In an offseason headlined by the Paul Goldschmidt acquisition, the hiring of a hitting coach usually doesn’t get much fanfare. However, the Cardinals made a serious impact move by bringing on Jeff Albert to fill the position. The writers around the team recognized the potential importance of the move, writing numerous stories on the newest coach. I won’t re-hash that, here.
I’m interested in checking in on the results. With 38 games played and a few up-and-down stretches behind them, the sampling is solid enough for a progress report.
One of the major aspects that Jeff Albert was expected to help with was 2-strike approach and strikeouts, in general.
Last season, overall, the Cardinals non-pitchers were generally a middle-of-the-pack NL team in most 2-strike statistics, the result of two extremes. Under Mike Matheny and John Mabry, the team was bottom-5 in most numbers. Under Shildt and Budaska/Greer, they were a top-5 NL team in most statistics.
With Jeff Albert, the team has continued to improve in this regard. This season, with 2 strikes, this is where the Cardinals non-pitchers rank in the NL:
The Atlanta Braves are the Cardinals chief competition in this regard, as they are the only team to best them in wOBA, OPS, AVG, and Line Drive % — while following closely behind them in other categories.
In terms of overall strikeouts, the Cardinals’ 21.0% K% for non-pitchers ranks 3rd in the NL.
What really stands out…
In addition to just being successful overall, is that they are pounding the ball with 2 strikes, posting the Hard-Hit% of 45.9%. I find this to be very impressive because it shows the team is still hitting the ball with authority in 2-strike counts, rather than just selling out for contact.
Consider the Top-5 teams in terms of 2-strike wRC+ and the significant difference in their Hard-Hit%:
Unsurprisingly, all 5 of these teams also rank in the Top-6 for lowest K% with 2-strikes. However, we can see that other teams are avoiding strikeouts by sacrificing batted ball authority. Other than the Dodgers, the other top teams are living on Medium-Hit balls for 2-strike success. In all of baseball, only the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Astros (Jeff Albert’s for employer) have a 2-strike Hard-Hit% >40% while also having a 2-strike K% <40%. Unlike the other top teams, they have been able to avoid strikeouts while still pursuing hard contact.
Consider the alternative scenario with the San Diego Padres. The Padres rank 2nd in 2-strike Hard-Hit% at 41.9%. However, they also have the 3rd worst 2-strike K% at 44.6%. They are taking the trade-off of more strikeouts for more damage. The Cardinals are pulling of the balancing act of more damage without more strikeouts.
If you read up on Jeff Albert’s resume heading into the year, these are the exact results the team was hoping for.
And here’s a little more…
Remember the first 5 games of the season? When the Cardinals were completely awful and struck out 64 times? Through those first 5 contests, the Cardinals had a K% of 30.8%. When they reached a 2-strike count, they struck out 50% of the time. These were both league worst marks through April 1st.
So, I was curious what some of the numbers have looked like since the Cardinals put those first 5 games — clearly outliers — behind them.
Since April 2nd, the Cardinals non-pitchers have struck out just 19.4% of the time (best in the NL) and only 36.4% of the time after reaching 2 strikes (2nd best in NL). Only the Angels and Astros have a lower K% during that time.
Speaking of the Astros, in terms of overall offense (wRC+) with 2 strikes, they are the only team in baseball that has been better than the Cardinals.
It would seem that Jeff Albert has successfully incorporated the approach in St. Louis that has worked so well in Houston over the last few years.
Time will tell if the team can maintain it, but the early indications are good.
Thanks for reading!
Featured Image Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports