There will be plenty of time to play the GM Fantasy Free-Agent Shopper Game, and talk ourselves into the idea that Bill DeWitt Jr. and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak will spend a billion dollars or something to sign the best dudes on the market.
I exaggerate, of course.
But this is my way of pushing potential free-agent candidates to the side for now.
If the Cardinals aspire to have a more complete and capable offense in 2022, they must correct a substantial problem.
They’re blatantly imbalanced — laughably so.
They desperately need more lefthanded hitters.
I’d be happy to explain, so let’s follow the numbers:
1) In 2021 the Cardinals ranked 29th overall and last in the National League for plate appearances by LH batters. This includes PAs by switch-hitters who bat from the left side when facing righthanded pitching. The Cards had the most plate appearances by RH batters in the NL with 4,381 — 505 more than Atlanta, which had the second most.
2) This is particularly important because the 2021 Cardinals faced RH pitchers in 79 percent of their plate appearances. And they struggled against righthanders, ranking eighth in the NL in batting average (.240), 11th in onbase percentage (.310), 11th in slugging (.396), and 12th in OPS (.706.)
3) The weakness wasn’t surprising; the 2021 Cardinals ranked 24th overall, and last in the NL, in plate appearances by LH batters vs. RH pitchers. More on that in a minute.
4) Since 1962, when the NL expanded to 162 games, only two previous Cardinals teams had fewer plate appearances by LH batters against RH pitchers in a season than the 2021 team. Excluding the shortened 2020 season, that’s 59 seasons of baseball. Only the 2018 and 1966 Cardinals had fewer PA by LH bats vs. RH arms.
5) In 2021, the Cardinals ranked 29th overall and last in the NL in percentage of plate appearances taken with a platoon advantage. In other words, how many PAs did a team have with a LH batter vs. a RH pitcher, or vice versa? The Cardinals had such an advantage in only 44.7% of their plate appearances. By contrast, the Giants had the platoon edge for 58% percent of their PA.
6) The platoon disadvantage greatly limited what manager Mike Shildt could do in seeking favorable matchups. One example: the Cardinals ranked last in the NL with an average of 1.61 pinch-hitters per game; the deep and flexible Giants ranked first in the NL with 2.6 pinch hitters per game. Moreover, the Cardinals’ pinch-hitters ranked 26th in the majors with a .166 batting average against RH pitching, and were 21st with a .566 OPS. Hey, quality depth really matters! Shocking, isn’t it?
7) In 2021 the other 14 NL teams deployed LH batters to take 48 percent of all plate appearances vs. RH pitching. But the Cardinals used LH hitters in only 32% of their plate appearances vs. RHP. That intensified the team’s difficulties against RH pitching.
8) And this also exacerbated the problem: as a group, the Cards lefthanded batters were mediocre against righthanded pitchers. As a unit, their LH bats hit only .227 and ranked 14th in the NL and 29th overall with a .655 OPS vs. righthanders. Using park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+), STL’s lefthanded hitters were 19% below league average when digging in vs. RH pitchers.
9) Switch-hitter Dylan Carlson was slightly above average (3%) vs. RHP in 2021. But switch-hitter Tommy Edman was 15% below league average against the rights. Well, at least that was better than LHB Matt Carpenter (23% below average vs. righties.) In limited duty LH-swinging rookie Lars Nootbaar was 6% below average vs. RH.
10) The Cards’ had several RH batters that did well against righthanded pitchers in 2021, led by Tyler O’Neill and Paul Goldschmidt. And in a surprise, Harrison Bader was 12% above average against righties. Edmundo Sosa (9% above average) was fine. Other RH batters weren’t so hot: Nolan Arenado was above average vs. RH pitching — but only 6% above average. Paul DeJong was 9% below average and Yadier Molina was 26% below average.Two RHB bench players, Andrew Knizner and Jose Rondon, finished 26% and 75% below average, respectively, vs. RH pitching.
Bottom line, this is a serious Cardinal flaw. They must balance out the lineup, and the bench, for 2022.
The 2021 offense was frequently thwarted by righthanded pitchers that combined for a 3.94 ERA against the Cardinals compared to a 4.21 ERA against the other NL teams.
WIth that in mind:
— No one of sound mind should expect Shildt to recognize Edman’s consistently below-average performance against RH pitching (.660 OPS over the last two seasons.) That’s a non-starter with most media in our town as well.
— Carlson, however, should improve against RH pitching next season. He batted .299 with a .981 OPS vs. righthanders at Triple A Memphis in 2019.
— Carpenter won’t be back, not unless team management has gone mad. No Carpenter will give the front office an opportunity to put together a MLB-quality bench. Let’s face it: the 2021 bench was mostly an embarrassment.
— Top prospect Nolan Gorman bats lefthanded. If given a meaningful MLB role in 2022, he’d likely enhance the team’s platoon capability. (After getting acclimated.) This past season Gorman had a .305 average, .543 slug, and .898 OPS vs. RHP at Double A Springfield and Triple A Memphis. Gorman homered every 15.6 at-bats when encountering righthanders.
— If the NL adopts the full-time DH in 2022, the Cardinals can procure a LH bat to fill that crucial spot. There should be many possibilities in the marketplace.
— It’s up to the front office to acquire — or buy — a couple of players that can upgrade the team’s performance against RH pitching. In the lineup, and on the bench. But the Cardinals were as pleased as could be with themselves in September, right? And we’ll have to wait and see if the front offices uses the late-season storm of offense to justify a relatively quiet offseason. It’s happened before.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated 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 by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
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* All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.
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.