.
If Hollicraig weren't hitting like, I don't know, Levi Meyerle, they'd be about a run-and-a-half off this pace. Which would be a bit of a disaster for a Cardinals team that's scored one-and-a-half runs all season.
Colby Rasmus: 19 AB, .316/.458/.421. The power would be nice eventually, but I'm not going to complain while his OBP is .458. That seems a little gauche.
Lance Berkman: 20 AB, .300/.391/.400. Likewise. Berkman's ZiPS projection, for reference, is .262/.377/.449, with 24 doubles, 17 home runs, two triples (ha, ha!), and a million walks.
What's striking about the players who are underperforming isn't that a few runs here and there add up—it's that there are no runs there to add up. Molina, Pujols, Freese, and Theriot have contributed almost nothing to the offense, and there's not much an offense can do with four automatic outs in the lineup.
Which is why it's good that they won't be automatic outs in the future; which is why it's been terrible to watch this team try to hit over the last week.