As you probably know, Cardinals pitchers have walked more batters, 269, than any team in the majors. And the Cardinals have also hit the most batters, 48.
That’s a lot of free passes.
OK, but what is the extent of the damage?
Well, I spent a good part of the morning working up the numbers.
The 2021 Cardinals are 60 games into the schedule, and the unintentional walks and hit batters are a substantial problem. The damage is heavy.
The absurdly high level of wildness is a major contributing factor in the 272 runs scored against the Cardinals so far.
— Of the 269 runners put on first base by STL pitchers via unintentional walk this season, 77 have come around to score. That’s 28.6 percent.
— The 77 runs created by walks represent 28.3 percent of all runs scored against the Cardinals this season.
— Of the 48 batters hit by Cards pitchers this year, 10 eventually scored.
— So if we combine the runs that resulted from walks and HBP we’re looking at a ridiculous figure here: 87 of the 272 runs given up by the Cardinals this season were set up, at least in part, by walks and hit-by-pitches. And that’s a whopping 32% of all runs scored against St. Louis this season.
I don’t have the time to compare the Cardinals’ percentage to the other MLB pitching staffs this season, but I don’t think it matters. I could be wrong, but I doubt that we’d see a more extreme number than 32 percent.
Moreover, I’m interested in this only from the standpoint of how this preposterous amount of walks and HBP are impacting the Cardinals’ performance in run prevention.
In recent seasons — since the end of the Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan era — the Cardinals’ bulwark is run prevention.
I’ve been through this before here at “Scoops” but the point must be emphasized. And there’s a clear pattern.
In the nine-season stretch from 2012 through 2020, the Cardinals made the playoffs six times.
In the six postseason-bound years, they never finished worse than 7th among the 30 MLB teams in runs allowed per game. And that includes three top-five finishes.
But when the Cardinals failed to make the playoffs — 2016, ‘17 and ‘18 — they ranked no better than 11th in preventing runs.
For context, let’s compare the percentage of total runs allowed by the Cardinals that are directly linked to walks. I’m sticking with the last three full seasons, going back to 2018:
- 2021: 28.3 percent
- 2019: 18.8 percent
- 2018: 22.4 percent
OK, in case you’re wondering, the walk-connected percentage of total runs allowed by the 2020 Cardinals was 26.2 percent. Interesting. It seems that manager Mike Shildt, pitching coach Mike Maddux, the front office and the pitchers themselves have been unable to solve a glaring problem that’s existed over the last 118 regular-season games.
And here’s the percentage of total runs against the Cardinals that materialized, in part, by the walks and hit batters:
- 2021: 32 percent
- 2019: 18.4 percent
- 2018: 20.8 percent
Again, in case you’re wondering, that percentage was 29.2% in 2020. Geez. Is there a repairman in the house? Someone who can fix this? Hey, let’s go get some ice cream!
The Cardinals’ overall 11.6 percent walk rate would be the worst by this franchise in a season — that, according to FanGraphs data that goes back as far as 1916.
The St. Louis 11.6% walk rate would be the fifth-worst by a MLB pitching staff in the post-expansion era, which began in 1961.
- 1971 Cleveland, 12.2%
- 1987 Texas, 11.9%
- 1996 Detroit, 11.7
- 1986 Texas, 11.7
- 2021 St. Louis, 11.6
If the Cardinals can’t do a more effective job of limiting runs — they currently rank 18th in runs allowed per game, at 4.53 — it’s big trouble.
That 4.53 would be the highest number of average runs per game against the Cardinals since 2010. And the 2010 team didn’t make it to the postseason.
And the Cardinals’ runs-allowed inflation is occurring at a time when MLB offense is down, down, down. Teams are averaging 4.38 runs per game this season; that would be the lowest rate since the 4.07 R/G in 2014.
The Cards pitching staff does a terrific job of limiting the opponent home runs and slugging. The Cardinals have yielded only 0.8 homers per nine innings this season, tied for the second-best rate in the majors. The .361 slugging percentage allowed by St. Louis pitchers is the fifth-lowest among the 30 pitching staffs.
Cardinals’ pitchers can’t complain about poor batted-ball luck; the BIP average against them (.276) is 12 points below league average. But the Card-chronic bad habit of putting people on base via walk and HBP has led to a high .334 OBP by opponents; that’s 29th, just ahead of Colorado (.336.)
The Cardinals can’t power up for strikeouts to ease the traffic problem on the bases; their K rate of 20.8% ranks 29th.
Let’s look at this another way: opposing hitters have a combined 317 walks and hit-by-pitches against the Cardinals this season. St. Louis hitters have a combined 210 walks and HBP against the other side. That deficit (minus 107 for the Cards) creates a significant advantage for opponents, no?
When 32 percent of the runs scored against a team originates through walks and hit batters, the disorder can scuttle a season. And unless the Cardinals can gain control of their pitches, they will lose control of 2021.
Thanks for reading …
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For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.