After Saturday night’s victory, the St. Louis Cardinals record stands at 45-47. This puts the team in fourth place in the NL Central, nine games behind the division leading Milwaukee Brewers. If St. Louis is going to improve on that record and made progress towards winning the division or earning a wild card spot, then some things must clearly improve from the first half of the season.
To begin with, the Cardinals need better production from the leadoff spot. Neither Dylan Carlson nor Tommy Edman have done well enough in the spot. Carlson draws plenty of walks and does not chase many pitches out of the strike zone, but he does not have great results on contact. Edman makes plenty of contact, but he does not draw walks and is only batting .255 despite striking out in just 12.5% of his plate appearances. At least Carlson’s .338 OBP is solid. This at least gives him promise as a leadoff man. His walks allow him to get on base even when he is not hitting the ball well. The same cannot be said for Edman, which is why Edman profiles better as a bottom-of-the-order hitter than a leadoff man.
It is possible that Harrison Bader could get some looks as a leadoff man if he continues to hit the ball well. In order for this to happen though, he needs to stay hot while Carlson needs to stay cold. As of right now, it appears that Carlson is locked in at the leadoff spot, and he will need to improve his production at the plate if the Cardinals want to score more runs and make up ground on the Brewers.
Improvement from the Pauls
Some other hitters that are going to be key to any second half turnaround are Paul DeJong and Paul Goldschmidt. After a pair of multi-hit games after the All-Star break, DeJong has raised his batting average above .200. Despite this, he still has a wRC+ of 94. Since DeJong is only 6% below league average as a hitter despite batting just .203, he could be a solidly above average hitter with a batting average near his career average of .245. If DeJong could improve, then the Cardinals would also have a deeper lineup that is more dangerous in the bottom half.
Paul Goldschmidt is also supposed to an important run producer for the Cardinals. He hit the ball hard in the first half of the season, but his numbers did not fully represent his success at the plate. He has heated up recently, and if he can continue his hot streak, the Cardinals would have another dangerous bat in the lineup.
Both of the Pauls suffered from poor batted ball luck in the first half. DeJong recently raised his BABIP to .220, which is well below his career average of .288, and Goldschmidt’s production was not what one would expect from a slugger with a hard hit rate above 55%.
These two are both capable of being productive hitters in the middle of the Cardinals’ lineup. With improvement from DeJong, the shortstop could solidify the fifth spot in the lineup, while a continued hot streak from Goldschmidt would see the first baseman become the most important hitter on the team.
Better outfield production against four-seam fastballs
In order for the Cardinals’ lineup to be more productive, the outfielders will have to learn how to hit four-seam fastballs. Tyler O’Neill is the exception as he is the best four-seam fastball hitter on the team in terms of wOBA. However, Harrison Bader and Dylan Carlson have both struggled immensely against four-seam fastballs this season, while Tommy Edman has also not been great. Against the pitch, Bader has a .193 wOBA (.270 xwOBA), Carlson has a .307 wOBA (.287 xwOBA), and Edman has a .302 wOBA (.317 xwOBA). Fastballs are pitches where hitters get a good amount of their production. Each of these hitters has done better against sinkers, but they need to improve against four-seamers so they are not limited to only doing damage against hanging breaking balls or mistake pitches.
In 2019, Bader crushed four-seamers to the tune of a .416 wOBA and in other seasons he has been at least a decent hitter against the pitch. This is a good sign that Bader will improve against the pitch as the season continues. Edman has also done well against four-seam fastballs in the past, so some improvement from him could also occur. For Carlson, it is still too early to tell whether he will turn it around this season.
Even so, the Cardinals outfield (and Edman) need to do more against four seam fastballs. These hitters will see plenty of these pitches in the second half of the season, and in order to improve the lineup, they need to start performing better.
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