The season’s statistical half-way point has come and gone, and we have not yet done a position wars post. This concept simply compares how the team does depending on who is starting at which position.
Catcher, of course, for more than a decade in St Louis has belonged to Yadier Molina – who will likely tie Ted Simmons for fifteenth on the all-time games played list at this position tonight. More than just a tradition, Molina is also having one of his best seasons.
That being said, St Louis (43-41 overall) is only 28-26 in Yadi’s starts so far this year, with a 3.90 team ERA. Interestingly, Molina missed 26 games earlier with a medical issue – an absence that allowed a regular opportunity to some of the team’s other catchers. The team was 13-13 in his absence. Of the other catchers, Francisco Pena got the lion’s share of the starts, leading the Cards to a 9-8 record in his 17 starts.
For the season, so far, St Louis is 11-10 when Francisco starts. The pitching staff also has enjoyed its most productive stretch with Pena behind the plate. The starters have contributed 14 quality starts in Francisco’s 21 starts (they have only 21 in Yadi’s 54 starts) with a 3.20 team ERA.
To suggest from this that the team is better off without Molina would be a reckless reading of the data. I do think, though, that this suggests that Pena is a more than capable backup who does a more than respectable job at handling the pitching staff.
Oh, and the team scores 4.48 runs per game when Yadi starts, against only 3.83 runs per game when Pena starts.
The off-season plan was to establish Jose Martinez at first base in an effort to keep his bat in the lineup. And this they have mostly done – despite several defensive hiccups. With the season 84 games gone, Martinez has started 72 of them at first base. The only other Cardinal in double figures at first is Matt Carpenter – who started his tenth game of the season at first last night. The numbers – to this point – tilt toward Martinez. St Louis is 37-35 when Jose starts at first, and just 5-5 with Matt. The scoring is up with Jose’s bat in the lineup (4.38 pg – 3.58). Surprisingly, the team ERA is also noticeably better with Martinez at first (3.67) than without him (4.12).
Kolten Wong’s continued batting struggles have made second base a much more fluid situation than planned going into the season. Wong has only been able to keep himself in the lineup for 55 of the first 84 games. His ragged season has opened the door for Jedd Gyorko (13 starts) and Carpenter (11).
The half-season numbers mostly support Kolten’s continued presence in the lineup. The team’s record with him at second is 29-26. They are 6-5 with Carpenter and 5-8 with Gyorko. Surprisingly, the offense performs better with Wong at second. The Cards average 4.40 runs in his games. They score 3.85 runs per game when Gyorko starts at second and 3.82 when Carpenter starts there.
Also, surprisingly, the team ERA (3.27) is better when Carpenter plays second. The team ERA is 3.53 when Wong starts, and 4.94 with Gyorko.
In the injury-plagued first-half, perhaps one of the most significant losses was to starting shortstop Paul DeJong. After a break-out rookie season, DeJong was the reason that St Louis moved Aledmys Diaz. Up until the pitch that broke his wrist, DeJong’s second season was going well enough. If his average was an uninspiring .260, he had hit 8 home runs in his first 150 at bats, and managed an .824 OPS.
At the time, the fact that the Cards were 22-17 in the games that DeJong had started didn’t seem all that compelling – but in his absence the team has certainly struggled. Last night’s game was the forty-fifth the Cards have played this season with someone else at short. They are now 21-24 without DeJong. Offensive production hasn’t been radically different. St Louis scored 4.31 runs per game when DeJong started, and are still averaging 4.22 without him. The surprising difference has been defensive. In Paul’s 39 starts, the team allowed just 3.53 earned runs per nine innings. The team ERA is 3.92 without him.
In DeJong’s absence, Yairo Munoz has gotten the lion’s share of the starts – 30 of them. St Louis has responded with a 14-16 record. Less flashy is Greg Garcia, but he has managed 11 starts this season at short. The team is 6-5 in those games. They have averaged only 3.55 runs per game when he starts, but the team ERA with Garcia at short is an impressive 2.51.
The Cards are about one game away from getting DeJong back, but Garcia is making a strong case to be the primary backup at this position.
While it’s anyone’s guess where on the diamond Matt Carpenter will appear, he has mostly started (55 games) at third base. When he moves around, that position is usually manned by Gyorko (24 games). With neither having the kind of season that they are used to having, the numbers don’t show a lot of difference between the two. When Matt starts at third, St Louis is 28-27, scoring 4.44 runs per game against a 3.97 team ERA. The record with Jedd is 12-12, with the team scoring 4.00 runs per game and a maintaining 3.41 ERA.
There really isn’t room for any discussion at this position. Marcell Ozuna has started here for 78 of the 84 games so far this season. For the record, in the six games started by other players, St Louis is 4-2 (they are 39-39 with Ozuna out there), and the ERA is better without Ozuna (2.83 v 3.80). And, yes, the offense picks up, too (5.17 runs per game v 4.19).
Remember, though, it’s only 6 games.
Tommy Pham has almost been as automatic in center field as Ozuna has been in left. Last night was Tommy’s seventy-second start in center. Harrison Bader, though, has gotten his name in the lineup here for 11 games. Considering the difference in opportunity, the results are fairly similar. The Cards are 37-35 with Pham in center, and 6-5 with Bader. The offensive advantage goes to Pham, 4.38 runs per game to just 3.82. Interestingly, the team ERA is only 3.12 with Harrison in center. In Tommy’s starts, the team ERA is 3.81.
As the season cruises into its second half, right field is drawing increasing attention. As with Wong, Dexter Fowler’s worst season ever has him trying to fend off the challenge from Bader. Since the perception has been that Harrison has been a significant upgrade both offensively and defensively over the struggling Fowler, it’s a little surprising to note how much better this team has played with Dexter in right than with Harrison.
St Louis is 32-23 when Dexter starts in right (a .581 winning percentage that is better than any other Cardinal in any other position). They are 8-16 when Bader starts. In spite of Dexter’s offensive inconsistencies, the Cards are scoring 4.35 runs per game with Fowler in right, and only 3.88 when Bader starts. And, in spite of Harrison’s highlight-reel defensive play, the team ERA is actually lower when Dexter starts 3.50 – 4.42.
A better second half from Fowler is one of the principle beliefs that the Cards are pinning their second half hopes on. His entire career strongly suggests that he is better than he’s shown.
About Last Night
In going down 4-2 (box score) the Cards have now dropped 5 of their last 6. They have scored, now, just 19 runs in those 6 games (3.17 per) with a .217/283/.323 team batting line. They are coming off a 12-15 May during which they hit .239 and scored 4.00 runs per game.
A couple games ago, Tommy Pham broke his 0-for34 streak. To this point, it has yet to turn his season around. He was hitless again last night in 4 at bats. Over the last 6 games, Pham is hitting just .150 (3 for 20) – although the quality of his at bats have gotten better. He has drawn 5 walks in the last 6 games – leading to a .320 on base percentage.
Pham is coming off a miserable May that saw him get 102 plate appearances over 26 games. His totals for those plate appearances were just 16 singles, 3 home runs, 5 runs batted in, 6 walks, 25 strikeouts and 3 double plays. Tommy’s batting line for the month just ended was .198/.245/.292. He has gone 34 games without a double.
One of the bright spots in May, Marcell Ozuna is one of the bats that have faded of late. During the struggles of the last six games, Ozuna has been to the plate 23 times. Those results have been 3 singles, no runs batted in and 9 strikeouts – a batting line of .130/.130/.130.
Marcell has gone 7 games without a run batted in, and 16 games without a home run.
One of the features of the recent losing skid has been shaky starting pitching. Over the last 6 games, the starters have managed just 32.1 innings, during which they have served up 6 home runs and a .282/.343/.496 batting line. One mis-located slider thrown to Paul Goldschmidt turned Jack Flaherty’s potential quality start into another loss. Jack has started 2 of the last 6 games. He has thrown a combined 10 innings in the two games, serving up 3 home runs and 8 runs. Over his last 7 starts, Jack has lost 3 of 4 decisions, with a 3.99 ERA.
Although Austin Gomber almost cost him a run, Sam Tuivailala worked through a scoreless 1.1 innings last night. Encouraging to see him keep teams off the scoreboard. Sam has had a few rough outings lately, but his ERA is still 3.16 for the season, and 2.91 over his last 21.2 innings.