St. Louis Cardinals head coach Mike Matheny will be surely be satisfied with his team’s regular-season totals considering the fact that they are 95-65 and have clinched the NL Central going into its final two games. Clinching the division early has allowed Matheny the ability to rest his players and to better prepare for his opponents this October, something that is crucial after playing an excruciating 162-game schedule.
But rather than resting and preparing for opposing teams, what may be more important for Matheny heading into the postseason is to take a look at his own team and build off of its strengths. With the advent of sabermetrics, this is easier than ever, and when looking at the Cardinals’ regular season performance he would find that his club is among the best in baseball at pitching, fielding and hitting, the perfect recipe for any ball club.
In terms of pitching statistics, the Cardinals could easily to be deemed the most effective staff in MLB. During the regular season, the Cardinals compiled the sixth-best ERA in MLB at 3.48, and compiled a 3.40 FIP. The FIP statistic indicates that the group was actually better than its ERA indicates, showing that they truly have no reason to worry about a postseason decline, but could actually be in for improvement.
The reason that the Cardinals have been so effective throughout the season is because they made hitters put the ball on the ground like no other staff in the game. The pitching staff ranked second in MLB in ground ball ratio at 49.6 percent, 0.70 HR/9, and 8.0 percent HR/FB ratio.
Even with this extreme reliance on having hitters put the ball in play throughout the season, Cardinals pitchers were able to maintain a very average .298 batting average on balls in play, which indicates that the group was performing about to what it should be expected to.
The Cardinals pitching staff was able to maintain effectiveness when relying on ground balls in large part because they were helped out by extraordinary fielding both at second base and shortstop from Matt Carpenter and Pete Kozma and behind the plate from Yadier Molina.
The shortstop and second base combination combined to save 3.7 runs above the average double play combination when turning double plays, and saved five runs in total turning double plays for the entirety of the 2013 season. Meanwhile, Molina and the Cardinals’ other catchers combined to post a 6.1 RPP, which means they saved 6.1 runs more than the average team’s catcher by blocking balls behind the plate.
These statistics were indicative of the reliable nature of the team as a whole, as the rest of the fielders were consistently solid on their way to recording the fifth fewest errors of any team in MLB.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals batters have shown an ability to maintain contact at all times, which will surely become helpful as teams try to throw out strikeout pitchers in the postseason. During the regular season, the team maintained a 17.9 percent strikeout rate, good for fifth-best in MLB and second-best amongst playoff teams right now.
They were able to do this by only swinging and missing on 8.2 percent of pitches and getting contact on 89.3 percent of pitches that they swung at within the strike zone, both amongst the top five rates of any team in baseball.
But not only were the Cardinals making unprecedented rates of contact, but they were hitting the ball hard throughout the season. The team maintained a 23.2 percent line drive rate throughout the season, which helped the group hit the second-most doubles in MLB, the fourth most singles and the third most runs despite hitting the fourth-fewest home runs.
This ability to string together base hits is much more valuable in the postseason than hitting home runs, and will surely be valuable for the Cardinals.
In the postseason, teams rely on the most basic fundamentals of getting batters out, playing efficient defense and being able to score runs without the home run in order to win the World Series. Luckily for the Cardinals, they are extremely efficient in all three of these categories, and will likely find postseason baseball very easy to adjust to as a result.