The only stadium that you are expected to win more than you lose is your own. The Cardinals failed to do so.
Winning in your own stadium is one of the most important aspects of success in any sport there is. Based on win probability alone, the home team possesses a slight edge over the visiting team before the first pitch is thrown. The 100 win, 2015 Cardinals took full advantage of their home games by going 55-26 while this year they fell to 38-43. Surprisingly, this year actually had a better away record at 48-33 than last years 45-36. Therefore, if the Cardinals managed to win just a few more games at home, it might have been them in the Wild Card game. From a strict win loss standpoint, only performance at home separated the two teams. What team aspect differed from last season that made playing at Busch Stadium dreadful?
Don’t blame the offense, they were almost identical to last years home team if not better.
This years offense outscored the 2015 team 355-315. Although the collective batting average did dip by 10 points from .262, SLG% went up to .431 from .398. A constant barrage of long balls set the two offenses apart from each other . This year, the Cardinals launched 104 home runs at Busch while last year they only managed to hit 60. Historically, Busch plays more into the hands of a pitcher than a hitter which makes it even more impressive that the Cardinals were able to hit that mark. Although the teams had two different offensive styles, both performed extremely well. All in all, the offense cannot be to blame for the struggles at home that the Cardinals faced.
The reason for the decline of last year falls on the pitching staff.
I acknowledge that a number of pitchers put together terrific seasons this year. However, the team as a whole does not compare to last years pitching staff. That being said, the 2015 staff shut down opponents after posting an ERA of only 2.70 at home. That landed them first in the MLB with the next best being the Pirates with 3.00 ERA at home. Sadly, the Cardinals failed to replicate that success and posted an era of 4.08 in 2016. This more middle of the pack number put them at 17th overall.
The rise in ERA came from the starting rotation. Out of five starters that had 100IP+ , only Carlos Martinez pitched to an ERA under 4.50 with a 3.04 ERA. Last season, the Cardinals had five starters throw 120IP+ and all five starters posted ERAs lower than 3.50. Shifting focus to WPA (win probability added with a positive number being better), this years staff had a WPA of -6.25 compared to the WPA of last years rotation at 10.92. The rotation struggled at home this year, so the team struggled as a result of it.
The Cardinals should not expect to replicate the success of the 2015 rotation at home, as it was an unbelievable run. Instead, they should learn that the key to success in their home ballpark mainly keys off their pitching staff. If the Cardinals can improve upon the starting rotation for next year, then the home record will improve. With an improved home presence, the Cardinals can bounce back and be a force again in 2017.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Curry USA Today