Why does the Cardinals’ offense suck so bad?
By all accounts, the St. Louis Cardinals have talented hitters. A quick glance down their everyday lineup, even when you consider new shortstop Ruben Tejada in at short for Jhonny Peralta, the Cardinals have a lineup that seems to be capable of providing above average production at every position. Yet two weeks until the season starts and the Cardinals sit 28th of 30 teams in run production.
It isn’t a question of lack of talent. So it really does beg the question: Why does the Cardinals’ offense suck so bad?
The first answer to the question applies specifically to this spring, but it isn’t a particularly satisfying answer. It’s the ballpark. Roger Dean Stadium is typically played with the winds blowing in, so powering a home run out of the park should probably count as two on the stat sheet. Its just hard to hit the ball out.
We can confirm that by looking at the other team that calls Roger Dean Stadium home. The Miami Marlins have sucked on offense too. They rank 30th of 30 teams. So for Cardinals fans, it could really be worse.
We are given the ballpark argument back at Busch Stadium too. The addition of Ballpark Village has reportedly changed some of the wind patters that make it even more difficult than it already was to muscle a ball out. But the Cardinals are still just average on the road.
So while I understand that the Cardinals shouldn’t be ripping the ball out of the park all day long, the Cardinals’ offense isn’t focused on that ability. They’re about the other forms of power. Getting extra base hits and taking advantage of scoring opportunities. But if the team was capable of scoring runs without the home run, there isn’t really much stopping them from doing it now.
The second answer has been hammered by many fans over the last couple years. Complaints about the offense really began in earnest in 2014. During the 2013 season, they put up historic production with runners in scoring position and that led to the team scoring the third most runs in baseball. But they overachieved. In 2014, they plummeted to 23rd in the league and last year they fell one more notch to 24th.
Injuries and fatigue played a factor in the offense last year, so it makes it difficult to really know just would have happened had everyone stayed healthy. So while I do believe they would have been better than 24th, I still don’t have much confidence going into 2016.
So the answer here is John Mabry. The hitting coach has been under fire for quite some time for the offense.
While I’ve been a fairly big defender of Mabry, mostly just in relation to others, things did immediately start to go south on the offensive side of the ball when he was named hitting coach. During Mark McGwire’s first year, he received some criticism for an underperforming offense and Tony La Russa defended him by saying that it can take a season for players to truly adapt to a hitting coach’s philosophy. Even still, none of the three years under McGwire have been as bad as the last two years have been under Mabry.
My main defense of Mabry is that there is no quantifiable way to determine just how much credit or blame he deserves for the offense. Some players don’t use the team’s coaches. Some turn themselves over completely. So it makes it hard for most to point the finger at him with any credibility.
The best way I know to measure the potential impact of a hitting coach is with the suggestion that the team’s rank in runs scored should fall somewhere between their rank in on base percentage and slugging percentage. By that measure, the Cardinals were 13th in OBP last year, 23rd in slugging and 24th in runs scored. No wonder fans feel frustrated by the team’s offense. They have to claw for every run they get.
I’m not on (or joining) the “Fire Mabry” bandwagon, but I do believe that if this team doesn’t figure out how to score runs this season that it’s time to replace him and see what happens. Because at the very least, he isn’t helping.
The third suggestion is a lack of focus in spring training. The Cardinals under Mike Matheny have always taken a laid back approach to spring training. More focus is placed on letting players get their reps and not so much about making sure you’re sharp for the season. They take the idea of slowing a player’s workload in March in the hope that you can push them harder in September.
Of course, that assumes they’ll be there to push in September.
The 2016 offense should be better than last year’s. While Jason Heyward did leave and Mozeliak’s only meaningful addition to the offense was Jedd Gyorko, the offense was addressed by inaction. Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty played a combined 166 games and hit .287 with 24 home runs between them. Grichuk will also be putting his team runner-up 133 OPS+ into center field where the Cardinals received just 89 OPS+ worth of production last season.
The other trouble spot for the offense last year was first base. The Cardinals got just 78 OPS+ out of their first baseman, leaving the most room for improvement of any position. It will be a season of transition at first base too. There are three players expected to see major time at first base and all three could be free agents at the end of the season.
Matt Adams is the incumbent. Last year was probably a make or break season, but the quad injury he sustained that took away most of his season bought him another year.
Adams declared to the Post-Dispatch that he has his power back after showing some video tape of the changes he’s made to his swing for this season. Adams is 27 years old and has two arbitration years remaining after the year, but the team could still cut ties with him without costing them anything.
Brandon Moss has hit at least 19 home runs in each of the past four seasons. He is in his final year of arbitration and will be a free agent at the end of the season. He was a deadline acquisition for Mozeliak last summer and hit .250 with 4 home runs over his two months with the Cardinals. His 104 OPS+ was still a big improvement over what they had gotten from first basemen so far last year.
Another season away from hip surgery will help Moss. He can hopefully get closer to the 119 OPS+ player he was in 2014 while he played in Oakland.
Finally we have Matt Holliday. After years of fan discussion about moving him to first base, it has finally happened. But there may not be a lot of depth in the outfield if the Cardinals have to resort to Holliday at first. But there is hope that Tommy Pham or Jeremy Hazelbaker can play well enough to push Holliday to first base. His newfound positional flexibility increases the potential that his 2017 option gets picked up. Otherwise, he will be a free agent at the end of the season.
There is hope that the Cardinals’ offense will improve this year, and I believe that they will. But even if Piscotty and Grichuk turn into the players we expect them to be, I still think the Cardinals need one more game changing offensive threat to be a true World Series contender.
The possibility is there that they already have it. I hope they do.