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(Way Too) Early Returns 2020

Thanks for the art, @nchill17

Today, since I believe we'll be shut down very soon in regards to baseball's 2020 season, I'm going to take a look at Statcast's (VERY EARLY) returns on the #STLCards' 2020 season.

After 4 games, they are about what we thought they would be in these parts of the Twitterverse. That is: Pitching = very good. Hitting = Middle of the road.

Let's peruse a list of (again, way too early) team stats here.

Batting average: .242 (.010 above league average) - 12th in majors (middle of the road)

xBA: .212 (.034 below league average) - T-28th in majors (very bad)

Slugging: .445 (.047 above league average) - 9th in majors (upper middle of the road)

xSLG: .399 (.020 below league average - T-21st in majors (kinda bad)

wOBA : .320 (.014 above league average) - 9th in majors (upper middle of the road)

xwOBA: .296 (029 below league average) - 25th in majors (bad)

So why are these so split? Why do the Cardinals have a better batting average, better slugging, and better wOBA than league average and WAY better than expected at this point in the year (not just because they played the Pirates in 3 games)? Let's dig into some batted ball data.

With only 93 batted ball events (BBEs), the Cardinals have the 6th least balls in play in the league. Part of that is because they've only played 4 games. Part of that is because they've struck out 24.8% of the time (20th lowest in the majors - lower middle of the road).

In those 93 BBEs, the Cardinals have the 6th highest launch angle, which can be a good thing but with the T-21st best exit velocity (kinda bad) on LD/FB it likely means more fly balls and pop ups than you'd like. That would explain why their xBA and xSLG might be so low. Why is their actual slugging outpacing that? It could be carry on the ball in the July heat. It also could be that the Cardinals have the T-9th best (upper middle of the road) average distance on home runs of anyone in the league. They've really connected on a few, which is quite helpful. Seems like a lot of feast or famine at the plate, which is fairly noticeable to me!

The Cardinals also have the 3rd lowest exit velocity in the league (very bad) on ground balls - which significantly drops their xBA. This leads them to have the T-23rd best (bad) hard hit rate (95+ mph hits) in the league. The Cardinals are also tied for the 6th lowest (bad) BB% in the league...leaving them with an OBP lower than they'd like.

I'd like to leave you with one more positive, however. The Cardinals are finding the right launch angles on quite a few of their hits and they're stringing together launch angle and exit velocities fairly well as their Sweet Spot % (hitting a ball with a launch angle between 8 and 32 degrees) is second in the majors to the Los Angeles Dodgers (very good) and both their Barrels/PA% and Barrels/BBE% are T-13th in the majors (middle of the road). If they can (and this is a BIG IF) increase their exit velocities while still hitting at the same angles, they can turn into an upper middle of the road or even more of a second-tier offense, which is what they will need to compete in the post-season.


So how has the St. Louis Cardinals' pitching staff done as a whole through 4 games?

Batting average against: .203 (.029 better than league average) - 8th in majors (good)

xBA against: .253 (.007 worse than league average) - 16th in majors (middle of the road)

SLG against: .328 (.070 better than league average) - 7th in majors (good)

xSLG against: .386 (033 better than league average) - 12th in majors (middle of the road)

wOBA against: .239 (.069 better than league average) - 1st in majors (best)

xwOBA against: .291 (.034 better than league average) - T-6th in majors (good)

The Cardinals' pitchers have allowed the 10th least BBEs, almost all due to them playing just 4 games. They have allowed the 12th lowest launch angle in the majors, with a ground ball rate that is 6th in the majors (both of those things are middle of the road to good) - helped out by their fantastic infield defense.

The Cardinals' staff is 12th in the majors in sweet spot % against (upper middle of the road) and their barrels/PA and barrels/BBE% are in the elite group both at third in the majors. Their average exit velocity allowed is 10th in the majors (upper middle of the road). On fly balls and line drives, where they can be hurt more badly in the slugging department, they are actually better at the 8th best in the majors at suppressing exit velocity (good). Their batting average allowed is low because of that forementioned infield defense being good because their exit velocity allowed on ground balls is actually only 25th in the majors (bad). That also would explain why their xBA allowed is SO BAD compared to their BA allowed.

It seems Cardinals pitchers have been a bit unlucky on home runs allowed, as their average home run distance allowed is just 7th in the majors - they've had some that have carried out or have barely gotten out against them. This is partly because they suppress hard hit balls well, so far. They are T-7th in the majors (good) at allowing "hard hit" balls of 95+ mph.

This is a group of strike throwers, as they have only the 5th fewest pitches thrown in total but have the 3rd least balls called. This can also be shown by them having the 2nd lowest walk rate in the majors - at just 4.4% of all batters against walking. The bad part of this statistic for this particular club is that they simply have not missed enough bats either. They might be pitching TOO MUCH to weak contact and not trying to deceive batters enough. They have the 4th lowest K rate in the majors at under 19% of batters striking out against them.

Lastly, because of the wonderfully low amount of hits and walks, their K:BB is 3rd in the majors at 4.17 and their WHIP is second in the majors at 0.91 - both very good / elite.


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