It’s great to see the Cardinals in first place, and beating division rivals like the Brewers. Last night’s win was made even more exciting by the fact that the team nearly ended up with a no-hitter thanks to a strong start by Dakota Hudson.
There is some cause for concern though.
When it comes to baseball lineups, traditionally, the job of the top two hitters of the order is to get on base. Sure a lot of teams have had speedsters up there to create chaos on the base paths (the Cardinals being one of those teams, with guys like Lou Brock and Vince Coleman) but the main job of those guys has always been to get on base to set up opportunities for the guys behind them to drive them in.
This season, the Cardinals’ combined OBP from the top two spots in the lineup is .308, 27th in the majors. Correct me if I’m wrong, but in order to make a deep playoff run (or even get to the playoffs) you need to score runs, and in order to do that, you need guys on base to be driven in.
One issue, of course, has been Matt Carpenter. In the past, he’s been the king of OBP for our team, and has often batted in either the #1 or #2 spot despite his lack of speed. He does, in fact, have an OBP over 100 points higher than his batting average this year, but that OBP is only .321 due to a .213 average. Last year he hit .257 and had a .374 OBP. Carp has been injured part of the year, though, so maybe that affected his production. All I know is, he’s not the same guy OBP wise.
If not Carp near the top, then who?
Well looking at last night’s box score, I see that Dexter Fowler led off. Fowler is similar to Carp in the sense that he often has an OBP around 100 points higher than his batting average. Both guys have good eyes. This year Fowler is hitting .249 with a .346 OBP, which isn’t the worst OBP I’ve seen from a leadoff spot. The #2 hitter Tommy Edman only has a .302 OBP, though, even with a solid .271 average. That implies he’s a bit of a hacker, not exactly somebody you want in the 2 hole.
To me, the answer lies down near the bottom of the order with a fellow named Kolten Wong. He was hitting 8th last night. He has a solid .360 OBP to go with a decent .277 average. He can also run, having 16 SB while only being caught twice. Wong in fact leads our team in WAR according to baseball reference, with 3.5. Having your best player at or near the top of the lineup makes sense to me.
With Wong and Fowler up there, suddenly you have two guys with .345 or better OBP up there to be driven in by the likes of Paul Goldschmidt, Marcell Ozuna and and Paul DeJong. Makes sense to me. If Carpenter rebounds and starts playing like his old self, you can swap him in for Fowler. Right now though, it seems like Wong is our best choice to hit leadoff.
Just some food for thought.
As always, thanks for reading.