Twenty-three of the 46 Cardinals who came to the plate last night worked the count into their favor, and with good effect. Those 23 batters hit .526 (10/19) with two triples, a home run and an .895 slugging percentage. For the season, the team hits .326 (61/187) when ahead in the count with 14 of their 28 home runs and a .626 slugging percentage. Over the course of the season so far, though, Cardinal hitters have only managed to get into hitters counts 35% of the time. Last night their discipline and execution provided another evening of offensive highlights.
If you’ve been watching Jedd Gyorko’s at bats so far in his initial season in St Louis, how would you classify him as a hitter? Yesterday he hit two first-pitch fastballs, collecting a single and a ground out. In his three other at bats, though, he took pitches – including fastballs for strikes – as he waited for the pitcher to fall behind in the count so he could pounce on the expected fastball. The results: a triple on a 3-2 pitch (in an at bat that began 3-0 before Jedd took two fastball strikes); a home run on a 2-0 fastball; and a fly-out on a 3-1 pitch. These at bats suggest someone who is more of a cripple hitter (and who is patient enough to get himself into favorable counts).
His first 41 plate appearances in a Cardinal uniform seem to suggest the same thing. To this point, Jedd has hit behind in the count in just eight of those plate appearances (19.5%), while he has worked the count into his favor an impressive 46% of the time (19 of the 41). Once ahead, Jedd is hitting .375 (6 for 16) good for 17 total bases, as those hits include 3 homers and a triple. His early season slugging percentage when ahead in the count is an acceptable 1.063. This is an approach that looks like it will work for him. By demonstrating that he is more than willing to jump on the first fastball he likes, pitchers – wary of his considerable pop – are less likely to throw him that first pitch fastball. This gives them every opportunity to fall behind with their breaking pitches.
Behind in the count isn’t usually a comfortable place for a hitter to be. So far this year, the Cardinals are hitting .211 when behind in the count. This is more-or-less consistent with the rest of the league. Being able to hit behind in the count is generally a mark of a disciplined and (usually) veteran hitter. It also suggests someone comfortable hitting breaking pitches (which you are more likely to see when behind in the count).
Yadi Molina, of to a great start this year, has the team’s second highest batting average when behind in the count, hitting .409 (9/22) in those at bats. The top average on the team in this category, though, belongs to Aledmys Diaz. In his only plate appearance last night in which he fell behind in the count, he jumped an 0-1 curve ball and drilled it way over the left field wall. Diaz is now 5-for-10 (.500) when backed up in the count. Aledmys, who worked the count into his favor the rest of his three-hit night, combines a very quick, aggressive swing with surprisingly good control. He is also seeing the breaking pitch very well right now.
In the third inning last night, Randal Grichuck chased a Colin Rea fastball in off the plate, fouling it off to put him behind in the count 1-2. Grichuck then fouled out to the catcher on the next pitch (a curveball). Randal is now 0-for-17 (with 10 strikeouts) when batting behind in the count. If he can stay even in the count – as he did when he doubled on an 0-0 pitch in the eighth, he becomes a .280 hitter with a .480 slugging percentage. Ahead in the count (as he was the rest of the night, going 2-for-3), Randal hits .462 (6/13) with 2 home runs, 6 runs batted in, and a 1.000 slugging percentage. To this point of the season, Randal hasn’t been able to recover when he misses that pitch early in the at bat.
Unlike Gyorko and Diaz, Stephen Piscotty has had difficulty seeing and laying off the breaking ball early in the count. When he ended the second by rolling a 1-0 pitch to first, it was the only one of his five at bats that he actually worked the count into his favor. So far this season, Piscotty is a .400 hitter when ahead in the count, but has managed to put himself in that position just ten times in his first 76 plate appearances.
Among the bullpen appearances, Seung-hwan Oh’s deserves recognition. Previous to last night, Oh had faced 38 batters, pitching behind 16 of them (42%). Even thought these batters had worked the count into their favor, they have only 2 hits in 9 at bats to show for their efforts, as Oh has been tough to square up on, even behind in the count. But he has also walked 6 of the 16, setting up more drama than necessary. But not last night. In his spotless sixth inning, he got a flyout on a 1-2 pitch, a strikeout on a 2-2 pitch and another flyout on a 1-2 pitch. When even in the count, opposing batters are only 1-for-12 against Oh (.083), and when they bat from behind against him, they are 0-for-13.
With three home runs on Saturday and two more yesterday, the St Louis Cardinals have produced 28 home runs in 635 at bats over 18 games. In 2015, their 28th home run flew off the bat of Matt Carpenter as he turned on a 2-2 pitch from David Price that tied the Cardinals’ May 16th game against Detroit at 1-run each in the bottom of the first inning of team game number 36 (exactly twice as many games as it has taken this year). Carpenter’s swing would conclude the team’s 1216th at bat.