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How much better is the Cardinals' bench in 2016?

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No surprise here but if looking at it from a pinch-hitting perspective it's much better.

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Moss hit two home runs in the Cardinals' 12-7 win over the Reds last night, bringing him to a team-leading 13 on the year. For the season he's hitting for average and getting on base at a pretty pedestrian rate in line with his career numbers but he's slugging .570 and has a wRC+ of 138. This all seems significant because Matt Adams's scorching bat (.379/.427/.667 since May 1) has relegated Moss to mostly a bench role.

Bench-players by job description alone are comprised of an imperfect lot. They should be serviceable, maybe provide a platoon option every now and then, and, if you're lucky, be counted on as a power-threat when needed. We know this and yet in the first few years of the Matheny era the bench seemed to rarely rise to those tempered expectations. Between 2012-2015, the Cardinals' pinch hitters ranked 15th, 12th, 7th, and 10th in the National League, respectively, by wRC+. (Pinch hitting doesn't tell the full story of a bench, of course, but you get the idea.)

A weak bench also puts strain on the regular lineup as a whole. Last year Matt Carpenter, Jhonny Peralta, and Kolten Wong could have probably all benefited from a bit more rest that simply wasn't available lest Pete Kozma and Greg Garcia were to play an extended number of games.

This year, with help from Moss' slugging and potent infield replacements which can mix and match with an already flexible infield, the problem is gone. Garcia, so far in limited playing time, is sizzling (1.259 OPS). Jedd Gyorko's eight extra base hits total eight more than Kozma hit all of last year. And the versatility of Gyorko along with starters Peralta and Carpenter to play all over the infield gave the Cardinals flexibility to keep Aledmys Diaz in the lineup when Peralta returned from injury. Moss provides a similar luxury with his ability to play first base as well as the corner spots in the outfield.

And then there's the home runs. The Cardinals have already tied their franchise record with ten pinch-hit home runs on the season, three of which came in a record-setting day earlier in the year versus Atlanta. Those ten home runs also equal the number of pinch-hit home runs hit during Matheny's first four years at the helm.

To get a more complete picture, here are the pinch-hitting stats for the Cardinals during the Matheny era:

Year

PA

H

R

HR

AVG

OBP

SLG

wRC+

WAR

2016

109

35

27

10

.372

.450

.745

216

2.0

2015

271

52

20

4

.217

.279

.304

63

-0.3

2014

251

49

17

2

.225

.312

.317

81

0.2

2013

235

42

26

3

.201

.282

.297

61

-0.4

2012

281

47

25

1

.193

.277

.262

48

-0.8

For 2016, the Cardinals lead the NL in every single stat listed above (not counting plate appearances) and it's not very close. To give you an idea, if looking at wRC+ and WAR, the Nationals rank second with 159 and 0.8, respectively. And as you see, other Cardinals teams during the Matheny era are not even in the same ballpark.

Furthermore, David Ortiz (in just over twice as many plate appearances, to be fair) is leading all of baseball with a 200 wRC+. So when a Cardinals pinch-hitter has stepped to the plate in 2016, the opposing pitcher is facing what is tantamount to an improved Big Papi. The 2.0 fWAR is even with Will Myers, Mark Trumbo, Paul Goldschmidt, and Stephen Piscotty, all of whom have at least 136 more plate appearances.

Here are a few more offensive stats comparing the pinch-hitting in 2016 to years past:

Year

BB%

K%

ISO

BABIP

2016

12.8%

18.3%

.372

.385

2015

5.9%

22.5%

.088

.270

2014

9.2%

22.3%

.092

.292

2013

9.8%

29.4%

.096

.283

2012

10.3%

28.8%

.070

.277

The 2016 ISO numbers are mind-boggling compared to previous years although second in the NL this year to the Nationals (.406). The takeaway, though, when you look at that and batting average on balls in play is that these numbers won't last although we probably already knew that. Jeremy Hazelbaker has not only cooled down (.182/.211/.219 since May 1), it's hard to justify him on the 25-man roster with Tommy Pham in Memphis. The same will happen to Greg Garcia although hopefully not to the depths that Hazelbaker has fallen.

But the important thing is the Cardinals have the type of pop off the bench that's helped maintain what is quite possibly the best offense in the NL, and will provide appropriate days off for the starters who will certainly need it. Compared to the last few years it's a luxury we should enjoy while waiting patiently for the positive regression from the starting pitching that is hopefully around the corner.