A part of the demise of the 2023 St. Louis Cardinals season has been its uncharacteristic defensive shortcomings. A team once known for its stalwart defense has stumbled throughout the 2023 season. From misplayed fly balls to poor routes to errant throws, the defensive deficiencies have been on display prominently in 2023.
While the shift changes could be a factor in the team's mishaps, it surely is not the sole factor. For example, in 2021, the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Houston Astros, Atlanta Braves, and Detroit Tigers shifted the most of any team in the majors. The Dodgers were far and away the most frequent shifters at 53.4%. In contrast, the Cardinals shifted in only 21.4% of all at-bats.
In 2022, The Dodgers, Astros, Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners, and Miami Marlins shifted the most. The Cardinals increased their shift usage by about 33% from 21.4% of at-bats to 27.9% of all at-bats. Across the league, left-handed batters were shifted against the most. Suffice it to say, when the shift was around, the Cardinals used it at a lower-than-league-average rate. Therefore, the shift was not paramount to the team's defensive prowess in 2021 and 2022. The question remains: why are the Cardinals much worse defensively this year than in years past?
In a more traditional lens, the Cardinals committed 84 errors in 2021, and 66 errors in 2022, and have already committed 43 errors this year. They are on pace to commit about 61 errors this season. Errors don't seem to be the issue for the Cardinals. What has been the problem, then?