Of course, the 1-0 fastball is not assured. 1-0 is still early enough in the count that most pitchers aren’t afraid to come back with a breaking pitch. That being said, if you’re a pitcher who has a mid-nineties fast ball and you’re behind in the count 1-0, you’re probably a little more likely to come back with that fastball. If you opt for the curve or the change, then it’s possible that you might try to be a little too perfect with it, trying not to go behind 2-0.
Whatever the approach, the 1-0 pitch is one of those that major league hitters generally look forward to. Across all of baseball (numbers found in baseball reference), batters are hitting .352/.357/.641/.998 on that 1-0 pitch.
Would it surprise you to learn that of all major league teams, your St Louis Cardinals have baseball’s worst OPS on this particular pitch? If you’ve been watching this team, I suspect that this wouldn’t surprise you at all. At .731, they are more than 200 points below the league average on this count, and 30 points behind the next-worst team (Arizona at .761). They are also last in slugging percentage (.434) on that pitch. Anytime a hitter is ahead in the count, the major league average slugging percentage sits at .508. Cardinals ahead in the count slug .426 (fourth worst in the majors).
What does this mean? Let me answer that with two pitches from last night’s game.
Leading off in the first inning, Kolten Wong took the first pitch of the game for a ball. Kansas City starter Carlos Hernandez came back with the 1-0 fastball, up a little and over the outside part of the strike zone. Wong took it the other way, but didn’t really drive it, hitting a looping little fly to left.
Now, it’s the eighth inning. Paul DeJong is up with two outs. This time the count is 2-1, but the concept is the same. A fastball count, and looking – one might assume – for something to drive. Jesse Hahn – now on the mound for the Royals – gives Paul the fastball at about 94 mph on the upper, outside corner of the zone. DeJong also goes the other way, but with no authority, his lazy fly ball to right closing out the inning.
It’s a trend you almost can’t help but notice. As a team, these guys can turn reasonably well on the inside fastball. But that outside fastball – especially in a fastball count – has been repeatedly frustrating.
Addressing the media after last night’s 4-1 loss (boxscore), manager Mike Shildt talked about the offense and it’s missing “slug.” As of this morning, St Louis’ season-long slugging percentage sits at .374, the fourth worst in baseball. Only Pittsburgh’s 46 home runs are fewer than St Louis’ 48.
As far as approach goes, there’s nothing wrong with the opposite field strategy. Baseball’s elite sluggers can effectively pull the outside fastball, but even they will – more often than not – take it the other way – and to good effect.
Across all of baseball, batters hitting the ball to the opposite field are slashing .318/.314/.501/.815. When the Cardinals hit the ball the other way, they slash .253/.243/.398/.640. They have 4 opposite field home runs all year.
I hope you are understanding that I don’t present this as “the answer.” The season-long hitting issues that have plagued this team are a complex question involving a lot of moving parts.
But if you’re wondering where the “slug” has gone, this is one place that it is definitely missing.
After finishing with just 6 hits last night, the Cardinal team batting average sinks to .229 for the month of September.
Yadier Molina was the only Cardinal with multiple hits last night – he had 2. Things may be starting to turn a bit for Yadi, who has two hits in two of his last 4 games – a span in which he is 5 for 13 (.385) with a home run.
Yadi got his hits in spite of being behind in the count both times. As the most aggressive swinger on the team, Yadi as almost always behind in the count (as he was in 3 of his 4 at bats last night). For the season, Molina ends an at bat behind In the count 40.3% of the time – the highest of any Cardinal regular.
Kolten Wong has recently been playing through a muscle issue in his side. How much that injury is affecting his game is difficult to divine with any accuracy, but his production at the plate has fallen off. He is 1 for 12 (.083) over his last 4 games.
Hitless in 4 at bats last night, Paul DeJong is now riding an 0-for-11 streak, part of a larger .077 streak (2 for 26) over his last 8 games. Both hits were singles. Back in the second inning of the September 11 game against Cincinnati, DeJong lined a double against Luis Castillo. That was his last extra-base hit – 44 at bats ago.
Paul is now at .215 for the month (17 for 79). He has 2 extra-base hits this month, that double and a home run (off the Cubs Colin Rea), that was 64 at bats ago.
Paul made his thirtieth consecutive start at shortstop last night – thirty games that have accrued over the last 26 days. When you see a guy whose bat is starting to look slow, and you notice that he plays every day, it’s hard not to wonder if fatigue is part of the issue.
The struggles continued for left-fielder Tyler O’Neill. Hitless in 2 at bats before being lifted for a pinch-hitter, Tyler is hitting .135 (5 for 37) over his last 15 games. He is down to .197 (13 for 66) for the month.
Recently returned to the big-league scene, top prospect Dylan Carlson has had some encouraging moments. But mostly, the struggles have continued. Dylan was 0-for-3 last night, and is 1-for-10 over the last 3 games (with 5 strikeouts). He is 3 for 14 (.214) since his recall, and 3 for 20 (.150) this month.
Last night’s contest did feature another excellent performance from Tyler Webb, who came in with the bases loaded and extinguished that threat in the sixth. He then added a perfect seventh.
Over his last 12 games (13 innings) Tyler has surrendered 1 run on only 11 hits (10 singles and 1 double), while walking 3 and striking out 12. He has an 0.69 ERA over those games, with a .229/.269/.250 batting line against. His ERA for September is down to 0.84 (10.2 innings). He has stranded all of the last 9 runners he has inherited.
During his outing, Webb struck out Bubba Starling on an 0-2 pitch, and then retired Nicky Lopez on an 0-1 pitch. Tyler may not seem imposing on the mound, but he is nasty to deal with if you fall behind in the count. Twenty-four batters have now hit against him from behind. They have two singles to show for their efforts.
Erstwhile closer Giovanny Gallegos came off the injured list and got roughed up for a run in his two-thirds of an inning. It’s been a tough September for Gallegos, who has allowed, now, 6 runs in 4 innings. The 23 batters he’s faced in September are celebrating to a .316/.435/.526 batting line.
Even though he’s been away for awhile, true to form, Giovanny did not pitch from behind. Only one of the five batters he faced worked his way ahead in the count (Maikel Franco managed a 7-pitch walk). For the season, Gallegos has faced 47 batters. Only 9 have hit ahead in the count against him.
Seth Elledge came in to retire the last batter. Seth is up to 6.2 innings this month, with a 1.35 ERA. Batters only have 4 hits against Seth, and are hitting .182 against him this month.
With another opening game loss, the Cards have lost the first game of four straight series, six of the last seven, and eight of the last ten.
My Designated Hitter Rant
As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably). If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH. Here is the link. If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.