The Cardinals shocked mostly everyone when they smacked an NL-leading 225 homers this year. But, as history shows, this offensive strategy is not one to fall back on.
There is nothing more exciting in baseball than the long-ball. The ringing crack of the bat, the ball sailing high into the night sky into a sea of fans. This year of Cardinal baseball has been filled with frustrating stretches of anemic offense, followed by a week that made you forget all of their struggles. Despite our admiration for the home run, it is not a reliable strategy for an offense. It sure is alluring, but years of baseball show that a power based offense will not win you a World Series.
Let’s look at World Series winners since 2005 and their HR totals:
- 2005: Chicago White Sox: 5th in MLB
- 2006: St. Louis Cardinals: 12th in MLB
- 2007: Boston Red Sox: 18th in MLB
- 2008: Philadelphia Phillies: 2nd in MLB
- 2009: New York Yankees: 1st in MLB
- 2010: San Francisco Giants: 11th in MLB
- 2011: St. Louis Cardinals: 13th in MLB
- 2012: San Francisco Giants: 30th in MLB
- 2013: Boston Red Sox: 6th in MLB
- 2014: San Francisco Giants: 17th in MLB
- 2015: Kansas City Royals: 24th in MLB
Over the last ten years, the WS winner has averaged 14th in the league in homers. That is basically right in the middle of the league. Of course, you see exceptions in the 2008/2009 WS winners, two teams with unreal lineups (Howard, Utley, Rollins, Werth in their primes and Cano, Jeter, A-Rod, Posada). The average MLB team does not have those types of bats in their arsenal. The San Francisco Giants have been the best team in baseball since 2010, that is indisputable with their 3 championships. They’ve done this with teams that have home run leaders that have as few as 22 HR. This season, Brandon Belt led the team with 17 HR. The Royals in 2015 were led by Kendrys Morales’ 22 HR. A balanced lineup wins championships. The 2015 Royals’ .270 team BA, the 2014 Giants with 5 players with .279 AVG or greater. Simply put, a team that gets saved by the occasional 3 HR 9th inning is not one that will consistently win.
The fact of the matter is that teams that invest in power are investing in more strikeouts. Aside from Robinson Cano and Nolan Arenado, the top 10 HR leaders in the MLB had over 135 Ks. Look at the Cardinals’ lineup – all of the 20+ HR hitters with over 400 ABs this year had 100+ Ks, compared to the 2011 WS winning team that did not have one player with more than 100 Ks. Strikeouts are rally killers. The WS winning power teams were able to homer without the Ks. The Yankees were 27th in the MLB in 2009 in Ks, despite their power. Philadelphia was 12th. Simply put, if you can’t keep the strikeout numbers down, it is not worth going for the power game.
Think about the teams that made headlines through their investments in power. The 2015 Padres with Kemp, Upton, and Norris. The 2013 Braves, with Gattis, Upton x 2, Heyward, Uggla. These teams on paper appear to have the big bats that will carry them to success. However, power is streaky and unpredictable. One month, these teams can perform like undoubtable World Series winners, the next like a semi-pro team. The Braves showed an epic collapse down the stretch when their power bats went cold. The Padres never clicked. This is why the Cardinals need to rethink their offensive approach going into the 2017 season.
While it was enjoyable to see the Redbirds deposit so many balls over the fence, the streakiness of the team was unbearably frustrating. Jedd Gyorko, despite his 30 HR, only drove in 58 runs; power does not necessarily correlate with runs. Especially with a consistently shaky rotation, with a team ERA over 4.00, the Cardinals needed a more reliable source of runs, not just hit or miss power.
With the long ball historically proven to be an unreliable source of offense, the holes in the 2017 lineup need to be filled responsibly. With the departure of Matt Holliday in LF and the possible hunt for a new CF, the Cardinals need to be thinking about OBP, rather than SLG. It would take a whole other article to discuss the possible replacements, but lets hope that Mozeliak is ready to restructure this offense.
Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY