In 2013, the Cardinals scored 783 runs, leading the National League in runs and beating the second-place Rockies by more than 75 runs. They were able to accomplish this feat despite low numbers for home runs and power in general. The Cardinals 125 home runs ranked 13th out of fifteen NL teams. The Cardinals Isolated Slugging Percentage (ISO) of .133 ranked just 12th in the NL. The Cardinals scored runs in 2013 because they were able hit .330 with runners in scoring position, nearly sixty points higher than every other team in the National League. Unable to repeat the performance, the Cardinals offense suffered in 2014.
Last season, the Cardinals finished ninth in the NL in scoring with 619 runs. The power numbers declined further. The Cardinals finished last in the league in homers with just 105, and the team ISO of .116 barely finished ahead of the last-place Padres. Power has been in decline over the past few years, but the Cardinals loss in power has been worse than the rest of baseball. The Cardinals inability to repeat an impossible high average with runners on base should not have been a surprise. Count the Cardinals manager among those that were surprised by the Cardinals inability to beat the rest of the league by sixty points with runners in scoring position.
"The (low) power numbers stand out," said Matheny, "but we do like putting pressure on the defense. A low strikeout total isn't necessarily our sole goal. What it comes down to is to try to drive the ball earlier in the count. And continue to fight with two strikes to put together good at-bats with men in scoring position.
"People said there was no way to replicate that 2013 average with men in scoring position. I refused to believe it until I saw it."
While the decrease in average with runners in scoring position was not a surprise, the decline in power was somewhat surprising. Here are the ZiPS projections from 2014 for ISO for the top eight players by plate appearances as well as they're actual performance. The average is the average of those eight players, not overall ISO.
A decline from the projections is to be expected as offense league-wide has declined. Non-pitcher ISO in 2012 was .154, declining to .146 in 2013 and .138 in 2014. However the Cardinals did not suffer an eight point drop from projections. They were off by 20, with a projected average ISO from the eight players above at .151, while the season result was .131. There is some reason for optimism in 2015. Here is a graph showing ZiPS projections in 2015 compared to what the Cardinals received in 2014.
Jason Heyward should be a major improvement over Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina, and Jon Jay likely will not be as bad as they showed in 2014. Matheny agrees.
I think we're a better power team than we were last year when we had to fight and scratch to score runs. I think we can do it with a little more thump.
Bringing in 2013, we can get a better sense of the Cardinals decline in power.
Looking over at the average, we can see that the Cardinals were expected to bounce back in 2014, but actually performed worse. Craig's power had decline in 2013, but he figured to move back up to prior levels. Instead, his slugging was even worse, leading to his trade to Boston last July. The Cardinals power numbers have fallen short of the projections in both of the last two years. Here are the averages (calculated the same way as above) for the 2013 ZiPS projections included with the above information.
Some of those drops can be attributed to the lower power numbers throughout the majors, but the Cardinals have hit for considerably less power than would have been expected for two years in a row. Mike Matheny knows what power can do to help an offense. Coming to the realization that a high average with runners in scoring position is not sustainable is a step forward. Based on his comments in the Post-Dispatch story linked above, the Cardinals appear to be emphasizing power more than they have in the past few offseasons. That is good news given the Cardinals lack of power and struggles to score runs in 2014.