Aledmys Diaz (Joe Nicholson / USA TODAY Sports Images)

St. Louis Cardinals hitters received the fewest intentional walks in the National League in 2016 and are below league average since 2011.

St. Louis Cardinals hitters received the fewest intentional walks in the National League in 2016 and are below league average since Albert Pujols departed.

In the process of preparing my recent blog post entitled, “What is Really Behind the Move to Shorten MLB Games,” I needed to select an appropriate image to accompany the article.

Though the article was not about the details of the variety of game-shortening ideas being considered by Commissioner Rob Manfred, I wanted to choose a photo that related to the general subject. I thought about a pitch clock or showing a baserunner on second base, but ultimately decided to depict an intentional walk.

You know, when the catcher stands up and signals with his outside hand for the pitcher to groove four straight wide offerings so the runner can take first – and the battery can work to the next batter instead.

Since this is St. Louis-focused site, after all, I wanted to choose an intentional pass photo that included a Cardinal player. As it turns out, the entire photo library of USA TODAY Sports Images has just two images of St. Louis batters and none of catcher Yadier Molina calling one. They are both in the historic section.

Both photos are of long-departed slugger Albert Pujols. I knew from watching games regularly - and even before looking at the data - that there is a reason there are no recent photos of Cardinals hitters taking intentional walks.

Since Pujols left St. Louis, they aren’t occurring very often. In fact, the Cards were dead last in the National League in intentional free passes in 2016. More details on that in a moment.

Stepping back for a second, there are two primary reasons for an opponent to issue an intentional base on balls.

One reason is to get past the number eight hitter to face the pitcher, or perhaps to force a pitching change, almost always done with runners on base. This is a National League phenomenon, of course. That is why the data presented here is NL-only. Another point to remember is that this particular element should remain relatively constant from year to year.

The other key reason for an intentional free pass is to avoid a star hitter, one whose prowess is so great that he could turn around the outcome of a close game with a single swing of his bat. I have long contended that the Cardinals have lacked such a threat since Pujols agreed to accept Angels’ owner Arte Moreno’s millions for the subsequent 20 years, starting in December 2011.

The data backs that assertion.

Intentional walks Year StL IBB NL average StL NL rank
received 2016 28 39 15 of 15
  2015 47 37 2 of 15
  2014 28 34 12 of 15
  2013 38 38 8 of 15
  2012 45 40 5 of 15
Average 2012-16 37 38  
         
Pujols' last year 2011 64 47 1 of 15
  2010 78 47 1 of 15
  2009 73 48 2 of 15
  2008 63 49 3 of 15
Edmonds/Rolen done 2007 47 49 8 of 15
  2006 70 55 2 of 15
  2005 60 48 3 of 15
  2004 64 54 2 of 15
  2003 68 49 2 of 15
Rolen added mid-year 2002 77 60 3 of 15
Pujols' rookie year 2001 51 54 8 of 15
Average 2001-11 65 51  

Not only did the Cardinals hitters receive the fewest intentional walks in the NL last season, St. Louis is below the NL average over the post-Pujols years.

It hasn’t always been that way, though.  

For the decade following Pujols’ rookie year and the arrival of Scott Rolen, stretching all the way through the MV3 years to Albert’s triumphant St. Louis swan song in 2011, the Cardinals ranked in the top three in the league in intentional bases on balls in nine of those 10 seasons. In doing so, they averaged 14 more than the average NL squad.

As a team, the Cards averaged 65 intentional walks per season during the Pujols years, but just 37 on the average since.

In 2016, Bryce Harper topped the NL with 20, while St. Louis’ co-leaders with just six each were Matt Carpenter and Aledmys Diaz – perhaps not coincidentally the Cardinals’ only All-Stars. Greg Garcia, who batted eighth most often when he played, was next with four.

Among last season’s top Cardinals hitters with zero intentional bases on balls were Randal GrichukJhonny Peralta and Stephen Piscotty. Four other frontliners had just one IBB each all year long – Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, Jedd Gyorko and Matt Adams.

Obviously, intentional walks alone will not make or break a team’s offensive season, but for me, it seems a telling indicator of where the Cardinals offense has been in recent years. There has been no fearsome hitter in the lineup.

I see no reason why these results should change in 2017.

 

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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