Little brings me more pleasure than relaying a story or trend that – with the exception of any sort of injury – is somehow bad or pessimistic for the outlook/future of St. Louis Cardinals.
What can I say? I’m a Chicago Cubs fan. I believe I deserve as much.
But even sentiment alone doesn’t rightfully convey just how sincerely happy I am to share with you an article that David Cameron recently wrote at FanGraphs. The article is titled: The Cardinals’ Missing Magic, and it is SCardenfreude at it’s finest.
As I’m sure you well know by now, from about 2010-2015, the St. Louis Cardinals – in addition to being genuinely good – have seemingly displayed an innate and chronic streak of ridiculous amounts of luck. But unlike the Kansas City Royals, whose above-expectation play has been well chronicled, the Cardinals have mostly hid their luck from the world, by switching it up year after year.
One season their offense might have a historically high batting average with runners in scoring position, while in another their starting pitchers are stranding runners at an unprecedented rate. Don’t believe me? According to Cameron, the Cardinals have won 23 more games in the last three years than their BaseRuns Win% (a method of projecting how many wins a team should have won based on the number of runs scored and allowed) would suggest.
If they had consistently outperformed their projections by overperforming in a particular way in multiple years, you might consider tipping your cap and admitting they know something the rest of us don’t. But when the “luck” is bouncing from offense to defense and anywhere in between, well then, it’s probably just that: luck.
Except this season is different. Six weeks into the 2016 season and the Cardinals (20-18) are in third place of the NL Central and are a full eight games back of the Cubs. At first blush, that isn’t really all that bad of a record, in and of itself, especially for early May. But what’s interesting (or more so, delicious) is that their Base Runs Win% suggests that they should actually be something closer to 25-13.
Shoe, meet the other foot.
Making everything that much more decadent is just how the Cardinals have gotten so unlucky.
For example, last season, Cardinals pitchers finished the year with the highest strand rate in all of baseball (79.4%). And the thing is, it wasn’t even particularly close – the next highest team (Rays) were more than four percentage points lower.
But in 2016, ooh boy, in 2016 the Cardinals’ strand rate is sixth worst in all of baseball at 70.6%. And the reality is that their pitchers haven’t even been all that bad.
So far in 2016, when the bases are empty, the Cardinals pitchers have allowed a .286 wOBA (that’s downright good and ranks 7th in the league). With runners on base, then, that wOBA jumps up to .320 (15th) and with runners in scoring position, it’s .311 (13th). If Cardinals pitchers pitched just slightly more similar to the way they do with nobody on, they’d likely have 3-5 more wins already.
But it’s not just pitching. The Cardinals have also been fairly bad in “clutch” moments on offense, as well. What was once a “strength” (best hitting team with runners in scoring position in 2013) has become an extreme weakness. So far, by one clutch metric, the Cardinals offense has been worth -2.2 wins relative to a team with average performance in those situations. Interestingly, Randal Grichuk has been the worst of them all, having been worth -1 win all by himself. That makes him the second least clutch hitter in all of baseball. (Can you guess who the second most clutch hitter in baseball is? If you’ve been paying attention, you probably have a solid guess.)
This just feels so good.
And, if you can believe it, there’s actually quite a bit more affecting the Cardinals right now, so I’ll encourage you to check out Cameron’s article here at FanGraphs. There are plenty more smiles to be had, Cubs fans, so pace yourself while reading.