On Thursday, Rob Mains of Baseball Prospectus - one of the best observers on this here sport of baseball that you will find - described how pinch-hitting happens a bit more often these days. And that makes sense, right? Starting pitchers are getting pulled from games earlier and if they're in the National League then their plate appearances have to go to someone.
But, as Mains notes, here's the thing: We might be seeing a lot of pinch-hitting but we're not seeing a lot of good pinch-hitting. Mains's column is behind the paywall so I want to be careful with how much of the goods I give away, but the one stat that did catch my eye is that between 2013-2017, pinch-hitters had a slash line of .219/.294/.339. That's pretty bad. During that same span, 162 players have reached the 2,000 plate appearances threshold, and if the league's pinch-hitters were a player, their .634 OPS would only beat out Alcides Escobar (.627) and Billy Hamilton (.632).
And that got me to thinking, weren't the Cardinals pretty good at pinch hitting last year? And especially good in 2016? Maybe they're the outliers here, or at least near the top on a team-by-team basis. Turns out, that's correct. Since 2013, the Cardinals have been the best pinch-hitting team in baseball. And by best pinch-hitting team in baseball, I mean they're the only team with a wRC+ of 100, which grades out to exactly league average. To put a player's name on it, Jonathan Schoop and Brandon Crawford each have a 100 wRC+ dating back to 2013. Every other team in MLB is below that.
Concentrating only on the NL, since they employ the pinch-hitter far more often than their brethren in the American League, here's each team's pinch-hitting prowess between 2013-2017, as sorted by wRC+ (courtesy of FanGraphs Leaderboards):
Pretty impressive, huh. The Cardinals are basically running laps around the field. To get an idea of who in particular on the Cardinals has excelled, here's how their various pinch-hitters have raked from 2013-2017, as sorted by wRC+ (min: 30 PAs - and again, courtesy of the good people at FanGraphs):
Oh, Ty Wigginton. How we all wish things could have been different.
But anyway, there you go. A collection of do-gooders at the top have propelled Cardinals' pinch-hitters over the last five seasons to be, well, perfectly average. So maybe "golden gods" in the title is a bit of an exaggeration, but the Cardinals have been pinch-hitting "Jonathan Schoops" and that's almost just as good.