Since the season ended, there’s been a ton of hand-wringing about the problems the Cardinals’ offense encountered during the 2015 season. A few examples:
- The team was 11th in the NL in home runs and runs scored
- The Cardinals were 8th in the NL in wOBA
- The Cards’ position players were tied for 10th in baseball in wOBA
- The team’s offensive runs above average was 7th in the NL.
These, of course, aren’t indicators of a below-average offense but, when we’re playing in a division against 2 of the best teams in baseball, a mediocre offense going forward just isn’t going to cut it. Add to that the fact that players like Matt Holliday, Jhonny Peralta, and Yadi are already past their offensive primes and aren’t going to get any younger.
We know that several players just didn’t perform to expectations this year but the real problem is the number of times these underperformers were forced or allowed to come to the plate this season. Every team has underperformers. But it creates real problems for a team when those players get too many plate appearances.
Below are the numbers in 2015 for the team’s biggest underperformers.
141 batters qualified for the batting title in major league baseball in 2015. Only 5 of them had a wRC+ less than 70. These 6 Cardinals combined for an offensive performance 30% worse than league average and the team gave them 1350 PAs. Just for reference, 23% of the team’s plate appearances went to players who hit worse than Padres’ pitcher Tyson Ross. That’s 1 out of every 4 plate appearances — not counting the 353 PAs we gave to our pitchers. So 3 times out of every time through the order we either let a pitcher bat or someone who hit worse than Tyson Ross. Jay and Bourjos, who were horrible in 2015, got 120 more plate appearances than Randall Grichuk did. No wonder we had trouble scoring runs!
So, the good news…First, there’s no way Jay can hit this badly in 2016. He’s had wRC+’s of 116, 115, 115, 103, and 115 in his first 5 seasons with the team and had an injured wrist all season. He’ll be better and, if by some chance he isn’t, Grichuk or Tommy Pham or Jason Heyward will be able to step in take some of those PA’s away. There’s no way he’ll be allowed to come to the plate 245 times if he’s hitting as horrendously as he did in 2015.
Adams started slow and dealt with a hamstring injury for most of the season. He may have a bad stretch where he hits as badly as he did in 2015, but he’s unlikely to repeat this performance over 350-400 PAs. Reynolds didn’t really underperform so much as that he had to take on too many PAs due to Adams’s injury. Regardless, I wouldn’t bet money on Reynolds returning in 2016.
Similarly, it’s unlikely that Bourjos will return. I suspect that the emergence of Pham has made Bourjos expendable. He’ll be tendered a contract and traded.
Cruz and Kozma are tough. The only reason they were on the roster is that we need a backup catcher and someone who could play shortstop in the event of an injury to Peralta. The team, therefore, may be forced to sacrifice some offense in order to get this sort of defensive protection. But the team has to do better than what these 2 can bring to the table. We’ll discuss this in more detail another time but, suffice to say, we can’t afford to give 260+ PAs to players who hit worse than many pitchers.
A lot of Cards’ fans are looking for a better #3 hitter or more homers than Heyward provided (13) from our cleanup hitter. Our starters, for the most part, performed pretty well offensively so probably what we need most, is more depth. We need our reserves to perform better when there are injuries to Holliday, Peralta, or Molina or when our aging starters need days off. If we get more from our 9th through 13th position players, we can afford to give our starters more rest and we’ll score more runs doing it.