As a team, the Cardinals struggled to hit offspeed pitches last year. There were just two players who recorded a wOBA above .300, and most players finished below .200. These struggles can be explained however. The changeup is usually a pitcher’s tertiary option, so hitters are not as worried about facing it as they are about facing a fastball or a breaking ball. Additionally, a changeup can be very deceptive. Despite this, the team’s exceptionally low numbers against the pitch need to improve. There were a few bright spots on the team, however, as a pair of young players and one veteran managed to hit offspeed pitches well.
Tyler O’Neill (.385 BA, .448 wOBA)
Despite being one of the team’s worst fastball and breaking ball hitters last season, Tyler O’Neill managed to post very strong numbers against offspeed pitches. This is an encouraging sign for the young slugger. Even though his whiff rate was slightly under 42%, he recorded an average exit velocity of 92.8 mph against the pitch. This fits the narrative on O’Neill; he can hit the ball hard, but he needs to make more contact. The 24-year-old also hit offspeed pitches well in 2018, so this does not seem to be a fluke. In terms of pitch types, his most obvious area of improvement is against fastballs. It will likely be easier for him to become a good fastball hitter than a good breaking ball hitter, and this will also allow him to sharply increase his production as a fastball is the most common pitch that he will see over the course of a season.
Yadier Molina (.349 BA, .339 wOBA)
Of all the names on the list, this one seems the least surprising. Yadier Molina is good at putting the bat on the ball, so while other hitters struggled to hit changeups and other offspeed pitches, it makes sense that Yadi was able to hit them, albeit with limited power. The veteran catcher tallied a solid whiff rate of 19% while spraying the ball all over the field. His ability to take a changeup back up the middle, or to the opposite field demonstrates that he is not getting fooled by them and that he is able to sit back and wait as opposed to swinging early. All of his doubles were pulled down the left field line, as that is clearly where he has the most power, but his spray chart shows demonstrates his excellent bat control, as well as pitch recognition at the plate.
Tommy Edman (.308 BA, .297 wOBA)
Edman was the third best offspeed hitter on the team, and since he tallied just a .297 wOBA, that says something about how bad the team was at hitting changeups and split fingers. Despite this, Edman had a profile similar to Molina: he was able to record a high batting average, but not much power as he finished the season with just two extra base hits against offspeed pitches. This makes sense however, as his average exit velocity was just 81.9 mph and most of his hits were balls that he looped into left center field as a left-handed hitter. Additionally, with a whiff rate of 31.2%, it remains to be seen if Edman can maintain this level of success against offspeed pitches, or if he is going to drop towards the production levels of the rest of the team.
As a team, the Cardinals need to improve against offspeed pitches. Even among those who experienced some degree of success, there was not much power. This is an area where the Cardinals struggled last season, but with two of the best offspeed hitters being young players, there is hope that the team can improve whenever the season begins this year.