OFFENSE or Offensive?

In 2019, the St. Louis Cardinals OFFENSE was better than in 2018. My proof? (*all stats in this section are non-pitcher statistics)

  • They scored 7 more runs as a team than the prior year in 20 less plate appearances! That's better.

  • They got on base at a .330 clip instead of a .329 clip. That's better.

  • They slugged 9 points higher. That's better.

  • Their OPS (on base plus slugging) was 10 points higher. That's better.

  • Their ISO (isolated slugging) went up 13 points. That's better.

  • They hit 11 more homers. That's better.

  • They stole 52 more bases while getting caught 4 less times. That's better.

  • They hit 3 times as many triples! That's better.

  • They walked at a higher pace. Despite striking out more, the walks made up for it by having their BB/K ratio improve. That's better.

In 2019, the St. Louis Cardinals "offense" was offensive. It got worse than the prior year, which wasn't out of this world to begin with. My proof? (*all stats in this section are non-pitcher statistics)

  • Their batting average dropped from .255 to .251. That's worse.

  • They may have scored more runs, but they drove in 1 less run than 2018. That's worse.

  • Their BABIP (batting average on balls in play) dropped 3 points.

  • Their wOBA actually stayed the same, but relative to league went down, thus their wRC+ went from 105 (5 percent better than league average) to 100 (exactly league average). That's worse.

  • They hit nearly 50 less singles and 6 less doubles. That's worse.

  • They struck out at a higher rate. That's worse.

  • They hit into double plays 18 more times. That's worse.

These are all easily found items on Fangraphs' team leaderboards pages. So you can see that the Cardinals offense was both better and worse than last year. As I pointed out in my 2019 Post-Mortem, the offense was likely what held the Cardinals back from being an elite team this year. Let's take a look at some of the "little things" - not necessarily small ball, but points of emphasis - that either went well and they should continue or went poorly and they should emphasize a little more next season.

Let's start with something that the Cardinals should mostly continue to do next year that must have been a point of emphasis this season. This one is a bit harder to find, found in the advanced batting and baserunning sections of Baseball-Reference; how often players take extra bases. In 2019, the league went:

  • first to third on singles 29.8% of the time,

  • first to home on doubles 39.1% of the time, and

  • second to home on singles 59.9% of the time.

The 2019 St. Louis Cardinals went:

  • first to third on singles 32.9% of the time,

  • first to home on doubles 46.9% of the time, and

  • second to home on singles 57.8% of the time.

Overall, this puts their extra base taken percentage slightly higher than league average. Let's take those point by point, however.

The Cardinals went first to third on singles over 10% more often than league average. The Cardinals went first to home on doubles nearly 20% more often than league average. They were anything but a station to station team in those regards.

However, the Cardinals went second to home 3.5% less often than league average. They were not great in this area. This kept runners at third more often than the rest of the league, especially considering the Cardinals only got thrown out at home 13 times all season long (which was over 2 less than league average).

That leads us directly to something the Cardinals need to make a point of emphasis for the 2019 season, some situational hitting drills. With less than 2 outs and a runner at third, the league drove in the run 51.3% of the time. The Cardinals came up in that scenario 323 times in 162 games this year (about twice a game, so that's why this seems familiar) and scored less than half of those runners - 152 of them - for only a 47.1% success rate. That's 8% worse than league average at getting the runner in from third with less than two outs.

In fact, compared to the Cardinals' 100 OPS+ overall on the year, hitters had an OPS+ of just 28 when there was solely a runner on third and nobody out. They hit .100/.333/.100/.433 in those circumstances. With runners at first and third and nobody out, they hit .192/.242/.346/.589. With first and third and one out, they didn't fare any better, with a line of .236/.261/.255/.515. In those two first and third situations combined, they hit into double plays 10 times in 99 plate appearances. With bases loaded and nobody out, they hit .278/.296/.333/.630 and grounded into double plays 22% of the time! That's bad.

What's funny is, another situational scenario like this is having nobody out and the runner at second. For the troubles we noted above with the Cardinals scoring a runner from second on a single 3.5% less often than league average, the 2019 Cards actually did quite a good job of scoring runners from second with 0 outs on the board. The league drove in that runner 51.5% of the time, while the Cardinals drove in 120 of 222 runners in that scenario. That's good for 54.1% of runners - or 5% better than league average. That's good!

The above left shows Yadier Molina RIPPING a ball in play on an 0-2 count in order to drive in a runner from second with nobody out. The above right shows Matt Carpenter just getting a nice 2-strike pitch in play in order to score the run from second with nobody out.

Another interesting facet of this team is that looking at the data I have absolutely no clue if they were "clutch" or not. The above .gifs (thank you cardinalsgifs) are divided on this and, in my gut, I want to argue that they were not. I look at this following stat and agree with myself.

With 2 outs and runners in scoring position, Cardinals hitters hit just .200/.304/.328/.632 with a strikeout rate approaching 25%. That was 27% worse than Cardinals hitters normally hit on the year (by OPS+).

However, then I come across a stat like this one:

In High Leverage situations (the top 20% of win expectancy leverages), Cardinals hitters batted .255/.335/.435/.770. That's actually 9% better than they hit normally on the year (again, by OPS+). For comparison's sake, they had exactly a .730 OPS in both medium and low leverage situations. In high leverage situations, the Cardinals also struck out in 1.1% less plate appearances than their 2 outs and RISP line.

So I leave it all up to you, reader(s), was the 2019 St. Louis Cardinals a good offense or an offensive one? Maybe they were both.