First and foremost, let it be known that the 2015 offense of the St. Louis Cardinals was not nearly as bad as you may think. Sure, they may have been just outside the bottom five of Major League Baseball with 647 runs scored (24th, to be exact), and may he eternally rest in peace (cancer sucks), but Post Dispatch columnist Joe Strauss was never afraid to bring up runs scored (or lack thereof) when referring to the Cardinals offense. That being said, I consider wRC+ (FanGraphs primer here) a much more reliable statistic when evaluating offense, and the Cardinals (exluding pitchers) checked in at 103, good enough for a four-way tie at ninth overall with the Yankees, Diamondbacks, and Nationals, all of which contained pretty well-regarding offenses.
Scoring runs, especially in a home park as spacious as Busch Stadium III, is largely influenced by two things: 1) sequencing and 2) luck. In 2013, the Cardinals, led by Allen Craig (59 for 130, .454 batting average), set an MLB record for the highest batting average with runners in scoring position at .330 (notching 447 hits in 1,355 at bats). While that offense indeed had high quality bats in Craig, Matt Carpenter, Carlos Beltran, and a healthy Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday, it is undeniable that good fortune (and ideal sequencing: i.e. stringing together hits) played a huge role in helping set the relatively modern RISP record. The Cardinals were nowhere close to this record last season, as they were only able to muster a .242 batting average (320-for-1,324) with runners in scoring position.
Well, soon after the offseason began, Derrick Goold published an extensive question and answer session with veteran slugger Matt Holliday, one of the most respected players in the organization (and the league, for that matter). While the entire article is worth reading, I would like to point out one of Holliday's answers halfway down the page when asked about the offense's record number of strikeouts in 2015:
"No doubt. And a lot of them were man-on-second-with-nobody-out strikeouts. I think we can get better at situational baseball. There's always room for improvement on situational hitting. I think that was one thing the Royals were really good at. Young players have to learn that. You have to learn how to put the ball in play. We can do better. That's an area we can improve on without changing personnel."
As we already know, up to this point in the offseason, the offense has not yet experienced a personnel change. Check that, not an addition at least, as a significant subtraction occurred when Jason Heyward agreed to a long-term contract with the Chicago Cubs. But the first sentence in Holliday's answer is most intriguing.
By all accounts, Holliday is a cerebral ballplayer (one who, when he speaks, you should probably believe him), but that doesn't mean I didn't first look to see if the numbers backed up his statement. Now, this is something I already brought up on Twitter immediately following the publishing of the article, but I figured it was worth bringing up again, this time in an article, in hopes of promoting healthy discussion among the Viva El Birdos community.
Strikeout Rate by Split/Scenario
|Team||Runner on 2nd||Runner on 3rd|
|2015 MLB Average||20.6%||20%|
Sure enough, Holliday was correct. And as one could have logically predicted, the Cardinals, while posting a dubious team record of 1,267 strikeouts in 2015 (20.6% strikeout rate overall), were worse than league average in both splits considered. Plus, in each split, they were slightly worse than their overall strikeout rate as well, not an ideal development with runners in scoring position. Further, just as Holliday surmised, the 2015 Cardinals were ~45% worse (regarding strikeout rate) than the 2015 Royals with a runner on second and struck out two and a half times as often with a runner on third.
In closing, and I run the risk of sounding elementary here, but it is highly unlikely for a runner to score from second or even third on a strikeout. Thus, ideally, a small, but important step to be taken by the offense in 2016 is, as Holliday said, "to put the ball in play," especially with runners in scoring position. I am not asking for 2013 Cardinals or 2015 Royals numbers (as those appear to be "once-in-a-decade"-type performances), but an improvement from where the team was at in 2015 would go a very long way for scoring more runs. Fortunately, it appears that one of the team leaders (Holliday) is well aware of the area for improvement, and when he talks, his teammates tend to listen.