Here’s a follow-up on something I wrote about in Wednesday’s column.

It’s about the importance of team defense and what it means to pitchers.

As I pointed out in yesterday’s column, the 2023 Cardinals had their poorest season defensively since 1930. That’s based on defensive efficiency, and the 2023 St. Louis fielders turned only 67 percent of balls in play into outs.

Because of that, the batting average on balls in play against the Cardinals last season was the highest in the majors (.320) and the highest against a Cards pitching staff in franchise history.

Considering those particular facts, it wasn’t surprising to see the Cardinals allow an average of 5.12 runs per game while flopping to a humiliating 71-91 record in 2023.

From 2019 through 2022, the Cardinals led the majors in defensive runs saved and allowed the third-lowest average on balls in play (.278). Over the four seasons the Cardinals gave up only 4.03 runs per game, and only three MLB teams were better than St. Louis at preventing runs. And from 2019 through 2022, the Cardinals had MLB’s sixth-best winning percentage (.559) and made the playoffs in all four seasons.

There’s usually a painful price to pay for a team that neglects the value of good defense. The cause and effect was obvious for the Cardinals in 2023.

Just ask their pitchers.

Here’s a list of 14 Cardinals who pitched for the team in 2022 and again in 2023. To show the impact of defense – good, then bad – I’ll post the difference in the batting average on balls in play against them … how much that batting average went up in 2023 compared to ‘22.

For Cardinal pitchers, here were the 10 largest increases in the batting average on balls in play from 2022 to 2023:

  • Zack Thompson: up 200 points, to .339
  • Jordan Hicks: up 98 points, to .366
  • Ryan Helsley: up 95 points, to .280
  • Genesis Cabrera: up 83 points, to .321
  • Miles Mikolas: up 59 points, to .308
  • Adam Wainwright: up 55 points, to .357
  • Jake Woodford: up 40 points, to .318
  • Jack Flaherty: up 34 points, to .345
  • Gio Gallegos: up 32 points, to .293
  • Jordan Montgomery: up 10 points, to .297

As a point of reference the overall MLB batting average yielded by pitchers on balls in play last season was .295. The Cardinals were 25 points worse than that.

Andre Pallante (+7), Dakota Hudson (+3) and Steven Matz (+2) had relatively modest increases. One pitcher, Matthew Liberatore, actually had a 25-point drop in batting average (.314) on balls in play in 2023. But Libby’s .314 BIP was still 19 points higher than the league average.

Other factors were part of the run-prevention collapse.

The 2023 Cardinals had too many inadequate or marginal major-league pitchers. As a whole, their group was lacking in talent. But if you think about it, that’s why it’s crucial to put a good defense behind them.

Wainwright pitched to a 7.04 ERA in his final big-league season and was often helpless out there. Even though Waino’s fielding independent ERA (5.99) was awful, it was still more than a run lower than his standard ERA. The defense provided him with little protection.

I don’t think any STL pitcher was more victimized by poor defense than Mikolas. Last season 28 MLB starting pitchers got at least 220 ground balls hit by opponents. The batting average against Mikolas on grounders (.280) was the highest of the 28. Because of the weak defense, his slightly lower swing-miss rate became a much bigger problem than it should have been.

Second, the 2023 Cardinals were a low-strikeout staff. Their sad strikeout rate of 19.4 percent ranked 29th among the 30 teams. But there’s more to it than that. The 2022 Cardinals struck out hitters at roughly the same rate (19.6%) and ranked ninth overall in runs allowed (3.93) per game.

There was too much bad pitching on this team in 2023.

One of the reasons for that: not enough good defense.

Defense should never be taken for granted. I’m pretty sure the front office, manager and coaches got the message in 2023 and will give their pitchers more effective defensive support in ‘24. Better defense leads to better pitching.

Thanks for reading …


A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or grab the show podcast on or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link. We’ll have a new pod ready to go at around noon on Monday March 4.

All stats used in this baseball column were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead and Sports Info Solutions.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 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. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 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.