After a 2016 season where the home run was king, the St. Louis Cardinals are searching for a different look to their offense. The losses of Matt Holliday, Brandon Moss and Jeremy Hazelbaker will surely have a big impact on the Cardinals home run total. Instead of replacing those players with fellow home run hitters, John Mozeliak decided to replace them with a different type of player. Guys who can get on base and wear pitchers down.
It seems to be a foregone conclusion that newly acquired center fielder Dexter Fowler will be the Cardinals new leadoff hitter. He is likely to be followed by Matt Carpenter and Aledmys Diaz. The order of those two hitters is yet to be determined. These three players leading off the game should be a very interesting trio. They are likely to be at or near the very top of the league in pitchers per plate appearance.
I looked at every National League teams projected first three hitters and calculated their average pitches per plate appearance in their last seasons worth of at bats. Here’s how the top ten shook out:
Mets – 12.44
Cardinals – 12.42
Cubs – 12.33
Padres – 12.18
Rockies – 12.08
Reds – 11.87
Pirates – 11.75
Phillies – 11.74
Giants – 11.73
Brewers – 11.72
As you can see, the Cardinals are right at the top. This means you could expect a pitcher to throw about 12 pitches on average just to complete a 1-2-3 first inning. 12 pitches may not sound like a lot. A pitcher could go very deep into a game if he averaged 12 pitches per inning. But this is just in a perfect first inning, which isn’t likely to happen very often.
OBP is key
The Cardinals top three hitters will come into the 2017 season with career OBP’s of .366, .376, and .369. If these were to hold up it would mean that at least one of them would reach base about 75.04% of the time. Assuming that Stephen Piscotty will be the cleanup hitter, we’re now looking at another 3.82 pitches per plate appearance. So now the pitcher is likely up to somewhere around 16.2 pitches on average, just to get through a clean first inning with one base runner allowed. Plus, we haven’t even mentioned Piscotty’s solid .348 career OBP, which could easily bring up another hitter. And we haven’t mentioned the chances of two of the first three hitters reaching base.
I think most pitchers out there will tell you that a stressful first inning can really come back to bite you later in the game. Sometimes it causes a pitcher to get tired earlier than normal. Sometimes it gets him pulled from the game an inning earlier. Either way, these extra first inning pitches should not be overlooked.
Everybody loves a spectacle. Watching a guy put everything he has into a swing and crushing a ball 450 feet is one of the greatest things to watch in baseball. However, if there aren’t many people on base for those home runs, they aren’t helping your team as much as you’d think. Working pitch counts and getting on base regularly, with the occasional home run mixed in is something that I believe will be the winning recipe for the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals.
Thanks for reading!
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