The St. Louis Cardinals struggled to hit left-handed pitching in 2013. This is hardly a ground-breaking observation. Anyone who followed the team last year knows that one of the surest ways to trip up the best offense in the National League was to throw a qaulity southpaw at them. Unless of course that lefty was 2013 Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, who as I write this in December, just let a couple more guys score in game six of the National League Championship Series.
What has been fascinating about this off-seasons has been the way that General Manager John Mozeliak has improved the team, hedged his bets in a couple of places, and done it all without really paying much of a price to do so. One of the most improved parts of this team should be a better outlook against left-handed pitching. For our purposes we just want to look at some general concepts and trends so we will use each player’s slash line (Average/On Base Percentage/Slugging). To further simplify matters we will just use the difference in their slash when facing a left-hander or a right hander.
For example, in 2013 former Cardinals Skip Schumaker had a slash of .265/.338/.333 against righties and a slash of .255/.305/.327 against lefties. The difference in his line versus left-handed pitchers was -.10/-.033/-.006. Schumaker is a pretty balanced batter so we see that the differences were rather small in his case.
Let’s look at how the typical lineup of Cardinal hitters, and the most-used subs, fared last year using this formula.
Matt Carpenter -.035/-.057/-.020 (Average against right-handers was high enough that even with a dip he was still a good hitter against lefties)
Carlos Beltran -.063/-.081/-.061
Matt Holliday -/003/+.019/-.122 (Hitting was consistent, but he showed far less power than he did hitting a right-handed pitchers)
Allen Craig -.049/-.081/+.015 (Not nearly as good as I expected)
Yadier Molina +.018/+.020/+.040
David Freese +.018/+.018/+.104 (Despite having a down year and already being relocated to Los Angeles, David Freese was better than I thought)
Jon Jay -.071/-.057/-.072 (By the time we got to the playoffs even Jon Jay didn’t want Jon Jay batting against left-handers)
Pete Kozma -.048/+.007/-.025 (When you start out hitting .217 against righties a drop this big is cataclysmic)
The team as a whole had a slash line of -.042/-.042/-.041
The one thing from the above list that I found most interesting was Allen Craig. In 2012, Craig destroyed left-handed pitched with a line of .354/.381/.630, but in 2013 the numbers plummeted to .278/.311/.468. I would love to tell you that I know what he suddenly stopped hitting left handers, but there does not seem to be a ready explanation.
With these numbers, one has to expect that Clayton Kershaw has spent the entire offseason asking himself where he went wrong.
Whenever a left-handed pitcher faced the Cardinals in 2013 batting average dropped faster than a Michael Wacha breaking ball. The team knows that and many of its moves this off-seasons will help in that area. I am not saying that every move was made to fix this problem, but this team was able to make multiple moves that helped out with depth and defense which should also fortify the team against such massive extremes depending on which hand the pitcher throws with.
Here are the three year difference splits for three new acquisitions that could see a lot of time against left handed hitters
These three batters in the lineup alone could go a long way toward shoring up this team against lefthanders. The prevailing consensus seems to be the Kolten Wong will have every opportunity to be this teams starting second baseman, but should he struggle against left-handers, or just in general Ellis is more than capable of providing good second base play. Bourjos and Jay is a little more murky given that the General Manager and the Manager seem to have given differing statements about who will be manning centerfield. Even with Mike Matheny‘s penchant for sticking by his players, even a little too long a times, there really is no reson for this team to struggle against lefties in 2014.