photo: Paul Goldschmidt (Billy Hurst/USA TODAY Sports)
Just about anyone who follows the St. Louis Cardinals would readily agree that the team is oriented around its pitching and defense. That is the polite, politically correct way of noting the offense is subpar without having to say so directly.
Boiling that down further, in a review of the key components of the offense, slugging stood out as the softest spot of the team’s soft spot in 2020. In fact, it is a continuation of a problem that was evident in 2019, as well.
Here is St. Louis’ results and ranking among 30 Major League Baseball teams in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging in each of the two most recent seasons.
|Cardinals team||2019||MLB rank||2020||MLB rank||Playoff teams|
|Slugging||0.415||23rd||0.371||27th||16th of 16|
|Batting average||0.245||23rd||0.234||22nd||13th of 16|
|On-base||0.322||17th||0.323||14th||10th of 16|
While one could squint at the above table and find a way to say something positive about the 2020 batting average and on-base marks compared to 2019, there is no such positive spin possible with regard to slugging.
The aggregate SLG for the team plummeted 44 points year to year, dropping St. Louis’ relative MLB ranking by four spots to 27th, resting precariously close to the game’s cellar.
It is accurate to observe that the 2020 Cardinals landed their Wild Card playoff berth in spite of their slugging.
Among the expanded 2020 playoff pool of 16 teams, the Cardinals offense placed in the bottom half in all three key offensive categories. But in slugging, St. Louis was the weakest power-hitting team to make the 2020 post-season field.
Of course, team stats are nothing more than the reflection of the aggregate of its individual players. For the Cardinals, forget about any of them being among MLB or even National League leaders.
In 2020, only three St. Louis qualifiers slugged higher than the average MLB player, down from just four the year before.
|StL leaders 2019||SLG||StL leaders 2020||SLG|
|Tommy Edman||0.500||Paul Goldschmidt||0.466|
|Paul Goldschmidt||0.476||Brad Miller||0.451|
|Marcell Ozuna||0.472||Harrison Bader||0.443|
|Paul DeJong||0.444||MLB average||0.418|
2019’s total of four above-MLB average sluggers was buoyed by the totally unexpected and non-sustainable power surge shown by then-rookie Tommy Edman.
The major loss for 2020 among sluggers was that of Marcell Ozuna, who departed as a free agent. And none of the in-house growth options touted by the club were able to fill the gap during the COVID-interrupted 2020 campaign.
A new addition for 2020, Brad Miller, stepped in as the designated hitter to provide a major supply of power – before a late-season drought parked him on the bench in the Wild Card Series, that is. Miller is again a free agent heading into 2021.
In fact, during the shortened 58-game campaign, the Cardinals’ only other above-average slugging (besides steady star Paul Goldschmidt) came from quite a surprising source – center fielder Harrison Bader.
While the players themselves are the ones standing at the plate with the lumber in their hands, the staff member directly responsible for the offense is hitting coach Jeff Albert. Heading into his third season in the job in 2021, Albert has already been feeling the heat from a growing segment of frustrated fans.
Criticism of St. Louis’ offense – and the front office specifically – was intensified by the major powered-up successes of a trio of former Cardinals – Ozuna of Atlanta, Luke Voit from the Yankees and post-season breakout star Randy Arozarena of Tampa Bay.
During the regular season, Voit led the American League with 22 home runs and was second with his .610 slugging percentage. Ozuna was the National League home run champ with 18 and finished third in SLG at .636, 170 points higher than St. Louis leader Goldschmidt.
In the playoffs, just 10 months after having been traded away, Arozarena was a sensation, crushing 10 long balls in 20 post-season contests while slugging .871. The latter was second-best among all players who appeared in at least three October games.
Not surprisingly, Randy was named the AL Championship Series Most Valuable Player and shortly after the World Series, Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak delivered a rare public mea culpa for his club having let the 25-year-old get away.
Given the Cardinals lineup is unlikely to be significantly different in 2021 from the 2020 edition, improvement must come from within. If Albert cannot find the combination to unlock his hitters’ power potential during what is hoped to be a more normal season ahead, it is difficult to envision him remaining for year four.
As they say, when results consistently fall short of expectations, you cannot replace the entire team… you seek a different message.
Heading into 2021, however, the most important questions remain the same:
- Will anyone step up to help fill the slugging void?
- Will the Cardinals again be able to pitch and defend their way into the post-season despite their subpar slugging?
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