2023 Cardinals take massive step back against left-handed pitchers

The 2023 St. Louis Cardinals took a massive step back against left-handed pitchers in 2023 compared to 2022.
St. Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates
St. Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates / Joe Sargent/GettyImages
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The 2022 St. Louis Cardinals were excellent at hitting left-handed pitchers. As a team, the Birds on the Bat slashed .263/.343/.465 for an OPS of .809. The team's OPS was nearly .100 points higher than the league average against lefties. Players such as Paul Goldschmidt, Albert Pujols, and Nolan Arenado destroyed left-handed pitchers in 2022.

The team also struck out only 19.9% of the time while walking at a 9.7% clip. The Cardinals smashed 130 extra-base hits--seventy doubles, seven triples, and fifty-three home runs-- in only 1,201 at-bats against left-handed pitchers. Suffice it to say, the 2022 Cardinals were the best team at hitting lefty pitchers in 2022.

The team also hit well against right-handed pitchers; their .249/.320/.408 slash line was above league average in all three categories. On the whole, the 2022 St. Louis Cardinals offense was tied for fourth-best in the league according to OPS+ with a value of 112.

The story in 2023 against all pitchers, but particularly left-handed pitchers, was much different. The chart below details major offensive statistics for 2022 and 2023 against left-handed pitchers. Keep in mind, the team batted better against right-handed pitchers last year than they did against left-handed pitchers, a stark contrast from the year prior.

Season

Plate Appearances

Batting Average

On-base Percentage

Slugging Percentage

OPS

Extra base hits

2022

1,363

.263

.343

.465

.809

130

2023

1,560

.245

.321

.398

.719

114

The decline against left-handed pitchers is pronounced and precipitous. The team was below league average in each of these statistical categories, and the 2023 batters were markedly worse against left-handed pitchers compared to the 2022 Cardinals. The cause for the decline is due to player underperformance and the coaching staff putting players in situations that aren't prone to success,

Same-handed batters (left-handed batter vs. left-handed pitcher) situations typically favor the pitcher; therefore, a manager would be wise to avoid these situations. In 2022, situations with a LHB and a LHP occurred 14.8% of the time. In 2023, that number rose to 20.8% of the time. Oliver Marmol was playing left-handed batters against left-handed pitchers more frequently in 2023 than he did in 2022. This set up the team for a disadvantage at the plate.

In order for the Cardinals to return to their status as a top-five offensive team in 2024, the coaching staff must pounce on platoon advantages. Alec Burleson, Nolan Gorman, and Brendan Donovan will be the team's primary designated hitters in 2024; each of these players bats left-handed. This is a stark difference compared to the right-handed Albert Pujols who fulfilled the bulk of the DH at-bats in 2022.

However, the team can still find balance in its other batters. Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and Willson Contreras must take advantage of their handedness splits better in 2024. A return to mashing left-handed pitchers, particularly in a division where Justin Steele, Shota Imanaga, Martin Perez, Marco Gonzales, Wade Miley, Andrew Abbot, and Aroldis Chapman are present, will make drastic improvements to a team that could use a boost offensively still.

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