Cardinals RISP: Problem Number 1A

The St. Louis Cardinals' manager says his closer is "Problem Number One". If that is the case, then the offense's performance with runners in scoring position has to be "Problem Number 1A".

Based on recent emails and message board comments, much of the current angst of the Cardinals Nation is focused on deposed closer Jason Isringhausen and to a slightly lesser extent, his manager, Tony La Russa, for continuing to send Izzy out onto the mound with games on the line.

There is no doubt that Isringhausen has blown saves at a record-setting pace, six in his first 17 opportunities to be precise. It is also fair to wonder why La Russa has pitched the 35-year-old surgically-repaired closer so often, before and after the implosion. After all, Izzy appeared in 12 of the Cardinals first 24 games this season and in three of the most recent four games this week, during the time Izzy was supposedly still working out his problems.

Yet, the focus of this article isn't the closing situation, something La Russa called "Problem Number 1" after Thursday's disappointing loss, his club's seventh in their last nine games.

Instead, we are again going to look at the problems with the Cardinals hitters, specifically in stranding runners, something I would have to call "Problem Number 1A". This is a subject first probed one week ago in the article, "2008 Cardinals Offense: The Good and Bad News".

At that time, I pointed the finger clearly at slumping sluggers Chris Duncan and Troy Glaus, each delivering 150 points of slugging percentage under their career averages here in 2008. While each has improved in the seven days since, their season numbers are both still under .400 instead of being in their normal .500s.

With another week of watching with maddening frustration the Cardinals offense continuing to leave runners on base at a league-leading clip, I decided to see if the blame for the club's offensive woes shouldn't be shared.

The M.O. of the underachieving Cards hitters this season has been to score early, getting out ahead by several runs only to sleep walk through the rest of the game, while their opponent scratches out enough tallies to eventually steal away the victory.

This formula has already occurred nine times this season, the most recently on Thursday when the club led 5-1 through four innings, only to be shut out by a 10-0 score over the final five frames.

In other words, in just under half of the Cardinals 19 losses this season, the club broke out on top, but couldn't score enough to put away the opposition. Sure, the pitching is also culpable, but remember that their team ERA of 3.84 is fourth-best in the league.

On the positive side, the 2008 Cardinals are third in the National League in batting average at .277 and second in on-base percentage at .369. Even their slugging percentage of .412 is slightly ahead of the NL aggregate mark of .408.

Yet, the area that sticks out like a sore thumb is the inability to bring all those runners home. Including 13 stranded on Thursday, the Cards have left a whopping 377 men on base in their first 43 games this season. No other club in either league is close.

In other words, St. Louis is averaging 8.8 runners stranded each and every game. The MLB average (including the Cardinals) is only 6.8, so the difference is tremendous.

That doesn't even take into account the 41 additional runners the Cardinals have lost by grounding into double plays at the highest rate in the entire National League.

Unlike the closing situation, this ability to get runners home can be positively addressed by almost every player in the lineup on any given day, making this more of a potential team solution than solely trying to fix the woes of the ninth-inning man.

Before we can suggest who needs to improve, we need to understand who the culprits might be.

This time around, I chose to compare the 13 position players' overall batting averages with the subset of batting average compiled with runners in scoring position (RISP).

Not unexpectedly, the team in its entirety is batting 14 points less with RISP than overall - .263 vs. .277.

As a side point, there is almost no difference across the team in batting average with runners in scoring position with two outs (.264) vs. less than two outs (.262).

When looking at individual players, I arbitrarily decided that a difference between the two (BA vs. BA with RISP) of 25 points or less is relatively insignificant. That includes almost half the team's batters, six.

Not much difference BA BA w/RISP Difference
Troy Glaus 0.250 0.269 0.019
Cesar Izturis 0.250 0.259 0.009
Skip Schumaker 0.289 0.276 -0.013
Team average 0.277 0.263 -0.014
Chris Duncan 0.250 0.235 -0.015
Aaron Miles 0.288 0.269 -0.019
Rick Ankiel 0.294 0.271 -0.023

The two Cardinals hitting between 25 and 75 points lower with RISP than overall are categorized as "Considerably worse". They are Brendan Ryan and Yadier Molina. While the latter is certainly known for a big hit in one of the biggest games of all, neither are expected to be primary run producers for the club.

Considerably worse BA BA w/RISP Difference
Brendan Ryan 0.292 0.250 -0.042
Yadier Molina 0.293 0.250 -0.043

Four St. Louis hitters are hitting over 75 points worse with RISP than overall this season. Needless to say, this is "Really bad".

Let's set aside two players. Backup catcher Jason LaRue is 0-for-9 this season with runners in scoring position but isn't hitting in any case, while rookie Rule 5 pick up Brian Barton has the lowest BA with RISP on the team at .182. Both are terrible in this situation, yet it's not all that hard to swallow.

The identities of the two remaining players are most surprising to me, however. Each has not only a large gap between BA and BA with RISP, but their BA with RISP is below the team average. In addition, they are the men recently trusted in the important number three and four spots in the Cardinals batting order.

Ryan Ludwick has rightfully received a lot of praise for his fast start in 2008. Yet, light-hitting Cesar Izturis actually has a higher batting average with ducks on the pond than does Ludwick (.259 vs. .250).

Even Ludwick's gap of 85 points pales in comparison to All-World Albert Pujols' incredible spread of 105 points of batting average between BA and BA with RISP. That's right. With runners on base, El Hombre is batting a measly .250 (8-for-32), same as the likes of Ryan and Molina.

Really bad BA BA w/RISP Difference
Ryan Ludwick 0.333 0.250 -0.083
Brian Barton 0.267 0.182 -0.085
Albert Pujols 0.355 0.250 -0.105
Jason LaRue 0.114 0.000 -0.114

Isn't there anyone standing out positively in this area, you might ask?

Sadly, only one of the 13 position players qualifies.

Who would have thought it is second baseman Adam Kennedy, coming off a dreadful 2007 in which he batted .213 with RISP and .219 overall. This season, he is batting .370 (10-for-27) with RISP, a strong mark on its own, but even more notable when compared to his .287 BA.

Seriously good BA BA w/RISP Difference
Adam Kennedy 0.287 0.370 0.083

Until the 2008 Cardinals (excepting Kennedy) do a much better job clearing the bases of runners, they seem destined to keep on losing games in a most frustrating manner – choking up leads without a whimper in response.

If those ways continue, the days of being in first place with a ten-game over .500 pad will soon become a distant memory during what will become a long, hot summer on the banks of the Mississippi.



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

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