From 2012 through 2015, the Cardinals had the best home winning percentage in the majors at .648. Over the four-season stretch the Cards never finished worse than 50-31 (.617) at home.
With capacity crowds, passionate support, a colorful and energized environment and a superb performance on the field, Busch Stadium epitomized the home-field advantage.
In 2016, the Cardinals are 28-33 at Busch, and their .459 home winning percentage ranks an embarrassing 25th among the 30 MLB teams.
And in home games against a visiting opponent that currently has a winning record, the Cardinals are 8-22.
This is bizarre, to say the least.
As the Cardinals open a six-game home-stand against the Mets and A’s, and with only 20 home games remaining on the regular-season schedule, let’s ask a straight question:
Like many befuddled observers, I tried to come up with theories that could explain the Cardinals’ troubling home-security issues.
But after sorting through my Tuesday-morning research, I’m going to keep it simple.
It really comes down to run prevention.
Because the Cardinals are the best damn road team in baseball — they have the top winning percentage, are scoring the highest average of runs per game, and have walloped more road homers per game than anyone — it’s easy to note the more modest offensive numbers at Busch Stadium and make a conclusion that goes something like this:
Well, they don’t score as many runs at home, and they don’t crush as many home runs at Busch, so that must be it.
No … actually … that’s not it.
The Cardinals have scored enough to have more than 28 home wins this season. Their average of 4.39 runs per game at Busch does rank 7th among 11 Cards teams since the stadium opened in 2006. But at a clip of 4.39 runs per home game, the 2016 Cardinals are outscoring the Cards teams of 2009, 2011, 2014 and 2015. All four were playoff qualifiers.
The same applies to homers; the Cards’ current average of 1.23 homers per game at Busch is the highest by the home team in the venue’s 11 seasons.
Now, you can try to make the case that Cardinals hitters are responsible for the ugh-inducing record at home.
After all, they’re averaging 5.58 and 1.58 homers per game on the road. The Cards win on the road because they bomb away, stack up runs, and overcome many of the flaws in the pitching, defense and base-running. But the boys don’t muscle up as much at home, which makes it more difficult to cover for team weaknesses. Therefore, it must be the hitters’ fault.
I disagree. Strongly.
The No. 1 problem at Busch Stadium this season is the home team’s pitching performance.
No grounded, realistic person expected this year’s team to pitch as magnificently as the 2015 Cardinals. The team’s run prevention in 2015 was historically good — one of the best, ever, by a Cards pitching staff. So I’m not holding the 2016 Cardinals to that standard. That wouldn’t be sane, or fair.
* The 2016 Cardinals are allowing 4.39 runs per game at home. Only two STL pitching staffs have given up more runs at home on a per-game basis in 11 seasons of Busch Stadium baseball. That would be the 2007 Cardinals (4.75) and the 2008 staff (4.40.)
* From 2012 through ’15, Cards pitchers were ranked third in MLB in home-field run prevention, giving up an average of 3.48 runs per home game over the four seasons. While run scoring is up in MLB this season, the 2016 Cardinals’ drop in run prevention at home — they rank 15th — is a fairly dramatic turn of events.
* Cardinals’ starting pitchers put up a quality-start percentage of 66 percent at home between 2012-2015; this year that QS rate is 55% at home. And yeah that makes a difference because teams win between 70, 75 percent of the time when their pitcher provides a quality start.
* The Cardinals are giving up more late runs. At home,too. And their strand rate has fallen 10 points from last season, down to 70% at home. That’s no surprise, given the outlier 2015 pitching profile. But I just wanted to note it.
* One comment, with no stats attached: Matheny seems to manage his bullpen more aggressively on the road, and perhaps he can go with the same approach at home. Not a criticism. Just an observation.
* Just for kicks, here are the individual starting-pitcher ERAs at Busch Stadium last season: Jaime Garcia 1.70, John Lackey 1.93, Lance Lynn 2.91, Michael Wacha 3.18, Carlos Martinez 3.49.
* And now the home starting-pitching ERA at Busch this season: Adam Wainwright 3.06, Garcia 3.18, Martinez 4.13, Mike Leake 4.57, Wacha 4.86.
* With their pitchers being more generous to visitors, the 2016 Cardinals are losing home games that they used to put away with greater frequency. Between 2012 and 2015, when the Cards scored at least four or more runs in a home game the team had a winning percentage of .826, which ranked No. 5 in the majors over four seasons. This year, when scoring four or more runs in a home game, the Cards’ winning percentage is .657 — which ranks 25th in the category.
* How about when the Cardinals score 5+ runs in a home game? Between 2012-2015, they an .886 winning percentage at Busch when scoring five or more — the third-best winning percentage in the majors. This year, when the Cards score five-plus runs at Busch, they are 18-8 for a .692 winning percentage that ranks 27th.
Want to win more home games?
A lot of factors go into it.
Yes, it’s more difficult for Cardinals hitters to bang out more home runs in a home venue that generally suppresses power. But I repeat: let’s not overstate this and foolishly blame the offense. The 2016 Cardinals are delivering their highest HR rate at Busch since the ballpark opened in 2006.
Enhanced success at home begins by allowing fewer runs.
Pitching is easily the No. 1 factor in the Cards’ unsightly 28-33 record at Busch.
Thanks for reading …