A Quirky Look at the Cardinals’ Offense

When the season was over, the St. Louis Cardinals ranked at or almost at the bottom of many offensive categories.  While there are various reasons for that, from COVID to the significant change in hitting philosophy over the last couple of years, one thing that has been mentioned in passing is the fact that the Cardinal offense took the field for a lot fewer innings than anyone else.  They and the Tigers were short two games from the full set of 60, of course, and there were so many seven-inning doubleheaders on their schedule this year.  That wasn’t going to be a major reason, of course, but would it have at least a little to do with things?

While you can figure out how many innings a team pitched, it’s a little harder to find out how many innings a team hit in.  There’s probably a place to find such things, but if you’ve been around long you know I’m one that 1) can’t find them and 2) will do the grunt work of going through box scores and the like.  So I used Baseball Reference and looked at the schedule and results for each team.  I recorded the number of runs scored and the number of innings they hit in.  That meant including extra innings but also if a team didn’t hit in the bottom of the ninth (or the seventh, in the case of the doubleheaders).  After that, it’s simple math to get a runs per inning rate.  If you want to look at all the data, the spreadsheet is here.  I’m going to pick a few things out and talk about them, but feel free to poke around over there.

First off, there truly was an innings gap and it was a bit larger than I thought.  The Cardinals hit in 478 innings, by far the lowest in baseball.  The Tigers (understandably, since they lost two games as well) and the Phillies were next with 498.  Every other team was over 500, led by the Indians at 535.  The average innings played not counting the Cardinals was 518, so they wound up 40 innings shy of that mark.  That’s around 8% of what they actually compiled this season.

Did it make a difference?  Well, maybe a little, but it’s not like those missing innings would have turned the Cardinals into a juggernaut.  Let’s compare the standings in total runs versus our runs per inning calculation.

Team Runs Rank R/I Rank
LAD 1 2
Atl 2 1
SD 3 3
NYY 4 4
CWS 5 6
Phl 6 5
Tor 7 8
SF 8 9
LAA 9 10
Was 10 7
Bos 11 13
TB 12 11
NYM 13 12
Hou 14 15
Col 15 19
Bal 16 17
Oak 17 14
AZ 18 21
Min 19 16
ChC 20 20
Mia 21 18
Sea 22 24
Det 23 23
Cle 24 28
KC 25 26
Mil 26 27
Cin 27 25
SL 28 22
TX 29 29
Pit 30 30

Moving up six spots isn’t nothing, of course, but they are still in the bottom third in baseball.

While the lack of innings might have made an impact in the runs category, I took two other categories and gave them the per inning treatment.  Home runs, for obvious reasons, and doubles, because my Meet Me at Musial co-host Allen Medlock is a fan of what doubles mean to an offense.  So how did that shake out?  Not great.

The Cardinals were last in both counting categories.  When you took their doubles and looked at it as a rate state, they moved up to 27th, which really makes sense when you look at the raw numbers.  The Cards had 73 doubles and the Tigers, who were in 27th, had 78.  It’s believable that the lack of innings might have kept them from escaping the cellar when the numbers are that close together.  Whether you are 27th or last, it’s not a good sign for your offense.

Home runs were even worse.  Even when adjusting for innings, the Cardinals came in dead last, posting .1067 home runs per inning.  The Indians were the next lowest at .1103.  Even if the Cardinals had had a few more opportunities, it’s unlikely the power would have made a difference.

While I had this data, I thought I’d do a few more things with it.  For instance, the Braves led baseball in times they scored seven or more runs with 24.  The Cardinals did that 11 times, which tied them for 24th with the Rays, Brewers, Royals, and Indians.  (The Reds, Rangers, and Pirates trailed them–you can see that both Centrals had a lot of issues.)  On the flip side, the Brewers and Indians scored two runs or less 25 times each.  For all the Cardinals’ offensive woes, they only did that 18 times, which tied them for 12th with five other teams.

If you are looking for an offense that was boom or bust, check out the Braves.  They boomed a lot, for sure, and they averaged 0.6718 runs per inning.  However, they were also one of the teams that scored two or less 18 times.  In fact, if you are looking for the mode in their run totals, there were two of them.  One was 10+ (I grouped all those together).  The other was 2.  Here’s what their run distribution chart looked like.  (Click on the chart to make it bigger, then click your back arrow to return.)

In comparison, here’s what St. Louis’s looked like:

Along with how often they scored runs, I also charted out the pattern of a team’s runs to see if there were many teams that seemed to go from an explosion to a shutout like it felt the Cardinals did.  Putting all the teams on one graph resulted in, well, a mess.

I guess it’d be great if you could isolate a team and compare them, but that’s beyond my capabilities.  If you want to look at every team’s graph, click on that link above and check them out.  I’d have liked to compare all of them to the Cardinals but it would get pretty unwieldy pretty quickly.  So let’s just look at a couple.  For a baseline, here’s St. Louis’s:

Only a couple of times this year did the Cardinals score the same amount of runs in one game as another and there are a good number of ups and downs.  While I was compiling things, Cleveland stuck out as a team that was putting up some numbers similar to St. Louis, so let’s look at them.

Cleveland hit higher highs, including that game against the Cardinals that we would just soon forget, but had some of the same ups and downs.  Now let’s look at the World Champions, see what they looked like.

Obviously everything is shifted up a bit here.  There still some instability, including two drops from 10 runs to about two the next day.  We know those feels, don’t we?

But if you are looking for consistency, you might not find a better option than the A’s.  Eighteen times they scored three runs, with another eight plus or miss a run.  Here’s their distribution, the most focused one in the game.

Again, if you want to see some more graphs like this, there are plenty in the spreadsheet.  I’ll wrap this post up with a few other assorted tidbits I found.

  • The Dodgers were the only team not to be shut out this season.  They only had two games where they scored less than two runs.
  • The Rangers were the only team not to score 10 runs in any game this season.  They scored nine in one game and eight in the season finale.
  • Most teams had at least one game in every one of my buckets.  Those that didn’t, besides the two mentioned above: Cardinals (never scored eight), Nationals (seven), Diamondbacks (eight), Orioles (eight), Twins (nine), Tigers (nine).
  • The Padres scored six runs more than any other score, which was the highest single mode for any team.
  • The Pirates, Mets, Phillies, and Blue Jays all lost a game where they scored 10 or more runs.
  • The Brewers were 3-22 when scoring two runs or fewer.
  • The Rangers ended the season by scoring more runs than they had in the previous game for the last five games (3,4,5,6,8 after a shutout).

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NL Central Standings

TeamWLPct.GB
Cubs3426.567 -
Cardinals3028.5173.0
Reds3129.5173.0
Brewers2931.4835.0
Pirates1941.31715.0

Last updated: 09/28/2020

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