Cardinal Offense – Good Enough to win the NL?

While I was working on my preview for the Cardinals/Rockies series, I compared a couple of statistical metrics to see how the teams stacked up against each other, specifically UZR (defense), FIP (pitching), and wOBA (hitting). The Cardinals came up as solidly middle of the pack defensively (expected), top 15% in pitching (also expected), and lower half offensively (19th in MLB).

What? A Cardinal team featuring Albert Pujols and adding Matt Holliday couldn’t be in the bottom half of MLB offensively, could it? Had to be a mistake.

SO I looked a little deeper. For the 2009 season, and looking just at the NL this time, the Cardinals rank 8th in wOBA, 10th in OBP, and 5th in ISO. How does that stack up against the other potential playoff teams in the NL?

wOBA: 1st – PHI, 2nd – COL, 3rd – LA, 6th – ATL, 8th – STL.
OBP: 1st – LA, 2nd – COL, 5th – ATL, 8th – PHI, 10th – STL.
ISO: 1st – PHI, 2nd – COL, 5th – STL, 10th – ATL, 11th – LA.

Most Cardinal followers have spent a little time talking about the pitching dominance, but a lot of time talking about how much the lineup has improved since Holliday joined the club (and to a lesser extent, Lugo; DeRosa hasn’t hit well since coming over). But by the numbers, the Cardinals haven’t really improved since adding Holliday to the lineup:

Cardinals in June (pre-Holliday):
10th in wOBA (COL -1, PHI – 6, ATL – 12, LA – 13)
10th in OBP (COL – 1, PHI – 9, ATL – 11, LA – 13)
4th in ISO (COL – 1, PHI – 3, ATL – 9, LA – 12)

Cardinals in August (only complete Holliday month with data):
10th in wOBA (COL – 3, ATL – 5, PHI – 6, LA – 12)
9th in OBP (COL – 3, ATL – 4, LA – 10, PHI – 13)
12th in ISO (PHI – 1, COL – 2, LA – 9, ATL – 11)

The biggest surprise here is how Holliday has had minimal impact on the team’s overall success getting guys on base, and how his addition has not enhanced the lineup’s isolated power numbers (given the big drop in ISO statistically), although granted that may be a reflection of Ludwick’s power outage and Albert’s cooling off period.

But what it does show is a season-long issue with getting guys on and hitting for extra bases. This team’s offense is spectacularly average in the NL, even as currently constructed. We’ve recently been reminded of that, given how they’ve struggled to win against quality pitching. So that offense ranked 19th in MLB I discovered in the preview post wasn’t an error – they struggle with the bat in their hands.

What does this imply for the playoffs?

Looking at the last 4 NL Champs, here’s how their numbers stacked up in each category.

2008 (PHI) – 3rd in wOBA, 7th in OBP, 1st in ISO.
2007 (COL) – 2nd in wOBA, 1st in OBP, 8th in ISO
2006 (STL) – 1st in wOBA, 4th in OBP, 2nd in ISO
2005 (HOU) – 11th in wOBA, 13th in OBP, 9th in ISO
(by comparison, the 05 Cardinals ranked 4th, tied for 2nd, and 8th, respectively)

Three of the last 4 NL Champs led the league in one of these 3 categories, and those years each pennant-winner was in the top 3 in wOBA. What happened in 2005? Houston arguably had better pitching, and pitched better in the NLCS than St Louis did (read: Roy Oswalt).

However, based solely on the ability to put guys on and drive the ball throughout the lineup, the best bets on winning the NL appear to be Colorado, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and St Louis, in that order. Should they make the playoffs, Atlanta would be ranked between LA and STL.

We’ll take a look at Cardinal pitching versus all these staffs, to see if their pitching can mitigate this disadvantage, tomorrow.

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