(BaseballStL) — Trying to pinpoint just exactly where the St. Louis Cardinals’ offense went off the rails is a depressing exercise in categorizing futility.
Like a virulent disease, the inability to mount even quality at-bats has infected almost everyone on this team with fully 20 percent of the season gone. A 3-0 count feels like a rally.
At or near the bottom in every offensive statistical category, the Cards field up to five hitters a night hitting at or near .200. Blogs and websites (our own included) hailed Allen Craig’s four-hit performance against a mediocre Milwaukee pitcher as a sign he has broken out. He hasn’t. His swing is still long, his lack of confidence is evident and he’s about to fall below .200 again.
In fact, to put it in context, the aggregate batting averages of Allen Craig, Johnny Peralta, John Jay, Peter Bourjos and Mark Ellis is .218, the same average that Pete Kozma hit last year that earned him a spot in Triple A this year.
In fact Peralta, even with his recent surge, is hitting just a few points better than the light hitter he replaced, but doesn’t have nearly the glove. His promise of occasional power is enough to keep outcry muffled for now, but .232 is hardly a sigh of relief from the shortstop position.
Who gets your vote for the biggest disappointment among the 2014 Cardinals? Share your thoughts.
But don’t stop there. Look instead at a guy who everyone assumes is a steady contributor but who, in reality, is not – Matt Carpenter.
Every baseball fan understands the importance of a quality lead-off man.
The lead-off man will bat more often than any other player in the line-up. In fact, he bats about 20 more times in a season than the number two hitter, who bats 20 more times than the number three hitter and so forth. That means that over the course of 162 games, the lead-off man may bat up to 150 more times than the number eight hitter.
And we know he sets the tone for the offense, hopefully works pitchers into deep counts, puts the ball in play and gets on base consistently. A good lead-off man is on base twice or more a night, opening holes in the defense, challenging outfield arms, dividing the pitcher’s attention.
Matt Carpenter is not doing many of those things. He leads the team in strike outs, and in fact is on a pace to fan an incredible 160+ times this year, the numbers you might expect from a 40+ home run hitter and RBI machine. He socked a potent 55 doubles last year but has just 4 this year.
A lead-off man who whiffs as many times as he gets a hit does not fulfill many of the requirements for the team’s first weapon. Download the BaseballStL mobile app
Is there an easily identifiable reason for his lackluster performance thus far? Well, maybe.
Hall of Fame Cardinal manager Whitey Herzog once suggested that every player should be on a one-year contract to ensure that player’s undivided attention and best effort.
Perhaps it is coincidental that Carpenter just signed a 6-year, $52 million contact that guarantees a remarkable income for the rest of this decade.
And perhaps the same could be said of Peralta who is currently hitting 70 points lower than he did last year, the final year of his contract. A guaranteed $53 million can make a man mighty relaxed.
This team is looking increasingly mediocre and in no danger of turning it around anytime soon. But they don’t appear concerned.
Guaranteed salaries are very comforting.