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A closer look at the Cardinals bipolar offense

St. Louis Cardinals batting 2018

In 27 of 65 games, the Cardinals’ bipolar offense has scored three or fewer runs. On 12 of those occasions, their lack of production came on days after they had scored five or more in the previous game. On the other hand, the Redbirds have put up six or more runs 17 times. The offense has been all or nothing in 2018.

It is frustrating for fans to watch and for starting pitchers who have been unbelievable at times this season. There is obviously an issue with consistent run production, but the cause of the problem is not so evident. A deeper look into some numbers might uncover some possibilities though.

Possible causes

Power vs finesse pitchers

One possible cause for the Cardinals’ bipolar offense is their success against finesse pitchers and their struggles against power pitchers. So far, the Cards have had 518 at-bats against power pitchers. In those at-bats, they have a .212/.306/.342 slash line, 16 home runs, 49 RBIs, an 84 OPS+ and 52 total runs.

They have had twice the amount of at-bats against finesse pitchers at 1,061, and they have also had better numbers in those at-bats. Against finesse guys, the Redbirds are slashing .250/.307/.415 with 44 home runs, 135 RBIs, an OPS+ of 103 and 141 runs scored.

Ahead vs behind

Another split that stands out is how the Cards perform at the plate when they are winning and when they are losing.

As a team, St. Louis has 923 at-bats when they have been in the lead and 682 when they have been trailing. In the at-bats when they are ahead, they have scored a total of 121 runs on 37 home runs, 118 RBIs, an OPS of .721 and an tOPS+ of 103. When trailing, they have hit 15 home runs, drove in 70 runs, scored a total of 77 with an OPS of just .653 and a tOPS+ of 85.

There are obvious reasons for this split, such as when a team is trailing it likely means the opposing pitcher is having a good day, so it is going to be difficult to get anything going. Also, a team will more likely see better bullpen arms when they are trailing late in the game, especially with setup men and closers in the eighth and ninth innings.

That being said, it is still an interesting split, and it shows that the Cards are clearly better at producing runs when they have the lead.

Starters vs relivers

Maybe the biggest possible reason for the Cardinals’ offensive struggles is their inability to hit relief pitching. This really came to light in the Miami series when they were unable to score off of the worst bullpen in baseball. It also showed Tuesday when they only scored two runs against the Padres, who went with the bullpen the entire game.

In innings one through three this season, St. Louis has scored 113 runs on a 117 tOPS+. They have scored just 85 runs during the fourth through sixth on a 99 tOPS+ and 71 runs after the sixth inning on an 83 tOPS+.

More often than not in those later innings, their at-bats are coming off of relief pitchers. That appears to be the biggest reason they have struggled to score late in the game.

Against starting pitchers, the Redbirds have a .260/.326/.418 slash line, which is pretty impressive for an entire team. They also have 49 home runs, 169 RBIs, a tOPS+ of 110 and 176 total runs scored in 1,300 at bats against starters.

Their slash line is much worse at .218/.299/.358 against relief pitchers. In 896 at-bats against bullpens, they have scored 103 runs with 31 home runs, 98 RBIs and a tOPS+ of 86.

Conclusion

The Cardinals’ consistency issue with scoring runs may be rooted in their inability to hit against bullpens.  They have been fairly even against right-handers and left-handers. Their numbers are similar on the road and at home, and their day vs night splits are almost even as well. Also, of the 27 times the the Cards have scored three or fewer, only nine have come after an offday or on a travel day. The only split that is as inconsistent as their offense is their numbers against starters and relievers.

Of course they face bullpens nearly every game, so that cannot be the only reason they are inconsistent. The fact that they struggle against relievers shows that the issue is when they do not score early off of starters. The Padres game Tuesday is a great example. They never faced a starter and they only scored two runs. When the Cardinals do not score against the opposing starter, they have trouble scoring at all.

 

Featured image by Jennifer Langosch/MLB.com

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