It's July 1, and the 2014 season hasn't gone as planned for the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Redbirds find themselves looking up in the standings at the surprising Milwaukee Brewers, thanks in large part to a struggling offense. Last season, the Cardinals hit .330 as a team with runners in scoring position, shattering the previous record of .311, en route to capturing the National League pennant.
The 2013 Cardinals ranked No. 27 in home runs in, hitting just 125 -- five fewer than the New York Mets. Only the Royals, Giants and Marlins hit fewer home runs than the Cardinals did in 2013, making their run to the World Series all the more remarkable. So far in 2014, the Cardinals rank No. 29 in home runs, with 48 as of July 1. Only the Royals have hit fewer home runs -- and they've hit 47. Yes, the San Diego Padres who have an historically bad offense have hit seven more home runs than the Cardinals to date.
Let's take a look at how the Cardinals are trending the last few years, shall we? We'll use 2011 as our starting point.
As you can see, the Cardinals had a drop off in home runs in 2012 -- though not significant. 2013? Yeah, that's a significant drop off, and halfway through the 2014 season, the Cardinals are on pace to hit less than 100 home runs. Yikes.
Now let's look at St. Louis' slugging percentages. After all, home runs aren't everything, though they are quite nice.
Again, no noticeable difference between 2011 and 2012, but 2013 sees a sharp decline, and 2014 even sharper.
What about ISO? More of the same:
So what gives? How can a team with no conceivable holes in its lineup struggle so much? One factor that's easy to point to is St. Louis' changes in hitting coaches. Mark McGwire served as the Cardinals' hitting coach between 2010-2012, before leaving for Los Angeles in 2013. Mike Matheny named John Mabry hitting coach in 2013, and, well, the Cardinals stopped hitting for power right around that time.
Still, players play -- and the blame can't be cast entirely upon Mabry.
It's tough to complain much about Matt Carpenter. St. Louis' third baseman and leadoff man is hitting .281/.373/.385, with four home runs. Carpenter's ISO is a relatively weak .104, but as St. Louis' leadoff hitter, getting on base at a 37% rate is satisfactory.
Jhonny Peralta, St. Louis' prize of the offseason, leads the Cardinals with 11 home runs, but is hitting just .241/.323/.436. Peralta is batting just .268 on balls in play, so he's been a bit unlucky. Peralta's line drive rate of 21% isn't too far off from his career norms, so it's safe to safe that Peralta should have a good second half.
Matt Adams and Yadier Molina are also free from blame -- for now. Adams is hitting .325/.337/.528, and magically remembered he's a power hitter since returning from the disabled list. Molina isn't having his best offensive year, but is hitting .280/.331/.407 -- more than satisfactory with the defense and leadership he provides.
There are four positions where things have gone awry for the Cardinals this year. Matt Holliday, despite a 12.2% walk rate, has been a big disappointment for the Cardinals in 2014. Holliday is hitting just .264/.369/.385. That's right, Holliday's slugging percentage is only four points better than Jon Jay's, and his ISO just 15 points better than Peter Bourjos'. That's a serious problem.
The tag team duo of Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos has combined for just 1.3 WAR to date. Bourjos simply can't hit -- he's batting .204/.270/.309. Despite being one of the best defensive center fielders on the planet, Bourjos isn't going to find playing time hitting like a pitcher if the rest of St. Louis' offense isn't going to pick up the slack. Jay, meanwhile, is hitting a relatively empty .296/.356/.381.
Second base is another major problem for St. Louis. Kolten Wong was demoted to AAA, recalled, hit well, injured his shoulder, and landed on the disabled list. Through 171 plate appearances, Wong is hitting just .228/.282/.304. ugly. Wong's replacement, Mark Ellis, is hitting just .194/.276/.239. By contrast, Adam Wainwright is hitting .265/.306/.353, and Shelby Miller is hitting .172/.200/.310. Let that sink in for a moment.
While Holliday, Jay, Bourjos, Ellis and Wong have been problems, they all have some slack remaining. The same can't be said for Allen Craig. A hero in the 2011 World Series, Craig may have run out of chances in 2014. Craig's .255/.305/.368 batting line is poor, and his baserunning even poorer. Inexplicably, Craig's power has regressed since 2011, when he slugged .555. Since then, Craig's slugging percentage has decreased to .522, .457 and now to .368. Craig is making contact 85.5% of the time this season, and is making contact on 94.5% of pitches that he swings at inside of the strike zone -- both career highs. Craig's 6.5% swinging strike percentage is a career-best as well, and he's only swinging at 26.9% of pitches outside the strike zone -- a career- best as well.
The additional contact Craig has made this season has hurt him in a big way. Craig simply isn't driving the ball with any type of authority, as evidenced by his .113 ISO and .368 SLG. Further, Craig is hitting ground balls at an alarming rate -- 55.1% of the time. Craig's only hitting fly balls 24.2% of the time. When Craig slugged over .500, he hit fly balls 37% and 33.3% of the time -- not surprising, since, you know, a ball needs to be hit in the air to be a home run.
Has Craig been the biggest victim of Mabry's philosophy? Perhaps, as his flyball percentage has dropped significantly in each year of Mabry's tenure, down from 33.3% in 2012, to 28.1% in 2013 and now down to 24.2% in 2014.
It seems that Craig is out of time to figure things out on the fly. The Cardinals are going to call up top prospect Oscar Taveras from AAA prior to St. Louis' July 1 contest against the San Francisco Giants, and he's likely going to replace Craig in the lineup. Taveras needs to play every day -- otherwise there's no point in winding his arbitration clock. A breather is likely best for Craig as well, since the former slugger should now have an opportunity to step back, take a few days off, and then re-evaluate what's gone horribly wrong for him and his swing this season.
Taveras is going to hit, and hit a lot. He's going to compete for batting titles and should find himself in MVP consideration in his career. But Taveras alone isn't going to save St. Louis' offense. The Cardinals need everybody in the lineup to hit better, especially Holliday.
Don't expect John Mozeliak to make any significant changes at the trade deadline to the lineup, either. The only area that St. Louis' general manager could conceivably upgrade the lineup on the trade market is at second base, but the organization seems to believe in Wong. If the Cards feel like Wong could benefit from more time in AAA, or worry about his shoulder injury, Mozeliak could target Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist in a trade -- but Zobrist has struggled this year himself, hitting .250/.338/.393.
Whether or not the Cardinals can come back in the second half and win the NL Central for a second straight year depends on St. Louis' offense. With Taveras now up for good, the pieces are all there. It's now up to the Cardinals to wake up and hit. If they don't, they'll be playing for one of the two Wild Card spots, or worse -- and Mabry could (and should) be out of a job come November.
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