The St. Louis Cardinals are on pace to win 85 games in 2014 and would likely miss the playoffs with that win total. The main problem is that their most productive hitters are having down seasons. Matt Holliday is not slugging like he used to. Matt Adams is undisciplined at the plate, and is not the same hitter he was with runners on base. Allen Craig, despite playing better of late, got off to a prolonged bad start. Winning is predicated on the best players getting the job done.
Fans do a lot of gnashing of teeth about lineup construction. They wonder why managers put certain players into particular spots in the order. Sabermetricians have studied the issue, and it turns out that lineup construction matters very little as far as run production. A team might score two more runs a year based on lineup optimization.
The golden rule is that the best hitters should get the most at-bats. Adaptability regarding personnel, match-ups, who’s hot, etc. should figure into the equation of who hits where in the lineup, so flexibility should not be thrown away.
There is a pragmatic jolt available to the club with the personnel on hand. The St. Louis Cardinals should adopt–as a strategy and reasonable experiment–a set lineup of names for a short period. This is the lineup, against both left-handers and right-handers: Carpenter, Wong, Holliday, Taveras, Craig, Molina, Peralta, Bourjos/Jay, pitcher.
This lineup achieves several objectives: The first four hitters do (or will, in the case of Taveras) get on base above the league average, percentage-wise. Lefty and righty hitters are staggered, so it’s less easy for an opposing manager to play match-ups with relievers later in games. Craig and Molina are dropped one spot in the order. This is based on their recent performance, and the upside offered by the re-jiggering proposed above and below.
They key to this is Oscar Taveras. Unless everyone is wrong about him, he should be one of the Cardinals’s top hitters this year. He is an unknown commodity to the league. He hits left-handers about as well as right-handers. He projects to hit for extra bases. Craig is better than he was, and Adams will be back, but during this time Craig should bat fifth.
Wong should play most days because he is a better player right now than Mark Ellis. They should ditch the reflexive platooning when a left-hander pitches. Wong adds dynamism with his base-stealing threat. Platoon Jay and Bourjos if they must, but let Wong and Taveras play, and get their at-bats.
The Cardinals don’t have holes like they did five years ago, when they brought in Mark DeRosa, and then Matt Holliday. They have cost control around the diamond. There aren’t good trade options. They aren’t that far back of the lead. Getting the young newcomers heavily involved would be a positive step.
These changes may not make much difference, but it’s a rationalization whose time has come.