The Cardinals are Struggling; Let the Statistics Explain


Apr 24, 2014; New York, NY, USA; St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay (19) cannot get to a double by New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy (not pictured) during the 6th inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

There is no doubt about it.  The St. Louis Cardinals are having a rough start to their 2014 season.  Many people looked at the Cardinals as the all-out favorite to with the National League Title yet again, and possibly even the World Series.  With the talent the Cardinals possess, that success seems highly possible.  However, up to this point in the season, they have not lived up to the hype.  There are several reasons why, and I will use some statistics to back these reasons up.

Disclaimer: If you aren’t a nerd like me and love looking at numbers, you will probably get bored with this article quickly.  Sorry, as an engineer I look at numbers a lot.

Inability to Score Runs

First off, the Cardinals are still 1 game above .500 as I write this, and they have only played 23 games, so their season isn’t a wash by any means.  They started the season pretty decent, but through their last 7 games they have really struggled.  During that stretch they have failed to score more than 4 runs, averaging 1.8 runs per game. Compared to the first 16 games when they averaged 4.4 runs per game.

Power Numbers are Down

Looking at some statistics, while the Cardinals are just slightly below the league average for batting average, they are 26th for OPS and 28th for OBP. Their ISO (isolated power) and Slugging Percentage both rank at 28th in the league. Their weighted runs created (wRC) is 24th in the league at 80. They have the second lowest home run total in the league (only the Kansas City Royals have fewer).  The lack of home runs may not be a serious issue since the Cardinals were 27th in the league in HRs last year, and still made it to the World Series.  Other than a few hitters (Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, Matt Adams, Matt Carpenter, and Jon Jay to a lesser extent) the rest of the team has some issues.

What Happened to Allen Craig?

One could point the finger at Allen Craig. He has been awful this year. He’s batting only .179.  Unlike years past, it doesn’t matter if he is facing a lefty or righty on the mound. He can’t hit either in 2014. Craig is currently hitting .169 against righties and .211 against lefties. Digging a little deeper into the statistics, Craig is hitting a lot more ground balls this year. Last year his ground ball percentage was 45%, so far this season it’s 63.8%. This also means his line drives and fly balls are down drastically. One reason for this is because he can’t hit the fastball anymore. Using PITCH/fx values (which are run expectancy facing each pitch), his wFA/C (4 seam fastball) last year was 3.50 runs, this year it’s -2.74 runs (average is 0). Same goes for the 2 seam fastball, wFT/C went from 2.01 runs to -2.01 runs.

Lack of Hitting from the Short Stop…Again

Another player to point a finger at is Jhonny Peralta. He hasn’t lived up to his expectations at all this season. In fact, he has NO, zero, none, zilch hits against lefties. Similar to Craig, Peralta is just not hitting the ball the same this year. Last year he had a line drive ball percent of 25.2%, this year is has dropped to 19%. The difference is that he’s hitting more fly balls, 35.8% last year compared to 43.1% this year.  Unfortunately, only 4 of those fly balls have left the park so far this season.

Peter Bourjos is in a Slump…All Season Long

Bourjos has a lot of potential.  So far in 2014, he has come nowhere close to it. The statistics might explain his problem. He is swinging at more pitches, either in the zone or out. His swing percentage has gone from 43.6% to 52.5%. Some may say he is being more aggressive, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  But, if he swings at pitches out of the zone, that is a very bad thing.  Even though his contact with balls in the zone is slightly higher this season, his contact with balls out of the zone is down (59.4% in 2013 to 45.2% thus far in 2014).

Too Many Ground Balls Hit

As a team, the Cardinals are hitting a league high line drive percentage of 23.4%.  That is good.  However, they are also hitting ground balls at the 7th highest percentage in the league at 48.1%. That is not good.  Their fly ball percentage is the 2nd lowest in the league. That being said, it looks like it’s feast or famine with the Cardinals hitting. They either hit good line drives or a ground ball. But right now, the ground ball is dominating the team, which in turn lowers their power numbers and their ability to score runs.

Errors and Unearned Runs are Escalating

The Cardinals have committed 20 errors so far this season, tied for 6th most in MLB.   Last season the Cardinals only committed 75 errors, tied for 26th most.  Peralta is leading the team in errors with 5. Between 2009-2013, the most errors he ever committed in one season is 7. Peralta’s fielding percentage is now .941, compared to the last few seasons when he averaged .989. Matt Carpenter is next with 4 errors. While the starting pitching has been pretty good, the number of unearned runs scored is quite high.  So far, the Cardinals have allowed 72 runs.  Of those, 8 have been unearned.  That amounts to 11% of the runs allowed being unearned, compared to last season when only 6.7% were unearned.  The amount of walks have also contributed to this.  Currently the Cardinals are right in the middle of the league for BB/9, while the BB% is 8.2% which ranks them 12th in MLB.  Luckily, the pitching has a great K/9 of 8.87, ranking them 5th in MLB.

Looking Forward

The scary thing is that it might get a lot worse. Their next series is against the Pirates. In the last series against them, the team hit only .177.  Now, it is still early in this season, and these are only a few of the statistics to look at.  I didn’t want to completely overdo this article.  Fact is, looking at that many numbers hurts my brain.  But, I could have looked at the back-end of the rotation and how ineffective they are against left-handed hitters.  Of course, there is the astonishingly difference in average with RISP this year compared to last.  But, the statistics above were just a few I thought were noteworthy.  Do I think the Cardinals can turn it around?  Absolutely.  I am not a gambling man, but I would put money on that.  They have too many talented hitters.  This team will turn it around, I just hope they do it soon before those Milwaukee Brewers run away with the NL Central.  They are showing no signs of cooling off.