Forty-one games into the season the Cardinals have looked like a fairly average team with the fairly average record of 22-19. In the course of this season their offense has been really important, evidenced by the fact that the Cardinal’s have only won one game where they have scored under four runs.
For the first time this season, the #STLCards have won a game in which they scored fewer than four runs.
— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) May 19, 2016
As a result of games where the offense fails to produce many runs at all, Mike Matheny has received a lot of slack for his typical lineups, especially the fact that Aledmys Diaz, the Cardinal’s hottest hitter, was only batting 8th. However, yesterday’s game featured a new and refreshed lineup, one that was perfect in almost everyway. One major reason for this is that the Cardinals have relied on scoring runs before the other team, and this lineup was designed to score runs early. In games where the Cardinals have scored first this season they’ve gone 14-4, compared to an 8-15 record when the opponent scored first. It also seems that when the Cardinal’s score first they tend to have games with offensive breakouts, scoring lot of runs.
In this article I will give reasoning for why the batting order of Matheny’s newly designed lineup is perfect and should not be tampered with.
Matt Carpenter is the obvious choice for the leadoff spot, mainly for the fact that in the past Carpenter has not performed nearly as well when batting elsewhere. When batting first in the past three seasons (1457 ABs) Carpenter has put up a .300 batting average and a .858 OPS. When batting second (309 ABs) Carpenter had only a .239 batting average and a .729 OPS. Even though this may not make a ton of sense, it’s usually the best idea not to mess with proven results in baseball. Another reason Carpenter is a great leadoff batter is his high “pitch per plate appearance” (P/PA) of 4.22. It is a known fact that the leadoff batter gets more plate appearances than any other batter on the team, so a batter with a high P/PA not only means that the other team will have to go to their bullpen more quickly, but it also means that their starter is tasked with dealing with a tough out more often. And even though Carpenter is only batting .246 so far this season, he possesses a .381 OBP due to his ability to draw walks. Not only is getting on base often key for a leadoff batter, but walks are often demoralizing to pitchers, and Carpenter’s high walk percentage of 14.2% over the past seasons means it becomes easier to unnerve the opponent’s pitcher, especially with such a dangerous part of the order coming up.
Aledmys Diaz has shown this season that he is a perfect fit for the second slot in the order. This position in the lineup, especially at the beginning of the game, must either try to be the first person on base or start a rally by being the second man to reach. For this reason a high batting average, accompanied by fast speed to limit the possibility of a momentum killing double play, is crucial for the second batter of the lineup. Diaz has both of those things: a high batting average (.376) and a quick pace.
In my opinion the ideal player for the third spot is really a toss up between Matt Holliday and Stephen Piscotty; however, after looking at some key points I agree with Matheny that Holliday is the best player for this role. The three-hole is often tasked with batting with runners on base or in scoring position. In 2015, Holliday batted .408 with batters in scoring position and .359 with men on base, compared to only .214 with nobody on. Although in 2016 Holliday has yet to continue this trend (batting only .184 with batters in scoring position), looking at this stat for previous seasons (not only 2015) makes me believe that this will quickly change.
Once again, this spot for me would be a toss up between Stephen Piscotty and Matt Holliday, but since Holliday meshes so well with third in the lineup, I think Piscotty is the best decision to put fourth. Much like Holliday, although over a much shorter span, Piscotty has shown that he is a much better hitter when runners are in scoring position (.393 in 2015, .475 in 2016). Stacking the #3 and #4 of the lineups with high batting average with runners in scoring position, and the #1 and #2 with high OBP, gives the top of the order massive potential score runs early. Also Piscotty’s high overall OBP of .378 means Piscotty means that even if the first three batters a retired in order in the first, Piscotty has high potential of starting a scoring chance in the 2nd.
Recently Matt Adams has shown his case for being the starting first-basemen– batting .281 in the month of May. Traditionally the #5 batter has the ability to drive in runs, and more specifically is effective at driving the ball to the outfield, because even if it doesn’t result in a hit, it would result in a run-scoring sacrifice fly. Matt Adams has one the highest fly ball percentage on the team (39.4%), with only Grichuk, Moss, and Carpenter ahead of him; however, Adams last year had a lower K% than both Moss and Grichuk, meaning he is more likely to be able to drive the ball to the outfield and, at the least, hit a sac fly. In a Brandon Moss platoon, I think the #5 spot would still be the right place for him.
Before yesterday, Matheny usually placed Yadier Molina in the 5-hole, however, for a lineup focused on scoring first, Molina batting sixth makes a lot of sense. Molina this season has carried a high batting average of .321 and a batting average of .393 with runners on base. If you think about the possible outcomes of the beginning of the game putting Yadi 6th starts to make more sense. Say the first three batters are retired 1-2-3 in the first, then Yadi comes up 6th in the second and plays the role Holliday does, which makes sense due to a high batting average with runners on. If four batters go to the plate in the 1st, then Yadi would be the second batter in the 2nd, and even though Yadi is nowhere near as quick as a typical 2-hitter, a high batting average is one of the keys for the #2. And if five batters go to the plate in the first, Yadi would functionally act as a leadoff man, which Yadi could fufill due to his high OBP of .399 so far this season. In this way the #6 batter has be versatile, and Yadi with a high average and high OBP is exactly that. Compared to a batter like Adams, with a lower average and OBP, Yadi is a much better choice for the 6-hole.
Randal Grichuk so far this year has struggled, batting only .218 with only 5 HRs. Because of this I agree with Matheny’s decision to push Grichuk down to #7 in the lineup. It takes some of the pressure of Grichuk to perform being lower down in the lineup, and gives him time to mature as a player. Until Grichuk finds a way to lower his K% I don’t see Grichuk any higher in the order any time soon. A strikeout is simply an opportunity killer. It doesn’t give any chance to producing any offense or scoring any runs, which is needed in a stacked top part of the order. High power potential means that Grichuk has the ability to score runs from anywhere in the order, so moving him down has less of an impact on the team. Although Grichuk probably wont be in the lineup tomorrow due to his lower back soreness, this is the best place for him when he returns, and not to mention a good fit for Hazelbaker, his replacement, as well.
Kolten Wong has by far been the Cardinal’s least valuable hitter this season. Because of this, the 8th and last spot is the best place for him. With his speed, if he gets on, its very unlikely that he would be thrown out at second on a bunt by the pitcher who would be up next.
Pitcher—What else is there to say?
In the last game with the Rockies, Matheny designed a lineup that seemed to be focused on stacking the top of the order and leaving the bottom of it little to be desired. Prior to this game Matheny seemed to have a more spread out lineup, putting their best current hitter Diaz 8th. His movement to the 2-hole is one of the most important changes he made, and it has the ability to completely change the dynamic of the lineup, granted Diaz still preforms in his new spot. With a 14-4 record when scoring first, a loaded top of the lineup may mean a more consistently winning team. Not only does scoring first give your offense the momentum, as it has for the Cardinals in their offensive outbursts, but also allows a pitcher to pitch with more confidence, and the Cardinals should take whatever they can when it comes to an improvement in pitching. For a team desiring to score first, and more consistently, the new lineup Matheny has put forward is the best it can be for the next few weeks. Then things will change when Peralta and possibly Pham come back, but for right now it couldn’t be any more perfect.
Photo captured by: Jeff Curry- USA TODAY Sports