Can the St. Louis Cardinals benefit from having no DH?
By Matt Benson
With it looking like pitchers will be back in the batters box in 2021, how might the St. Louis Cardinals pitchers perform offensively this year?
Now I’m going to preface this article with the fact I am pro-designated hitter in the National League. I’d love to see the DH implemented and see the Cardinals sign a big bat to boost this offense. In reality, I can’t see that signing happening and we will likely be going into 2021 seeing more pitchers at the plate.
At present, a question mark remains hanging over National League teams on whether the designated hitter will be sanctioned across the league. This is leading to the continued slow progress in the free agent market and leaves a lot of NL teams unsure on what strategy to employ for any future signings.
Until a differing decision is made, the St. Louis Cardinals go into 2021 with the pitchers needing to get back to taking some at bats. With this in mind, lets take a stroll back through the history books and look at how different pitching staff have faired with the bat and see how the Cards will fare this coming season.
On Jan. 11, 1973, the owners of America’s 24 major league baseball teams voted to allow the American League to use a designated hitter that could bat for the pitcher, while still allowing the pitcher to stay in the game. The National League maintained the historical rule of the pitcher hitting, and so on April 6, 1973 – Opening Day of the 1973 season – began the key difference between the AL and NL.
This rule has now been in place for 47 years, and the Cardinals have absolutely taken advantage of this differentiation within the National League by gaining the most benefit of all NL teams from their pitching staff when hitting.
Over the last 47 years prior to 2020, the Cardinals pitching staff have the most hits, singles, doubles, triples, runs and runs batted in of any team in this majors. This is mirrored by their MLB leading average (.155), on base percentage (.189), slugging percentage (.200) and wOBA (.179).
The Cardinals are the only team to have over 1000 RBI during this period (1008), the only team with a positive wRC+ (3) and have amassed a total of 16.7 fWAR which is the most of all teams. This infact is 120% more than the second placed Los Angeles Dodgers (7.6 fWAR) and a giant 35.3 fWAR more than the last placed Cincinnati Reds (-18.6 fWAR).
The only area that they haven’t topped the leaderboards on for their pitchers is home runs with both the San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Cubs having hit 93 and 92, respectively, over this period.
In fact, you would have to go back to 1947 for another team to surmount the Cardinals in total fWAR accrued by their pitchers offensively. The Cardinals have had the most offensive fWAR by pitchers of any team in the majors from 1948 to date, only being surpassed by the Cleveland Indians when looking from 1947 through to 2020.
The best offensive years from the Cardinals pitching staffs were 2003 and 2006 which were mainly driven by Woody Williams, Brett Tomko & Mark Mulder. In 2018, Cardinals pitchers hit six total home runs, with two coming from Miles Mikolas and John Gant, and Tyson Ross and Carlos Martinez adding a big flies of their own.
As it stands right now, Mikolas holds the record of being the last pitcher with a hit in the major leagues after he clubbed a double off of Dallas Keuchel in game one of the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves in 2019. With no pitchers hitting in 2020, that still stands as the final pitcher hit in MLB so Mikolas will be looking to maintain that form going into 2021.
In the last full non-DH season in 2019, the Cardinals pitching staff finished with the fifth best pitching staff (per fWAR) in the NL who hit for a very tame .139 / .159 / .168. This was compiled of 30 hits, eight doubles and 13 RBI to help out the team from 314 plate appearances.
Jack Flaherty topped out as the best performer with ten hits from 54 at-bats and the eternal Adam Wainwright came in a solid third place and adding to his career score. Wainwright currently sits at third all-time on the St. Louis Cardinals pitching offensive leaderboards behind Bob Gibson and Bob Forsch. Wainwright’s 5.0 offensive fWAR have been driven by a .200 career average (higher than Tyler O’Neill in 2020) & ten homers, so if you need yet another reason to go out and sign Wainwright this could be it, Mozeliak.
Not forgetting Wainwright sits behind Bob Gibson, who is undoubtedly one of the best hitting pitchers in MLB history which just added to his giant hall of fame resume!
Fortunately for the Cards the worst performer of 2019 won’t be hitting this season (sadly we will definitely miss him on the mound!). Dakota Hudson hasn’t stood out historically with the bat, hitting just four singles from 59 plate appearances in 2019.
Can the Cardinals really benefit from having pitchers hitting in the National League? In reality the answer is no – they will gain little additional benefit form their pitchers than other teams and may even benefit more so from other teams having to have their pitchers hit rather than using another offensive bat.
It will likely be another year of watching bunt-after-bunt from the pitching staff, but when it does happen there is not much better than seeing an absolute bomb hit into the stands by the guy normally out there on the mound! So I’m at least here for that!