Last night, the Cardinals defeated the Nationals 7-5. In case you missed it, Dr. Howl's game recap can be found here. Matt Carpenter started the game off with a Rickey Henderson. Kolten Wong stole the show, both offensively and defensively. Trevor Rosenthal pitched (very well) in the 9th inning, so thankfully, I am no longer worried about the possibility that he may be injured. Due to a horrendous third inning by league-minimum-salaried John Lackey, Doug Fister's poor outing (6.0 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 2 HR) resulted in a no decision instead of a loss, for what that is even worth.
While Fister is a very good pitcher (17.1 fWAR since 2010), his repertoire does not feature an overpowering fastball. In fact, the velocities of his fourseamer and sinker have been steadily declining since 2013. Fister throws both pitches often (58.28% combined), and though he has been able to keep opposing batting averages down, each pitch has been especially susceptible to the long ball. In 2014, three homers were hit off his fourseamer, and nine were hit off his sinker.
Excluding last night's start (as filtered PITCHf/x data is not yet available on his BrooksBaseball card), Fister's 2015 fourseamer and sinker have averaged 86.95 MPH and 86.69 MPH, respectively. I bring this up, and chose to wrote an entire article on it, because going into last night's game, memory told me that Cardinals batters seem to have success against right-handed pitchers who do not possess overpowering fastballs (i.e. 2015 Doug Fister, Milwaukee Brewer-version Kyle Lohse, etc.). For purposes of this article, I am classifying "not overpowering" fastballs as those with an average velocity ranging from 86 to 90 MPH. I originally chose 86 to 89 MPH, but I wasn't pleased with the sample sizes, and 86 to 90 MPH proved satisfactory.
Below, you will find an infographic with three tabs to click through for your viewing pleasure: batting average, isolated power (ISO), and K%.
As you would expect, Matt Holliday mashes fastballs arriving to the plate in the 86 to 90 MPH range. In 249 at bats, he has 80 hits (.321 batting average), and he posts an even more impressive .289 ISO. Six of the eight batters I looked at (read: last night's starting lineup) have a batting average of .287 or greater, signifying overall success against pitches of this variety. What I found slightly surprising was the fact that Matt Adams and Wong (despite possessing a low K%) have struggled against 86-90 MPH fastballs from right-handed hitters thus far in their young careers.
However, their respective performances in last night's game against Washington will lead to improvement in the statistics seen in the table above. The third-inning double by Adams' came on a Fister sinker low and out of the strike zone. The second-inning home run by Wong came on a hanging sinker up in the zone. Let's have another look at the Wong ball:
Overall, in a very small sample size, the team has the 7th highest batting average (.348) on this pitch variety in 2015. They dipped to 20th in 2014, a down offensive year overall, and while they were 15th in 2013, they had a respectable team batting average of .301. Obviously, with nearly every finding, there are exceptions, with a prime example being Mike Fiers and his 90 MPH fourseamer holding the Cardinals to a 1.62 ERA in seven games (33.1 IP). Part of the reason is that Fiers has good offspeed stuff as well. Either way, a closer look at the data shows that this success by Fiers may not be sustainable, and being in the central division, we will have the chance to find out.
Thus, right-handed pitchers lacking an overpowering repertoire will suffer consequences against this Cardinals lineup should they continue to attack it with 86-90 MPH fastballs. Really, this finding should not come as much of a surprise, but given the ever popular narrative that "soft-tossing, no-name pitchers always dominate the Cardinals," I figured it was a topic worth addressing.