Anybody been paying attention to the Minnesota Twins lately? Would you be surprised to learn they currently lead the Major Leagues in runs scored per game? It’s true, Fangraphs told me so, and they explained why that might be. So what are they doing right? I’ll end the suspense: they’re selective at the plate to the point of absurdity, nibbling at only 40 percent of the pitches they face.
Ah, you may say, so our Favored Nine merely needs to be more selective at the plate and less hacktastic, and runs will rain down on us like a typical mid-April storm. Except that’s not the problem. The Cardinals have struck out on a percentage basis fewer times than any other club save Colorado and are seventh in percentage of plate appearances turned into walks. In a year where strikeouts are way up across the board, this actually is encouraging. They could use more walks, but every team could, it’s like your doctor saying you should work out more and eat your vegetables, walks keep an offense healthy.
Then it must be those two-out base hits with runners in scoring position we keep hearing about. Maybe. Maybe not. The Cardinals’ batting average on balls in play (BABIP) as of Saturday afternoon’s futile performance is just 10th in the National League (.290), so they are hitting in some bad luck, it seems. Like April showers begetting May flowers, bad luck in April turns into good luck in May. That’s the plan. And why, like the title of this piece, the evidence shows there’s a good chance the offense is going to get better.
St. Louis has the highest line drive rate in all of the National League. Guess who their line drive rate is tied with? The Untuckers. But in contrast to the Cardinals, they have a .309 BABIP, good for sixth. Even the Cubs, the Cubs, for crying out loud, have a better BABIP than our Favored Nine.
Okay, Walter Cronkite, but I’ve been watching the games, and there have been a lot of ground balls for outs. And it’s a lot easier for four infielders to cover less ground than three outfielders to cover more ground. So the Cardinals having a lower BABIP isn’t news to me.
It’s true that the Cardinals aren’t hacking away too much: Cardinals’ batters are making contact with 82.8 percent of the swings they make, which leads the National League. The problem is too much of that contact is on the ground. The more fly balls you hit, the better the offense you have; its the opposite side of the coin for pitchers, that the more ground balls you induce, the better off you’ll be. Guess who has the highest ground ball to fly ball batted ratio in the league? Colorado, followed right behind by our Cardinals.
Moreover, troubling is the complete lack of power — only 6.7 percent of fly balls have been turned into home runs, the worst in the National League. And so this is where we nail down the problem: they’re not hitting enough fly balls, and the fly balls they do hit aren’t going out enough.
Maybe as the weather warms some of those fly balls will fly out? You’d hope.
Think back a bit. We’re seen this movie before. Last April, the Cardinals were off to a slow start offensively: they were 10th in the NL in average (.248) and 13th in slugging (.369), 14th in Weighted On-Base Average (.300) and 11th in wRC+ (89). But in May? That’s when the offense exploded, most notably with a league-best wRC+ and a second-best team wOBA in that month.
So like this post’s title says, it’s going to get better. We just need to throw April out in the trash.