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St. Louis Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers 2014 NLDS: Pull power proving pivotal

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The Cardinals have shown a pull-power surge so far in the NLDS, but it was the Dodgers who delivered a fatal pull-punch blow in Game 2.

Harry How

The Los Angeles Dodgers were perhaps the best batting team in the National League in 2014. The Dodgers plated the second-highest number of runs in the league at 695, behind only the Rockies. L.A. tied the Pirates with the highest team wRC+ (a stat that uses linear weights to value a team's offensive outcomes, adjusts for park effects, and scales production so that 100 is average and every point above 100 is a percentage point better than average) at 116.

The Cardinals, on the other hand, struggled throughout most of the season to score runs. The St. Louis offense was middling at best. The Redbirds' season tally of 598 runs scored placed eleventh in the NL. It partially masked an overall attack that ranked seventh in the NL with a wRC+ of 101 as worse than it perhaps was.

Obviously, the Dodgers were better at hitting in 2014 than the Cardinals. Digging into the numbers a bit deeper, there's a particular area in which Los Angeles was particularly better than St. Louis: power-hitting. The Dodgers collectively clubbed 133 homers to the Cardinals' 105. L.A. rapped out 290 doubles while the Cards managed 263. The Dodgers totaled 37 triples; St. Louis, 21.

Isolated Power (ISO) is a stat similar to Slugging Percentage (SLG), but with a major difference. Unlike SLG, ISO excludes singles from its formula and focuses solely on extra-base hits. Given the Dodgers' lead in the totals for every extra-base hit type, it's no surprise that Los Angeles posted a higher ISO than the Cardinals in 2014: .145 to .121.

A big reason behind the Dodgers hitting more powerfully than the Cardinals was how the teams performed when pulling the ball.

2014 Pull-Hitting: LAD vs. STL

In 2014 among non-pitchers MLB-wide, the Cardinals hit for the eighth-lowest batting average when pulling the ball. St. Louis batted for the second-lowest level of power in baseball as measured by ISO, the third-lowest wOBA, and the third-lowest wRC+. Simply put: the Cards weren't much of a threat pulling the ball when compared to other MLB clubs' non-pitchers.

With Allen Craig traded to Boston, third baseman Matt Carpenter could serve as the poster child for the Cards' non-powerful pull-hitting. During Carpenter's breakout 2013, he posted a .404 average on pulled hits to go with a .321 ISO, .479 wOBA, and 214 wRC+. This year, Carpenter batted .351 on balls he pulled and posted a below-MLB-non-pitcher-average .214 ISO, .391 wOBA, and 153 wRC+.

In Rick Hummel's St. Louis Post-Dispatch article ($) on scouting the Cardinals, the Ford C. Frick Award winner passed along the following assessment of Carpenter in 2014 from an anonymous rival scout or scouts:

Scouts have noticed that Carpenter is hitting more fly ball outs to left and left center than in 2013. "He's got an inside-out, uppercut swing," said one scout. "It may have slowed down his bat speed because he's hit way too many fly balls to the opposite field."

So it's been heartening indeed to see Carpenter's pull-power renaissance during the first two games of this NLDS. It began with a homer off Kershaw which Carpenter pulled into the right-field bleachers of Dodger Stadium (and of which MLB.com does not have an individual video highlight for some reason). Carpenter's pull-power surge has continued:

Pulled Three-Run Double

Pulled Two-Run Homer

Of course, the Dodgers didn't allow Carpenter's NLDS Game 2 pulled punch to go unanswered. Slugger Matt Kemp—who has hit for .383 BA on pulled balls, a .269 ISO, .447 wOBA, and 193 wRC+—yanked a Pat Neshek offering beyond the wall in the left-field corner, sending the Dodgers home a 3-2 winner and tying the series at 1-1. It will be interesting to see how pull power plays a role the rest of the series.