The St. Louis Cardinals are just 23-22 after 45 games of baseball in 2019. After the 9-6, and then 20-10 start to the season after 15 and then 30 games, I never thought that the team would have a 3-12 stretch next to drop to just 1 game over .500 just over 1/4 of the way through the season. The "30 games in" Cardinals just didn't look like a team that was going to have a 3-12 stretch come next - not at all. They scored 78 runs in their first 15 games to get out to that aforementioned 9-6 start. They stepped it up to 85 runs in their next 15 games and went 11-4! However, since ending May 1st with a 20-10 record, the Cardinals have scored just 62 runs over their past 15 games.
In Charles Darwin's "Origin of Species" the general theme basically paraphrases to "adapt or die." If you prefer a baseball metaphor instead, I believe Billy Beane's character played by Brad Pitt in the movie version of the book "Moneyball" said those exact words to his scouts.
How does the above quote relate to the Cardinals offense? Well, what I want to look at today is the types of pitches and locations that the offense has seen in each of those 15 game stretches; and then compare that to what they are likely to see in their next 44 games, which takes us up to the All-Star game in July.
As you can see in the above information, the games 1-15 stretch is somewhat incomplete in terms of data due to the Cardinals trip to Mexico against the Cincinnati Reds. As you can tell, the "Other" and "Totals" column is drastically different for that set of games. That is because those two games did not have Trackman data set up in Monterrey's stadium. Every single pitch from that two game set went into the "Other" Category, keeping it out of the Totals category.
What can definitely be gleaned from that data is that the Cardinals faced more 2-seam fastballs and less sliders in that second stretch of games when compared to the first set of games. Considering the Cardinals have an xwOBA of .387 against 2-seam fastballs this year and a .288 xwOBA against sliders this year, that was greatly beneficial to the club. The Cardinals scored 9% more runs during that second stretch of games. (For additional context, a .321 wOBA is league average in 2019.)
The Cardinals faced a LOT more curveballs, knuckle curves, and sinkers in the third stretch of games when compared to the first thirty games. They faced less 2-seamers and cutters, and four-seamers than the first thirty games. The Cardinals hitters have their worst xwOBA (.242) against curves and knuckle curves as compared to any other pitch type.
In their next 44 games, the Cardinals are set to face 13 teams who average out to throwing:
34.41% four-seam fastballs
8.65% two-seam fastballs
11.16% change ups
10.98% curves and knuckle curves
As compared to the first 30 games of the season, in which the Cardinals were scoring runs at a fantastic clip of 5.433 runs per game (a full season pace of 880 runs, which would have been their 6th highest run total ever as a franchise and best since the year 2000), they will be facing about the same amount of 4-seamers, but double the amount of sinkers. They'll be facing the least sliders they've faced all year so far, but more change ups than they've seen all year and more curves and knuckle curves than the first 30 games as well.
If you take each of those percentages of pitches and marry them up with the Cardinals' hitters xwOBA vs each type of pitch, one would find that the Cardinals hitters would expect to have an xwOBA of about .342 over the next 42 games. That's their exact xwOBA from the last 15 games, in which they've only scored 4.133 runs per game.
ADAPT OR DIE
If you have read my work over the past month, you will recognize the above image. It is Baseball Savant's attack zones image. I will use those 4 definitions of zones below in another chart, but I have made one adaptation. The Shadow Zone is split in half by the actual edge of the strike zone. I have taken the Shadow Zone and made Shadow K (shadow zone pitches IN the strike zone) and Shadow B (shadow pitches OUT of the strike zone).
In the third set of 15 games (the most recent 15) in which they are 3-12 and have scored only 4.133 runs per game, the Cardinals offense has strangely seen an increased amount of pitches over the heart of the plate. The Cardinals current xwOBA on pitches over the heart of the plate is .409. They should expect over the next 44 games to see a still elevated (but not quite as high) number of pitches over the heart of the plate based on the available data for the teams that they are set to face. These teams also throw more pitches in the shadow zone as well, with less pitches listed as "chase" or "waste" pitches far away from the zone.
If the Cardinals don't adapt to seeing pitches down the middle, and by adapt I mean take this expected wOBA and make it into an elevated actual wOBA, they can expect to produce as poorly in terms of runs crossing the plate as they have in the past 15 games. They are not going to be able to take bases on balls as easily against the upcoming teams as the number of waste and chase pitches are going to be coming down in the upcoming 44 games, based on the data above. They are going to have to adapt and crush the balls that are down the middle or they are going to die on those increased number of shadow zone pitches, against which they have not fared well this season.
*Thank you to Baseball Savant for all data within the article and to Cardinals Gifs for the fantastic cover art. I just gave him a theme and he ran with it and it's nothing I would have ever come up with and much better than anything I could have ever conceived (as nearly always is the case)