THE REDBIRD REVIEW
Jordan Walker and Nolan Gorman have made history together in 2023. And it’s really cool. I’ll be happy to explain.
In Tuesday’s 10-6 win at Atlanta, Gorman hit two home runs to give him 26 for the season. Walker homered for his third consecutive game and now has 15 in his impressive rookie year at the plate.
Here’s why it matters:
– First, no other team in the majors in 2023 has two hitters age 23 or under with 15-plus home runs.
– The Cardinals have been playing ball since 1900, and this is the first time they’ve ever had two players age 23 or younger on the same team that hit at 15 or more home runs in a season.
– In franchise history, Gorman’s 26 homers rank fourth in a season for a hitter age 23 or younger. And he’s only the second Cardinal to do it. Albert Pujols had 37 homers as a 21-year-old rookie in 2001, then followed with 34 homers at age 22, and 43 in 2003 at age 23. And next on the list: Gorman. He still has time to reach 30 home runs before the regular season expires.
– Until Gorman came along Pujols was the only Cardinal age 23 or less to have a combination of 25+ homers and 73 RBI in a season. Pujols did that in 2001, 2002 and 2003. And now it’s a list of two: Pujols and Gorman.
– Gorman stands alone in Cardinals history in another statistical achievement: He’s the only left-handed hitter to blast 25 or more home runs in a season at age 23 or under. Next on the list in this exclusive band are Johnny Mize (19 homers in 1936), Keith Hernandez (17 HR in 1977), and Stan Musial (13 HR in 1943).
As for Walker …
– The towering right-handed hitter now ranks third in franchise history for the most home runs in an age-21 season. His 15 homers are topped only by Pujols (in 2001) and Joe Medwick, who popped 18 HRs at 21 in 1933.
– Walker is batting .279 this season with a .345 onbase percentage, .468 slugging percentage, .814 OPS and a 121 OPS+. Plus, of course, the 15 home runs.
And that’s significant. The combination of hitting statistics puts Walker in a group of only four Cardinals hitters (age 23 or less) who reached all of those markers in a single season.
The other three?
Walker and the Cardinals have only 24 games to play in the regular season. If Walker slumps, he could lose “membership” in that four-hitter Cardinal Club. But he could also stay reasonably hot to secure permanent membership in that special fraternity.
Walker is in a special zone right now. After his big Tuesday night in Atlanta, this is what the big man has done over his last seven games: 15 for 25 (.600) with a 1.807 OPS, three doubles, four homers, seven runs and nine RBI. And he’s only struck out three times in 28 plate appearances during this torrid stretch.
THE MASYN WINN EFFECT? Jordan’s bat was pretty cold when his very good friend the shortstop Masyn Winn was promoted and played his first MLB game on May 18. Since Winn joined Walker in the St. Louis lineup, Walker is 19 for 48 (.396) with a .455 onbase percentage, .750 slug, 1.205 OPS – plus seven extra-base hits. Winn will get going in time. But this reunion of the 2022 Double A Springfield roommates has made Walker happy. Or maybe it’s just his elite hitting talent kicking in.
AIR JORDAN: During his seven-game demonstration of scary-good offense, Jordan Walker has a ground-ball rate of 39 percent. He’s launching more pitches into the sky. A whopping 57.4 percent of the balls that have taken flight have soared over the outfield barrier for a home run. Walker has crushed pitches in the zone during this molten-lava streak, connecting on 94 percent of the strikes he’s gone after.
A FINAL NOTE ON J. WALKER: If pitchers want to keep their ERA in decent shape, they should probably attack Walker with something other than a four-seam fastball. According to Statcast, Walker is batting .348 with a .710 slugging percentage when he rips into a four-seamer. He’s also punished sliders for a .325 average and .475 slug. Offspeed pitches give Walker some trouble; he’s hitting .200 with a .350 slug against them this season.
ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENT: After their successful home-run barrage to win the opener at Atlanta, the Cardinals are now 14-31 in the first game of a series this season, and that includes a 5-17 record in the first road game of a series … overall St. Louis is 29-38 on the road this season (.432) …
HOME-RUN DEPENDENCE: The Cardinals made it a lot easier for themselves against the Braves on Tuesday by firing up four home runs. The Redbirds have scored 51.7 percent of their runs via the homer this season. And because of faulty pitching and the inability to produce small-ball type of runs, the 2023 Cardinals require a large supply of homers to win games.
Here’s the Cardinal correlation between the volume of home runs and the impact on the game result:
+ No home runs in a game: 9-31
+ One homer in a game: 18-24
+ Two homers in a game: 16-16
+ Three homers in a game: 9-7
+ Four homers in a game: 6-0
+ Five or more homers in a game: 2-0
SMALL-BALL FLAWS: This section is a follow-up to STL’s dependence on home runs. This team has struggled all season in the “manufacturing” business. It’s a significant factor in why the Cardinals rank 29th in the majors in the percentage (28%) of their total baserunners that have scored. Here’s where the Cardinals rank among the 30 teams in the relevant categories:
* 26th in productive-out percentage (23.6%) which means moving a runner to the next base despite making an out.
* 20th in percentage of extra bases taken.
* 22nd in stolen bases.
* 25th in times going from first base to third on a single.
* 28th in times scoring from second base on a single.
* 28th in sac flies.
* 27th in the percentage of getting a runner in from third base with less than two outs.
* 12th in the percentage of moving a runner from second to third with no outs. That percentage (50.3%) is slightly below the MLB average.
* 16th in sac bunts.
CARDS SLIPPING IN BASES GAINED: Bill James has a “bases gained” metric that excludes stolen bases. And this is an important one because it illustrates how the Cardinals have turned a team strength into a weakness under manager Oli Marmol.
Under manager Mike Shildt the 2021 the Cardinals were the fourth-best in the majors with +33 in bases gained. In 2022, Marmol’s first season, the 2022 Cardinals were a +25 in bases gained, ranking 11th in the majors. This season the Cardinals have dropped to 17th overall with a minus 2 in bases gained.
A MODEL OFFENSE FOR A NEW WAY: The Baltimore Orioles are 79-59 for a .630 winning percentage that’s second-best in the majors to Atlanta (.657). They rank 17th in average home runs per game at a modest 1.15. The O’s basic hitting stats are fine but nothing extraordinary.
Among MLB teams the Orioles rank 13th in OPS (.746) and 12th in wRC+. The Cardinals have a higher slugging percentage than the Orioles. The Cardinals hit more home runs than the Orioles. The Cards have a better OPS and wRC+ than the Orioles.
Ah, but here’s the thing: Baltimore is 7th in the bigs in runs per game (5.01) … and the Cardinals are way down the list, ranking 17th at 4.53 runs per game. The Cardinals have a higher onbase percentage than the Orioles – .328 to .321 – but that doesn’t matter much.
I say that because only six teams have left fewer runners on base than Baltimore (889). And the Cardinals have stranded 1002 runners which is the second-highest total in the majors. The Orioles are tied with the Braves for No. 1 in the majors in percentage of runners on base that score (35%). As noted earlier in this piece, the Cardinals rank 29th in the percentage of baserunners that score (28%).
The Orioles have the highest bases-taken percentage in the majors. They’re second-best in the majors at getting runners in from third with less than two out. They’re second in getting a runner from first base to third base on a single. They’re third in scoring a runner from second base on a single. And the Orioles lead the majors in most runners scored from first base on a double.
That’s not all. The Orioles rank seventh in the majors in the percentage of productive outs. They have the fourth-highest number of sacrifice flies. They’re sixth with a +30 baserunning gain.
Two-strike hitting: Orioles .187, eighth-best in the majors. The Cardinals have a two-strike batting average of .172 that ranks 21st.
Runners in scoring position: The Orioles have a .283 average (2nd) and the Cardinals hit .249 (19th). But since the All-Star break Baltimore is batting .302 with runners in scoring position (2nd) and St. Louis is 23rd at .227 with RISP.
This helps us to understand at least some of the reasons why the Orioles are 25-12 this season in games decided by a one-run margin. Their winning percentage in one-run games (.675) ranks No. 2 in the majors. The Cardinals are 12-24 in one-run games for a .333 winning percentage that ranks 29th.
The Orioles play hard and play fast. They never stop. Their energy is off the charts. Their situational hitting is fantastic. Their small-ball game is superb. The baserunning is sharp and smart.
“We play faster than other teams,” Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde told Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci. “It’s not because we’re faster runners, but we feel our effort level is good almost every single night. I’m extremely proud of how hard we play And I get a lot of compliments from other teams, other coaches, other scouts watching us from the stands, including our pregame work. It’s the effort and how we get down the line. That’s a good feeling.”
Does that sound like Oli Marmol’s Cardinals?
The Cardinals have 24 comeback wins this season.
The Orioles have 44 comeback victories.
Power is an asset. The Cardinals rank eighth in the majors in average home runs per game (1.38.) That’s nice. But the Orioles find plenty of other ways to score.
As noted, the Cardinals have generated 51.7 percent of their runs on homers. The Orioles have derived only 40.6% of their runs on homers but have outscored the Cardinals 691 to 625.
As manager Hyde told SI: “If you look at us, we’re league average in a lot of categories. But we’re top (seven) in runs. And that’s because we do believe in keeping the line moving. We do put a lot of stress on situational hitting, putting the ball in play with two strikes. We’re not launch-angle guys. We’re trying to hit the ball in the middle of the field with hard line drives.”
No question, the Orioles are loaded with young talent, but Hyde doesn’t just tell the boys to go out there and play some ball. The Orioles have an offensive philosophy that works, and their young hitters are well schooled in the art of playing situational baseball to win games when the home runs don’t fly.
This season the Orioles have a 25-21 record without homering in a game and are 26-17 when hitting no more than a single HR. And when the O’s do hit two or more homers in a game, well, you can pretty much forget about it. They’re 36-13 in those games.
Perhaps Marmol and his coaches can get some tips from Hyde and his staff when the teams play a three-game series in Baltimore next week.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus 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.