2017 Cardinals Review: Comparing the Last 20 Years

Part of my usual season recap for the Cardinals is to look at their numbers versus the league averages. In preparing that, I decided to also look at year to year trends of the Cardinals. I compiled stats for the last 20 years to see how this year’s team compared to those of the past.

I also took it a step further; each stat shows where hitting coach changes were made. Here is the list of hitting coaches for the last 20 years.

Coach Years
Dave Parker 1998
Mike Easler 1999-2001
Mitchell Page 2001-2004
Hal McRae 2005-2009
Mark McGwire 2010-2012
John Mabry 2013-Current

I want to preface everything with the fact that I’m not a fan of John Mabry as hitting coach. He’s shown that he tinkers too much with guys and will completely change their approach. See Allen Craig (power hitter to slap hitter) and Matt Carpenter (slap hitter to power hitter) as 2 examples; he’s also attempted it with Kolten Wong and Greg Garcia, trying to get both to hit for power. I don’t mind working on improving, but Garcia, the latest example, was the best pinch hitter for the team prior to using an upper cut swing to hit for power; after his July 4th homer, he acknowledged to working with Marby on hitting for more power.

Counting Stats

The Cardinals have bounced back from a 20 year low in runs in 2014, but those early 2000s teams still dwarf the current team on runs. The team under Mabry has averaged 718 runs per season, which is well below the 776 average over the last 20 seasons. In fact, the team has only been below 700 runs and both of those teams belonged to Mabry (2014 and 2015).

Like runs, the Cardinals have bounced back a 20 year low in hits in 2014, but those numbers are still below the averaged; under Mabry, they’ve averaged 1413 hits per season while the 20 year average is 1476. Again, the only seasons with less than 1400 hits were 2014 and 2015, with 2017 squeaking by at 1402.

Home runs have been a funny thing for recent Cardinals; 2016 saw the second highest total in 20 years, but they also had the lowest amount in 2014. The average Mabry team would hit 158 homers a season, which slightly below the 176 average over the last 20 seasons. 2017 was at 196, which was a promising sign; it also helped having 5 guys with 20 or more homers (Paul DeJong, Carpenter, Tommy Pham, Randal Grichuk, Jedd Gyorko).

The trend in the offensive counting stats has been really bad starting in 2014 and has gradually worked back; granted, 2017 numbers were down from the previous season. The team has averaged 684 RBIs over the Mabry years, which is below the 738 20-year average. 2017 was below that average too.

Slash Stats

Normally, I’d breakdown all 4 individually, but there is really such little variation over the years between them. If there was a variation – 2014 for example – then I’d probably have more to say about them. It’s the same with ISO (not pictured).

Other Stats

Since Mabry took over as hitting coach, the strikeout percentage has crept up to an almost alarming rate. I’m torn on the impact of strikeouts on the offense; while an out is an out, at least a ball in play has a chance to be misplayed and turned into an opportunity. This strikeout rate comes with free swingers like DeJong and Grichuk. When I look at the comparison to the league, I’m interested to see where the Cardinals rank.

While strikeouts have crept up, so have walks; granted, 2013 was down from Mark McGwire’s final season as hitting coach. 2017 was the fourth highest percentage in the past 20 years, and those 3 were in the first 3 years of the period. A good walk rate can off-set a high strikeout rate, so I’m again curious to see where they were compared to the league.

Hitting coaches were not noted here, as there are too many factors into WAR that the HC doesn’t control. According to Baseball Reference, the 23.7 WAR was down from the previous year, but second highest of Marby’s tenure; the team has averaged 21.1 WAR during his time. Both are below the 26.1 WAR average for the 20-year period. It’s those early- to mid-2000 teams that set the bar high; granted the Cardinals haven’t had an MP3 since that period.

Hitting coaches were not noted here, as the decision to run comes more from the manager than anyone else. Well, the Cardinals wanted to be more athletic in 2017 and they did steal more bases; in fact, they stole more bases than they attempted the season before. They were successful 72% of the time, which was tied for 3rd in success rate. If the team would allow guys like Wong and Dexter Fowler a green light to run more often, they could be pushing 100 steals next season; it would also help if Stephen Piscotty and Yadier Molina were to try to swipe a bag a little less.

For Mabry’s tenure, the team has been well below average compared to previous teams. As noted, there have been too many hitters that have their hitting profiled changed; there have also been a lot of demotions to straighten hitters out. The MLB coaches should be able to work with hitters to fix their swings and adjust to the opposition. Both McGwire and McRae were better at working with the hitters; of course, the front office built some better teams and had Albert Pujols to anchor the lineup.