A couple weeks ago, I took a look at the records the Cardinals were on-pace to break - or not break - during this shortened bizarro season. Of course 2020 is a massive outlier, and you might assume that every counting stat would be well off any historical precedent. But baseball is weird and it changes more than we sometimes acknowledge, so let’s look at where records were and were not broken.
Games and Wins
Despite the 60-game schedule, the Cardinals only played 58, because the league’s official position on the other two was: F*ck it. That makes the fewest games ever played by a St. Louis Cardinals team, below the 80 and 98-game seasons of 1892 and 1893, as well as the strike-shortened 103 and 115-game seasons of 1981 and 1994.
And yet, the Cardinals did not set a record for fewest Wins in a season. The 30 wins the team notched this year was one better than the 29 wins the 1897 team managed in 133 games. That was good for just a .221 winning percentage, which itself still stands as the low-mark for a Cardinals team.
The good news for that 1897 team? Their Pythagorean Winning Percentage was a more robust .247, so they were the victims of some bad luck.
Innings per Game
2020 will remain notable not just for the low number of total games played, but for the implementation of 7-inning double-headers. And because the Cardinals had so many games to make-up, even if 7-inning double-headers stick around, it’s hard to imagine another team ever playing as many as the 2020 Cardinals.
In a standard season, all games are set for 9 innings and the vast majority hit that mark. There is some slight variation due to extra-inning games, or the occasional game which could be called for weather after the 5th inning.
The most innings the Cardinals have ever pitched* in a season is 1,486 by the 1979 team. That season, the team played 163 games, because a 5-inning tie game against the Phillies which was called for weather was replayed. That meant an average of 9.12 innings per game. The most in a 162 game season was 9.13 innings per game by the 1992 team.
If you’re going to log 9 innings per game over a 162 game season, that means 1,458 total innings. Most every team in Cardinals history averages somewhere between 9.0 and 9.1 innings per game. The lowest mark for a team which played a 162-game season was 8.84 innings per game by the 2000 Cardinals.
The 2020 Cardinals averaged just 8.16 innings per game.
*I used Innings Pitched to calculate innings played, though of course, there can be some small variation for 9th innings where only one team bats, etc.
As I previewed a couple weeks back, the Cardinals looked fairly likely to set a new nadir in team home runs. The previous mark for the post-integration era was 50 during the strike-shortened 1981 season.
We are in a much more HR-prone environment than the early 80s, but the Cardinals finished last in MLB in HRs this season. And yet...
The Cardinals hit 51 HRs, just ahead of that 1981 team total.
On the individual front, Brad Miller and Tyler O’Neill led the team with just 7 homers, which was well below the modern record for fewest in a season: Todd Zeile’s 11 in 1991.
It should go without saying that I’m ignoring a number of counting stats which are consistent enough that, of course, over 58 games, the Cardinals set all-time lows. This includes things like Runs, RBI, Hits...
I’m instead focusing on the stats which have varied widely enough era-to-era that all time marks could be eclipsed even in a 58-game season. But let’s also take a look at one weird stat... Triples.
What is a triple? A double hit by a fast player? A double in a ballpark with weird dimensions? A double where the outfielder took a weird route or fell down? It can be any of these things, so there’s really not a lot of rhyme or reason for Triple stats.
Even so, Triples in general have been in decline. There are fewer ballparks with truly weird dimensions. Teams are more aware that the advantage of pushing a double into a triple and risking an out is not so significant, so they are likely playing it more conservative.
The previous low was nine triples by the 2018 team. They were led by Harrison Bader, Kolten Wong and (double-checks) Marcell Ozuna, with two each.
This year’s team managed just seven triples, a new team low, but Wong and Bader again matched those individual leader marks with two triples each.
While home runs were at a low ebb during the strike-shortened 1981 season, stolen bases were very much a thing. Those ‘81 Cardinals swiped 88 bases, a total they have only eclipsed four times in the last 20 full seasons.
The nadir of Cardinal base stealing came in 1949, when the team stole just 17 bags. As with HRs, the team managed to just barely get above that mark, swiping a grand total of 18 bases.
On an individual basis, the lowest total for a team leader had been Enos Slaughter’s four steals in the 1953 season. To Mr. Slaughter’s family: That record is still safe. Kolten Wong managed to lead this year’s club with five steals.
If we’re going to talk about stats that are in a skewed era at the moment, let’s talk strikeouts. Last season, the Cardinals set their all-time team record for strikeouts by batters with 1,420. Their K rate of 23% was also an all-time franchise high. So with Games played at an all-time low, but strikeout rates at an all-time high, did the 2020 Cardinals set a new low for strikeouts?
They did... but just barely. The 2020 Cardinals struck out 477 times. The previous low-mark was the 1952 Cardinals, who struck out just 479 times. These 2020 Cardinals set a new high in strikeout rate, 23.7%. That 1952 team whiffed just 8.2% of the time, the 2nd lowest rate in club history.
Let’s flip over to the pitching side, where last year’s club also set a team record in terms of raw strikeouts by pitchers: 1,399.
The previous low mark for a Cardinals pitching staff was 388 Ks in the strike-shortened ‘81 season. Could the 2020 team beat that in just over half as many games?
They could. The 2020 Cardinals pitchers struck out 464 batters in 58 games, good for a 23.3% K rate. That sets the record for the highest K% by Cardinals pitchers, beating out last year’s 23% rate.
That 1981 staff, in addition to its strike-shortened season, struck out batters at the 2nd lowest rate in team history: 9.9%. The lowest rate in team history was the 1951 squad’s 9.2%. That team managed just 546 strikeouts over a 155-game season.
Shutouts and Complete Games
The 2020 Cardinals failed to record even a single shutout, which seems especially surprising given they played so many 7-inning games. But they are one of seven Cardinal teams to go a “full season,” without a shutout. That list includes the 2015 Cardinals, who won 100 games despite never recording a shutout.
If we’re going to talk about stats from a bygone era, let’s talk Complete Games. In 1946 - the first year of the modern “Integration Era” I’m looking at in these stats, the Cardinals had 75 Complete Games. Going all the way back, the 1882 squad had 75 Complete Games in just 80 total Games.
Three teams in Cardinals history have amassed only one Complete Game: 2019, 2018 and 2015. So the era of the Complete Game is very much passed.
And yet, the 2020 St. Louis Cardinals managed two complete games, both by Adam Wainwright. One of those was a 7-inning game, so you can asterisk that if you like. But the other was a full nine. When you consider the era we are in, Waino’s two CGs this season were a massive outlier.