Welcome To The Redbird Review.
THE LOOK OF THINGS: After losing 5-2 at San Francisco on Wednesday night, the fourth-place Cardinals walk into this off day with a 43-45 record, 9.0 games behind the division-leading Brewers in the NL Central.
Keep an eye on Cincinnati; the Reds (45-41) are 10-5 in the last 15 and will play their next seven games against the Brewers. (A four-game series at Milwaukee, then the All-Star break, and then the Brewers at Cincinnati for three.) The Reds are in second place, 6.0 out.
The Cubs (43-44) and Cardinals will rumble at Wrigley this weekend in a three-game set that opens Friday at 1:20 p.m. STL time.
FanGraphs gives the Cardinals a 1.2% chance of winning the division, and a 1% chance of grabbing a wild-card spot.
NOW, ONTO THE FREE CONTENT: Today I want to take a look at two of the Cardinals’ biggest problems: (1) the failure to get on base with sufficient frequency; the flaw is driving the team’s runs-scored total down, and down, and down. Later in the column (2) I’ll take a look at the Cardinals’ ongoing vulnerability as a road team.
The “OBP Is Life and Life Is OBP” platitude has been around for quite a while, popular among stat geeks like yours truly. I believe I first heard it from my friend Joe Sheehan, the astute baseball analyst.
And as a young writer I remember a snarly Earl Weaver snapping at an inquiring reporter who wanted to know why the Baltimore Orioles were mucking around in an offensive slump.
Earl: “We aren’t (bleeping) getting on base. We start drawing (bleeping) walks and (bleeping) getting onbase the way we’re (bleeping) supposed to, we’ll start scoring (bleeping) runs and everything will be (bleeping) fine.”
(You know, kinda like Mike Shildt says.)
To introduce our little onbase-percentage discussion, here’s a snippet of dialogue from the film “Moneyball” with Brad Pitt as Oakland GM Billy Beane. stressing the importance of OBP to his stubborn/skeptical third baseman, Eric Chavez:
“You get on base, we win. You don’t, we lose. And I *hate* losing, Chavy. I *hate* it. I hate losing more than I even wanna win.”
Can we bring Brad Pitt in to talk to the Cardinals?
Or maybe invite the actual Billy Beane to come around to set the Cardinals’ straight? Sorry, I forgot. He’s watching his small-payroll A’s playing .557 ball, and stalking Houston in the AL West.
GET ON BASE MORE OFTEN, SCORE MORE OFTEN: A simple concept, right? Reach base sets up RBI opportunities, and so you want them to reach base as frequently as possible. More runners, more runs.
Please pardon my bluntness here, but the Cardinals stink at executing this important job requirement. They are an ineffective and lousy get-on-base team. That’s an opinion, yes. But it’s also supported by the facts. The current St. Louis onbase percentage of .301 is the poorest in the NL and ranks 28th among the 30 MLB teams.
When your team’s highest onbase percentages belong to a rookie (Dylan Carlson) who has played 121 MLB games and a slugger (Tyler O’Neill) who had a .291 career OBP before this season … well, mister, ya got trouble.
When a good dude (Tommy Edman) that’s spent most of season batting leadoff for manager Shildt has a .303 OBP and has made more outs (280) this season than any National League hitter … that’s creating your own trouble.
Cardinals hitters are 13th in the NL in batting average (.228) and are tied for the NL’s worst walk rate (8.1%.) Add some bad batted-ball luck, and that’s how you reach bottom with the league’s lowest OBP. And that’s a big reason why the Cardinals rank 13th in the NL in average runs per game, 3.94.
A RELATED AND DEPRESSING STAT: The Cardinals have 3,222 plate appearances so far this season, and 57.83 percent of those PA have occurred with the bases empty. That’s the highest percentage of bases-empty PA by an NL team. But I suppose I should declare a tie; the Cubs are just a fraction below the Cardinals at 57.78%.
ANOTHER WAY TO LOOK AT THE OBP PROBLEM: Thanks to the great Bill James (Online) for showing us the value of getting the leadoff batter on base. We’re not talking about the guy who bats in the No. 1 spot on the lineup card. We’re talking about the hitter — any hitter — who leads off an inning. Any inning. As you might have guessed, the Cardinals are not especially good at this.
When the Cardinals get the first batter of the inning on base at least four times in a game, their record is 15-5. But when they get the first batter of an inning on base three times or less in a game, their record is 28-40.
Here’s the rundown of NL Central teams and how many times each have gotten the first batter of the inning on base 4+ times per game:
- Reds, 32
- Cubs, 25
- Brewers, 24
- Pirates, 23
- Cardinals 20
No NL team has done this fewer times (20) than St. Louis. But the Nationals are standing next to the Cards at the bottom. Both teams have only 20 games of getting the first batter of an inning on base 4+ times per contest.
WHO ARE THE BEST ‘RBI MEN’ ON THE CARDINALS? We should always be careful about making judgments based on raw RBI totals. Because much of the RBI total depends on the number of RBI opportunities. And since I’ve used much of my time here today explaining how the Cardinals are at a terrible disadvantage because of their serious OBP problem, I wanted to look at this another way.
Among the Cardinals, who are the best hitters at driving in runs? Based on their opportunities, what STL hitters have the highest percentage of successfully driving in a run? The RBI percentages do not include solo homers — which is a hitter driving in his own handsome self.
- Yadier Molina: 98 opportunities, 39.8% RBI percentage.
- Nolan Arenado: 152 opps, 37% RBI rate.
- Tyler O’Neill: 98 opps, 36.8%.
- Paul Goldschmidt: 133 opps, 35.3%.
- Harrison Bader: 46 opps, 34.5%.
- Matt Carpenter: 61 opps, 31.2%.
- Dylan Carlson: 102 opps, 30.4%.
- Paul DeJong: 81 opps, 29.6%.
- Justin Williams: 42 opps, 26.4%.
- Tommy Edman: 89 opps, 25.8%.
- Edmundo Sosa: 42 opps, 15.8%.
- Andrew Knizner: 27 opps, 7.5%.
(Source: Bill James Online)
ANOTHER LOSING TRIP? It’s great that the Cardinals went into San Francisco and won two of three games from the team that has the best winning percentage (.628) in the majors. That said, the Cardinals left the Bay Area with a 3-4 record on their current three-city road trip. There’s one stop (Wrigley Field) and three games (vs. the Cubs) to go.
The Cardinals are 20-27 away from St. Louis this season with a road winning percentage (.426) that would rank 23rd among the 26 STL teams since Bill DeWitt Jr. and partners took over as owners before the 1996 season.
The 2-1 record against the Giants at Oracle Park became the first road series won by the Cardinals against a winning team since the Birds took two of three at Milwaukee in mid-May.
The Cardinals are 9-20 as travelers since their successful visit Milwaukee, and they’ve lost seven of their last nine road series. After the three games at Chicago this weekend that leads into the All-Star break, the Cardinals will have only 31 road games left on the schedule.
Here’s the list of visits including the total number of road games against each opponent after the All-Star break: Milwaukee (7), Pittsburgh (7), Cincinnati (6), NY Mets (3), Chicago Cubs (3), Kansas City (3) and Cleveland (2.)
As we know, the Cardinals have a number of pressing — and distressing — issues to deal with as they attempt to get back into contention for a postseason spot. But if their road woes continue, their shaky playoff hopes will fade away.
I mentioned the 9-20 record in their last 29 road games. The St. Louis offense has been astonishingly bad on this hazardous stretch of highway, scoring two or fewer runs in 13 of their 20 losses. And that includes the current Cards streak of squeaking for two runs or less in 11 straight road losses.
The Cardinals are averaging 4.0 runs per road game overall — but have managed an average of only 3.4 runs in their last 29 roadies. For the season the Cardinals rank 28th on the road in batting average (.218), 25th in OBP (.290), 23rd in slugging (.376) and 23rd in OPS (.648.)
Using the park-adusted runs created metric, the Cardinals are 19 percent below league average offensively over their 47 road games to date; only five MLB offenses are more anemic on the road.
The Cardinals are six percent below league average offensively at home, and the dull road offense doesn’t make a lot of sense. Busch Stadium favors pitchers and suppresses offense, so the Cardinals should be doing better with the bats away from St. Louis than in St. Louis.
Not counting their two three-game road series that featured only one stop, the Cardinals have not won a multi-city road trip since their first journey of the season, when they went 4-2 at Cincinnati and Miami.
The Cardinals can break the streak this weekend at Wrigley Field — but will have to win all three games. Sweeping the Cubs would give the Cardinals a 6-4 record at the end of their tour stops in Colorado, San Francisco and Chicago.
Thanks for reading …
Check out Bernie’s sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
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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.