photo: Matt Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt (Jeff Curry/Imagn)
Seven of the nine top hitters on the St. Louis Cardinals are performing both below their career averages and below the National League average in 2019 to date.
As the St. Louis Cardinals trudged into the mathematical midpoint of the 2019 schedule with a 40-41 record, including a current five-game losing skid, they are just one game from completing a mediocre month in a mediocre season to date.
The reason is simple – an offense in which seven of the nine semi-regulars are playing below their career averages. Further, the seven are performing below the MLB average this season. Making matters even worse, the team’s best players had the worst first halves of 2019.
If the Cards can win at San Diego Sunday, they will finish both the month and the season at exactly .500, 13-13 and 41-41, respectively. This continues the season’s roller-coaster ride that began with a 19-10 April, followed by a disastrous 9-18 May, the third-worst May in team history.
For the season, the Cardinals pitching staff is fourth in the 15-team National League with a 4.18 ERA, and for this month, have been even better at 3.71, no. 3 in the NL.
Anyone watching the team on even a casual basis knows problem number one for this team has been and continues to be run-scoring. In June, the offense has hit a low, ranking 14th in the league in runs scored and last in batting average and OPS, among other categories. For the season, their no. 12 ranking in scoring leaves little optimism that a corner will be turned any time soon.
The reasons for this group offensive struggle may be as diverse as the individuals themselves. I don’t pretend to know where to point the finger. But whatever the explanations might be, the numbers do not lie. Almost the entire St. Louis offense is underachieving in 2019 – many to a significant extent.
In the table below, I use OPS, on-base plus slugging, and OPS+. The latter is based on a normalized scale in which 100 is league-average.
Not surprisingly, with an 89 OPS+, the 2019 Cardinals as a team are 11 percent below the NL average through 81 games.
But the most relevant measure for any player is to himself, in my view. So, I include alongside first-half numbers for each of the Cardinals key hitters, their career average (including 2019), plus their best and worst seasons.
The table is ordered by the greatest discrepancy between a Cardinals player’s 2019 first half OPS+ and his career mark.
|Yadier Molina||36||0.670||77||-21||0.738||98||0.874||137||2012||0.595||53||2006||2nd full|
|Marcell Ozuna (IL)||28||0.847||121||+7||0.787||114||0.924||149||2017||0.691||92||2015|
As the table indicates, the four greatest 2019 underachievers are all in their 30’s. The corner infield tandem of Paul Goldschmidt and Matt Carpenter lead the decline, with the first baseman actually performing worse against his career norm than the beleaguered third baseman.
Goldschmidt, known previously for his annual consistency, is on track for the worst season of his career. The first baseman is down 45 points of OPS+ from his career average, is 71 points below his best season and 20 points of OPS+ lower than his prior low point, set in his rookie season of 2011.
Carpenter, who is also tracking toward a career-worst season by 24 points of OPS+, is experiencing a fall that may be the most perplexing. I suggest this because even with the struggles early and late, 2018 was his career high water mark in OPS and OPS+. Further, unlike Goldschmidt, he isn’t adjusting to a new team.
Jose Martinez, generally considered to be a reliable bat whether starting or coming off the bench, is having his worst MLB season to date (in a relatively short career) while declining each season.
Another common thread is that all three of these 30+plus aged hitters received contract extensions this spring.
Catcher Yadier Molina is tracking toward his lowest OPS+ since his second full season of 2006.
Three other Cardinals are performing below their career norms and league average – but not to the extent of the aforementioned quartet – Harrison Bader, Dexter Fowler and Kolten Wong. The trio are arguably less important to the offense than the four struggling the most.
Even the Cardinals’ good hitters haven’t been great. The only two of the nine are performing above their career norms and above the league average in 2019 – Marcell Ozuna and Paul DeJong – are not enjoying career-best seasons.
Making matters even worse, Ozuna, the team’s best hitter in the first half, was placed on the injured list just prior to game no. 81 with a hand injury that could trouble him for some time to come.
DeJong was off to a hot start like his team, but has cooled since. Still, the shortstop is the Cardinal performing closest to his career average and rightfully, was recognized as St. Louis’ representative in the 2019 All-Star Game. (By rule, each team must have at least one player on the squad.)
But DeJong, now alone on the Cardinals’ active roster as an above-average hitter here in 2019, cannot do it alone.
The 2019 Cardinals offense has no one enjoying a career season, and instead, has swung hard in the downward direction.
Seven of its top nine hitters are not only performing below league average, but also significantly lower than their own career averages.
Arguably the most important three hitters, those who are also struggling the most, are all in their 30s. While Paul Goldschmidt, Matt Carpenter and Jose Martinez have enjoyed success in the past, all three are on track for career lows in OPS+ here in 2019.
The other Cardinal on the wrong side of 30 among the worst strugglers, Yadier Molina, is on his way to his lowest point since 2006.
Unless a number of these hitters rediscover the fountain of youth in the second half, the chances of the team getting enough pitching to overcome this underachieving offense and break the three-year playoff drought appear slim.
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