Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Origins of an Article

This morning, while looking through some team stats, I noted that the Cardinals rank 21st in the majors in walks drawn, and even worse, 14th in the NL. Furthermore, I saw that the Cubs - a team loaded with non-walking players - had drawn 3 more walks thus far. Yes, I realized that they had also played in 2 more games, but was this a sign of a Cardinal team still getting it's footing? Or worse yet, is the new hitting coach (Hal McRae) having a negative effect on the Cardinals and their desire to draw walks?

Well, after looking up a few more team stats, I convinced myself that this isn't the case. But rather than throw it out, I decided to go ahead and share what I found with you in the event that someone else is starting to worry about the Redbirds and their slow starting bats.

BB/PA

Thus far this season, the Cardinals have drawn 0.86 BB/PA, which is the 14th most in MLB. While being middle of the road may not sound all that great, consider that in 2004, en route to winning 105 games, the Cardinals drew 0.87 BB/PA, good for 12th most in the majors. Something tells me that one less walk every 1000 trips to the plate isn't going to ruin the Cardinals playoff hopes. Here are the BB/PA numbers over the past few seasons.

2005 - 0.86
2004 - 0.87
2003 - 0.90
2002 - 0.87

Not much has changed over that time span. And, of course, the year the Cardinals drew the most walks is the only year in that grouping that they didn't go to the post-season.

Individual Walk Rates

Curious to see how players are looking in regard to getting on base, I looked up walks per at-bats for the 8 regulars in the Cardinal lineup. Note that I'm using at-bats instead of plate appearances simply because it's a bit easier to look up, while still conveying the same general information - even though a walk is not an at-bat. Listed are each players 2005 BB/AB rate, along with his career entering this season following in parentheses.

Eckstein - 0.153 (0.075)
Walker - 0.145 (0.132)
Pujols - 0.87 (0.129)
Edmonds - 0.245 (0.144)
Rolen - 0.91 (0.137)
Sanders - 0.102 (0.109)
Grudzielanek - 0.053 (0.051)
Molina - 0.019 (0.096)

Basically, Sanders and Grudz are a wash. Of the other six players, 2 have improved slightly, 2 have declined slightly. That leaves Edmonds, who's almost doubled his rate, and Molina, who's cut his by around 80%. In other words - a wash. I think everything listed there can likely be explained by early season hot and cold streaks. Although, I must admit I'm hoping that Eckstein's rate is for real as that will bode well for the Cardinals during the season.

Finally, out of curiosity I looked up a couple of more measures.

K/AB

I thought that maybe the Cardinals and their new hitting coach was putting more emphasis on not striking out, so I looked up their K rates for the last four seasons.

2005 - 0.145
2004 - 0.195
2003 - 0.168
2002 - 0.168

In other words, Cardinal hitters are striking out in 5% fewer at-bats this year than in 2004. While that sounds good on the surface - are the Cardinals adjusting their swing, either with 2 strikes or not, in order to make contact more often, and thus not getting as many extra base hits?

SLG

2005 - .418 (7th in NL)
2004 - .460 (1st)
2003 - .454 (2nd)
2002 - .425 (2nd)

Many will probably laugh at me suggesting that the Cardinals are not hitting for as much power as in years past. After all, they have the 3rd most home runs in the NL despite playing 2 to 3 games less than most other teams. However, they have only hit 29 doubles as of yet, the 2nd fewest in the NL.

Conclusions

How many disclaimers can I fit into this wrap-up? The Redbirds have only played 17 games, Pujols and Rolen have been heating up, and Walker is likely to follow. Pujols and Edmonds are both on pace to hit around 50 home runs this season. And to be honest, I'm not exactly sure how much of an impact a hitting coach actually has on veteran players - especially guys like Albert Pujols who tend to end up being the teacher rather than the pupil.

With those things being said, I started looking into the Cardinal offense expecting to see a team not getting on base as much as it has been in recent history. Instead, I found a declined K rate, combined with a SLG that is down quite a bit year over year. This may point to a new team methodology, inspired by their new hitting coach, to avoid striking out more, which is in effect limiting their doubles.

Or, it could be the fact that the Cardinals have already faced Oswalt, Zambrano, Sheets, and Clemens once each this season - 23% of all games played.

Either way - keep an eye on the team SLG to see where it goes. (Hopefully, this has the same effect as my Scott Rolen article.)

Oh - did I mention that the Cardinal pitching staff is leading the majors in walks allowed (50) and home runs allowed (8)?

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