Watching the St. Louis Cardinals offense strike out like crazy through the first two weeks of the season has been frustrating. I get it. What we have to remember, though, is that crazy things can happen in small sample sizes. Thirteen games is just not enough to look at any players overall production and draw any real conclusions from it. The earliest statistic to even become somewhat reliable is strikeout rate, which takes about 60 plate appearances. To put that in perspective, Dexter Fowler leads the team with just 59 plate appearances.
Some of the things that I like to look at when it’s this early in the season are plate discipline numbers as well as much of the data that Statcast provides. With that being said, I’ve found some very encouraging signs from nearly every member of the Cardinals lineup. Let’s run through them.
What stood out about Fowler in his first season wearing the birds on the bat was an increase in power production. He posted a .224 ISO, which was the highest of his career. His previous career high was .174 which he achieved while playing in the ridiculous offensive environment of Coors field. So it was fair to question whether his power surge last season was legitimate. The early data suggests that he can continue his power production, despite just one home run and a .098 ISO thus far.
Most batted balls 19-39° (HR launch angles):
Chris Taylor 15
S. Castro 14
— BatFlip Crazy (@batflipcrazy) April 13, 2018
As you can see here, Fowler is toward the top of the league in balls hit within the launch angle range that is most likely to produce home runs. To go along with this, his average exit velocity is right in line with 2017’s. He was at 88.4 mph in 2017 and is currently at 88.7 mph in 2018. The cold weather likely has some impact on only one of these balls leaving the park so far. This is a strong sign that Fowler is picking up right where he left off in the power department.
Repeating his phenomenal 2017 season is something that won’t be easy for Pham. Fortunately for the Cardinals, he’s well on his way. Among hitters with a minimum of 30 at-bat’s, Pham has the 5th highest average exit velocity in MLB at 93.9 mph. To go along with that, his plate discipline numbers are pretty much in line with last years. He’s chasing a few more pitches out of the zone but the difference is minimal at about 1%. So far, so good for Tommy Pham.
This is a strange one. Zach Gifford did a great job summarizing what’s going on with Carpenter over at Birds on the Black. There are definitely some warning signs with Carpenter but he’s been productive at the same time. He has an xwOBA of .371 vs. a .304 actual wOBA. This suggests a decent amount of bad luck. He also has a .192 BABIP, which is unsustainable and will surely increase.
Another thing to keep an eye on with Carpenter is that his average launch angle has dropped from 21.4 degrees in 2017 to 15.6 degrees this season. I normally wouldn’t think much of this with it being so early in the season but after claiming that he is going to quit “selling his soul for home runs” this may be a legit change for him. There are reasons for both concern and optimism with Carpenter, but we’re talking about a guy with historically great plate discipline. I’m not going to let 13 games convince me that he’s just lost the idea of what he’s doing at the plate.
Talk about polar opposites. Carpenter has been too patient at the plate while Ozuna hasn’t walked a single time! This screams random variation to me. For his career Ozuna has swung at 33.2% of pitches outside of the strike zone compared to 34.1% this season. He’s swinging at more pitches in the zone than normal so not working the count can lead to less walks. But it’s not like he’s being overly aggressive at the plate. This will correct, and rather quickly I’d assume.
Despite not having a walk yet, Ozuna is crushing the ball. Going back to average exit velocity, Ozuna is just behind Pham at 93.6 mph, good for 8th in all of baseball with a minimum of 30 at-bats. He crushed his second home run in Thursday’s game against the Reds and I think he’s just begun to show Cardinals fans how productive he can be.
This guy can absolutely rake. It’s all he’s done since being called up in 2016. He is currently 5th among all players with a minimum of 30 at-bats in xwOBA at .481. That’s crazy high. This is on the heels of Jose ranking 5th in all of baseball in xwOBA just a season ago. His defense might be suspect at best, but his bat looks legit. He could legitimately contend for a batting title. This is the bat that puts this offense over the top. The top four is already pretty dynamic. If they have a fifth bat to produce at a well above average level, look out, because the Cardinals will be scoring a ton of runs this season.
Beyond the top five the Cardinals lineup is pretty deep. Yadier Molina has had a strong start to the season and is likely to continue to be a near league average bat. That’s very good for a catcher. Paul DeJong has shown how streaky he’ll be. From the seventh spot in the lineup, that’s okay as long as there are enough hot streaks to add up to decent season-long production. I plan on looking at how productive a Jedd Gyorko/Kolten Wong platoon can be whenever Gyorko gets closer to returning from the disabled list.
Overall, this is a very strong lineup. Barring injury, it’s as sure of a bet as you’ll find to be above average with the potential for so much more. As the weather warms up, look for this group to score in bunches.
Thanks for reading!