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What was the source of the St. Louis Cardinals' offensive shortcomings last year?

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The Cardinals struggled to score runs last year. Does their hitting profile tell us why?

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Hitting profiles intrigue me. Slap hitters. Power hitters. Line-drive men. There are all kinds of labels thrown around when discussing a hitter's skill set. The same terms can be used for a team. Some teams generate runs by batting for power. Others make a lot of contact with the results destined for the field of play. Earlier in the Hot Stove, I put together some charts comparing individual St. Louis Cardinals' batted-ball rates in 2014 to each other and MLB non-pitchers overall. Today, I thought we might see how the Cardinals' fortunes on line drives, grounders, and fly balls compare to MLB as a whole.

You probably remember that last season's St. Louis club didn't hit for a lot of power. How could one forget?

Doubles weren't really the problem. St. Louis rapped out 275, which tied them with the Pirates and Mets for the fourth-most in the National League. While the Cards only scampered out 21 triples (the third-least in the NL), the real deficiency in their power numbers is the lack of home runs.

The Cardinals hit 105 homers, the fewest in the National League. We can expand our pool of home-run comparators by looking at only non-pitchers. Then we can create our own stat by dividing home runs by total plate appearances. We'll label it HR/PA. The Cardinals' non-pitcher HR/PA rate was 1.83%, which ranks ahead of only the Royals (1.57%). This back-of-the-coffee-shop-napkin stat that I just made up isn't adjusted for park effects (Busch and Kauffman are pitcher-friendly because they're power-sapping), but it nonetheless further drives home the point that the 2014 National League Central champions swatted relatively few dingers.

The Cardinals' lack of home runs is paired with a lack of strikeouts. For reference, major-league non-pitchers K'd in 19.9% of their plate appearances. The Cards' non-pitchers struck out in just 17.6% of their plate appearances last season, which tied them with the Athletics for the second fewest strikeouts in baseball and behind only the Royals at a mere 16.2%. (It seems like a lack of home runs might be related to a lack of strikeouts, but that's a post for another time, assuming someone else hasn't already penned it.)

So the Cardinals made a lot of contact and the contacted baseballs didn't sail out of the yard. This means that the Cardinals put more balls in play than your average team. A home run doesn't count as a ball in play because it sails beyond the outfield wall and lands outside the field of play. The following events are considered balls in play: singles, doubles, triples, groundouts, flyouts, lineouts, reaches on errors, fielder's choices, and sacrifices hits of whatever variety. Put otherwise, balls in play occur on all PAs excluding strikeouts, walks, hit batsmen, and homers. The Cardinals had 71.0% of their non-pitcher PAs end in a ball in play, which ranks fourth in MLB behind the Royals (75.0%), Diamondbacks (71.8%), abd Tigers (71.2%).

How did the Cardinals' non-pitcher batted-ball profile and the results on grounders, liners, and fly balls compare to MLB non-pitchers overall?

2014 GROUNDERS BY NON-PITCHERS

2014

PA

%

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

MLB

55790

44.5%

.241

.241

.261

.020

.223

37

STL

1893

45.9%

.239

.239

.256

.016

.220

36

Diff.

-

+1.4

-.002

-.002

-.005

-.005

-.003

-1

The Cardinals hit grounders at a higher rate than the MLB average. While 1.4 percentage points might not seem like a heck of a big difference, it's enough to place St. Louis eighth among the 30 teams. The teams ahead of the Redbirds are the Marlins (48.3%), Rangers and Padres (47.9%), Dodgers (47.2%), Royals (46.9%), Diamondbacks (46.2%), and White Sox (46.1%).

On grounders, the Cards fared about as well as one would expect. Their batting average (BA) on such batted balls is just two points below the MLB rate and their ISO five points behind. By wRC+, which is park adjusted and placed on a scale where 100 is league average, the Cards' GB results were a percentage point below the MLB wRC+ on grounders of 37. That Dave Duncan fellow might have been onto something. Grounders don't produce a lot of offense and the Cards' fortunes reflect this league-wide reality.

2014 LINERS BY NON-PITCHERS

2014

PA

%

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

MLB

26195

20.9%

.691

.686

.883

.192

.686

356

STL

885

21.5%

.688

.681

.873

.186

.679

350

Diff.

-

+0.6

-.003

-.005

-.010

-.006

-.007

-6

Early last season, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote that the club was searching for an offensive identity and I responded with a post in which I laid out what I thought their identity was: a line-drive hitting club. The problem with having that as a club's identity is that LD rate fluctuates quite a big from year to year with a corresponding ebb and flow in fly-ball rate. Some of this is due to stringers making the judgment call between a liner and a fly, but some is the natural consequence of a batter striking a pitch a millimeter or so differently on the barrel.

In 2013, the Cardinals led the majors in LD rate at 23.5%. Last season, the Cards' LD rate fell a bit; they tied the Mets for fourth in the big leagues.

The Cardinals results didn't suffer much on such barrelings in the raw sense, though they fared comparatively worse to the other 29 clubs. Two seasons ago, St. Louis posted a 349 wRC+ on lines, which tied them with the Dodgers and Orioles for 15th in the majors. In 2014, the Cards' 350 wRC+ on liners ranked 20th. Overall, the Cardinals were 6 percentage points worse than the MLB's overall run production on line drives last season.

2014 FLY BALLS BY NON-PITCHERS

2014

PA

%

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

MLB

43506

34.7%

.213

.208

.593

.380

.336

115

STL

1347

32.7%

.195

.190

.518

.324

.298

90

Diff.

-

-2.0

-.018

-.018

-.075

-.056

-.038

-25

This is perhaps the most telling chart. Most power-hitting is done via the fly ball. The Cardinals hit fewer flies than normal. Their 32.7% among non-pitchers placed 24th in the majors. Not only did St. Louis hit comparatively fewer fly balls, the flies they put wood to didn't do much damage.

Overall, fly balls tend to lead to above-average production, as reflected by the MLB non-pitcher wRC+ of 115. During the Cardinals' 97-win 2013 season, they enjoyed such production on flies, with a 115 wRC+ and .367 ISO. The 2014 Cards, on the other hand, were comparatively punchless. Their 90 wRC+ was the third lowest in the game, behind only the Rays and Royals. The primary reason? The Cardinals' fly balls were powerless. The Cardinals' .324 ISO ranked 28th in 2014. For comparison, 12 clubs posted an ISO on flies of .400 or higher.

NON-PITCHER BATTING OVERALL

2014

PA

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

MLB

178409

.301

.255

.318

.393

.138

.315

100

STL

5736

.302

.259

.327

.380

.121

.315

101

Diff.

-

+.001

+.004

+.009

-.013

-.017

+/- 0

+1

This chart lays the Cardinals' offensive production bare: above-average BA and OBP but a SLG and ISO comfortably below the MLB non-pitcher rates. Add it together and you get a middling offensive attack that is one percentage point above the big-league non-pitcher rate of batting production.