On the matter of Cards' hitting against lefties

Brian Walton looks at how the Cardinals have been doing against lefthanded pitching and considers what is needed to improve results.

Some members of the Cardinal Nation are up in arms about the team's performance this season against those pitchers who hurl from the port side. Others brush it off and see no issue at all. It's time to look at some of the facts to see what they can tell us.

Let's start with the big picture, the team.

In both 2003 and 2004, the Cardinals were slightly stronger against lefties than righties, both in terms of team record and batting average.

In 2003, their winning percentage was .528 against lefties (19-17) and .524 (66-60) against righties. In 2004, they registered a .667 mark in games with lefty opposition starters (26-13) and won at a .642 clip when righty starters appeared (79-44).

This year, the difference is substantially greater. The Cardinals' mark facing lefty starters is .519 (14-13) while they are winning at a .690 clip against righties (38-17).

What caused the substantial dip in won-loss record against left-handers this season? First of all, it looks to me like 2004 was a positive anomaly and 2005 is actually closer to the norm, albeit below average.

Let's look at the team's key individual performers, as they clearly illustrate the point.

In 2004, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds delivered their career-bests against left-handed pitchers. Last year, Rolen hit a whopping 74 points higher than his career average against lefties (.371 vs. .297). At the same time, Jim Edmonds was almost as impressive, as he hit 69 points higher against lefties compared to his career average versus them (.330 vs. .261). Let's not forget Albert Pujols, who in 2004 hit 46 points higher against lefties than his career mark against them (.379 vs. .333).

What does that say? In 2004, the "MV3" each had a huge year against lefties compared to their career norm. Is there any doubt the team won more frequently as a result?

On the other hand, this year, all three are significantly below their career averages against left-handed pitching. Albert is hitting 34 points under his career mark (.299 vs. .333). Rolen is 20 points under his career average at .277 (vs. .297). And, yes, Jim Edmonds is 15 points below his career mark, too (.246 vs. .261).

So, it is really pretty simple to me. The big three need to improve their hitting against left-handers to a mark closer to their long-standing averages and the Cardinals' win percentage against lefties will improve, too.

I picked up one other large difference in last years' team. The team leader in hitting against lefties in 2003 (.391) and third-best in 2004 (.366) was the departed Edgar Renteria.

So far, David Eckstein's .221 mark against lefties this season looks awfully weak compared to his predecessor's .366 rate last year. But, even so, there is hope for improvement, as Eckstein's career mark against lefthanders is a more respectable .279.

Could the Cardinals use another left-handed pitching masher? Sure, it wouldn't hurt. All I can say about that with any certainty is that it won't be Edgar Renteria.

But, the biggest need is for the current Cardinals big guns to pick up their performance against left-handers. When they do, just as the law of averages would seem to bear out, the team's record in this area will also improve.

Let's be patient.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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