Editor’s Note: This piece first ran yesterday, but given the holiday, it might have been forgotten and overlooked so I am putting it back in the queue today. Consider it the VEB Daily post.-CE
Welcome to 2017. Time to celebrate by reliving more of 2016, a season in which the Chicago Cubs won the World Series and the Cardinals didn’t even make the postseason. Sounds fun, eh?
On the very last day of the year, Mike Axisa of CBS Sports examined five weird things that happened in baseball in 2016. Were you aware that Caleb Joseph, backup catcher with the Baltimore Orioles, went the entire season without a run batted in? I wasn’t. This streak spanned 141 plate appearances, which is a record for position players. The closest Cardinal in this category was Kolten Wong, who from May 12, 2016, to June 5, 2016, went up to the plate 59 times and didn’t record a single RBI (.236/.300/.327 during that span).
The Cardinals were a methodical, stay-the-course slug of a team in 2016. Almost painfully so. Their best 40-game stretch was 23-17; their worst was 20-20. They weren’t great, they weren’t bad, and they weren’t all that “weird.” They just showed up each night and hit some home runs and ran into some outs on the base paths. That’s how you get to 86-76.
Even so, borrowing a bit from Axisa, here are some surprising, possibly irrelevant facts about the 2016 Cardinals that may have gone unnoticed.
Zach Duke gives up a double
On September 29, 2016, Yadier Molina hit a double in the bottom of the 9th off of Reds reliever Blake Wood to score Matt Carpenter from first and win the game 4-3 for the Cardinals. What everyone remembers is that Molina’s hit should have been ruled a ground rule double and Carpenter never should have been allowed to come home and score. Reds Manager Bryan Price could have stopped the madness but he didn’t issue his challenge in the 2.011 seconds allotted per the rules and thus, the game was over.
Overlooked because of the crazy finish was that Joey Votto led off the top of the 8th with a double off of reliever Zach Duke. It was the only extra-base hit Duke would surrender in 2016 as a Cardinal and it snapped 23 straight innings in which he took the mound without allowing more than a single. This was the longest such streak for Cardinals pitchers in 2016 - Jaime Garcia was second with 20 innings pitched without allowing an extra-base hit over three starts in April - and if you include Duke’s time with the White Sox, the total climbs to 25.1 innings which was second in all of baseball behind Astros reliever Will Harris’s 37.2 innings. Duke’s walk rate (13.1%) with the Cardinals was too high but as a whole he was very effective and he will be missed in 2017 as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
Garcia’s 20 innings pitched was tied for sixth for starting pitchers, which was a crowded lot led by the Nationals’ Tanner Roark at 22.0. To find a longer streak without allowing an extra-base hit for a Cardinals reliever or a starter, you don’t have to go back too far. In 2015, Carlos Martinez went 27.1 innings in May and June without surrendering more than a single.
For two weeks Yadier Molina hits over .300 and doesn’t score a single run
Between August 10 and August 23, Yadier Molina went up to the plate 46 times and slashed .311/.326/.378, aided by 14 hits, three of which were doubles. And he never once came around home to score. The biggest multiple plate appearances/zero runs offender in MLB in 2016 was A.J. Ellis, who from a stretch from May to August didn’t score a single run over 111 plate appearances. He also hit a meager .178/.263/.208 during this span and took a majority of his hacks in front of the pitcher so it makes a bit more sense.
However, Molina spent a bulk of his season and this two-week period in the five-hole, and the hitter behind him, usually Jhonny Peralta, went a modest 11 for 44 during this stretch. On August 19 and August 20, Peralta went a combined 6 for 9 batting after Molina, but Yadi didn’t get on base once during these two games. Let’s call it a bout of bad luck. No one had worse luck in this area than Reds utility man, Jose Peraza, though, who toward the end of the season hit .357/.365/.457 over 72 plate appearances without a run to show for it. (Perhaps related, the Reds lost 94 games.)
Matt Carpenter leads league in caught stealing for players with zero stolen bases
In 566 plate appearances in 2016, Matt Carpenter didn’t swipe a single base. (Robinson Cano easily dominated the league in this respect with 715 plate appearances and no stolen bases.) That’s the high-mark for Cardinals in this regard going back to 2008 when Troy Glaus went to the plate 637 times and didn’t steal a single extra bag after reaching base. (He tried once but was thrown out). Carpenter, however, was caught stealing four times. Zero for four. Brandon Belt and John Jaso also pulled this off and this trio of poor thieves led the league.
Is this better or worse than when Peter Bourjos tried to steal 13 bases in 2015 and was caught eight times? I’ll let you decide.
Greg Garcia can’t get a hit
From August 4 to August 13, Greg Garcia went hitless in 30 plate appearances (.000/.067/.000) which was the worst hitless slump in the majors this side of Rays outfielder Mikie Mahtook’s 0-for-31 stretch in August. And Matt Adams had the third-worst stretch for any position player, going 0-for-27 just before the All-Star Break. I vote the Cardinals keep these funks to a minimum in 2017.
To find a worse Cardinals hitting drought, you have to go back to 2013 when Pete Kozma went 0-for-32 from August to September - a mere month-and-a-half after going 0-for-27.
The Cardinals lose some games but have the decency to do it quickly
On September 12, 2016, Kyle Hendricks took a no-hitter into the bottom of the 9th inning at Busch Stadium, which was promptly broken up by a solo shot hit by Jeremy Hazelbaker to the right field seats. It was otherwise known as my Super Bowl.
Not surprising, the game didn’t take long. In fact, at 2 hours and 17 minutes, it was the quickest Cardinals game of the season, and came in the middle of a season-long stretch where the Cardinals were participants in ten-straight games that came in under the three-hour mark. I understand it’s considered noble in some parts to scoff at pace-of-play complaints and openly dream of a day at the park that takes 14 hours, but sometimes people have other things they need to do. And to end on a high-note, I’d be remiss not to mention that the Cardinals’ five quickest games of the season were all losses. When the Cardinals were bad, we weren’t forced to watch them for very long and for that we owe them our gratitude.
That’s it. Happy New Year, everyone. Hope everyone has had a fun, safe holiday and is able to enjoy today’s Winter Classic if that’s in your plans.
Credit to the Baseball-Reference Play Index for most of the statistics in this post.