Bernie on the Cardinals’ Biggest Offseason Need: A Left-Handed Bat To Counter Right-Handed Pitching.

If the Cardinals go outside the organization to make bring in a hitter to amp the offense, the search should focus on left-handed batters.

Not that the 2019 Cardinals were fearsome against left-handed pitchers in 2019. Using park-adjusted runs created (wRC+) as the measure, the Cards were exactly league average (wRC+ 100) against LHP.

“Average” isn’t the goal. But average is preferable to below average. And in 2019 the Cardinals were seven percent under the league average with a 93 wRC+ against right-handed pitchers.

When facing RH, the Cardinals batted .245 with a .320 OBP and .412 slugging percentage. Their .733 OPS against RH throwers ranked 20th overall and 11th in the NL.

And to drill down a bit more, here are some 2019 stats from Inside Edge:

  • Cardinals hitters had 379 extra-base hits out of 1,056 total hits (35.9%) against RHP … 4th worst in MLB.
  • This was a carryover from 2018, and many of the hitters were the same. Since the beginning of 2018 the Cardinals’ percentage of hits vs. RHP that went for extra bases (34.4) was 3rd worst in MLB.
  • In 2019 the Cardinals hitters had a Well-Hit Avg of just .168 against RHP … 5th worst in MLB and well under the league average of .182.

I’ve told you, multiple times, about the Cardinals’ horrendous performance against non-fastballs in 2019. To add to the point, the Cards slugged just .336 on breaking pitches thrown by RHP in the ‘19 season … 3rd worst in MLB and 38 points below league average.

The Cardinals hit only .199 on breaking pitches offered by RHP in 2019 season … tied for 4th worst in MLB and 18 points below the league average.

The Cardinals endured extreme ups and downs offensively in September, scoring three runs or fewer in 12 of 28 games. (Record: 16-12.) The inconsistent offense endangered their chances of winning the NL Central, but the Cardinals hung on despite losing four of their final five games.

The team’s weak showing vs. RH pitchers was a prime factor in the September cold front.

Consider:

  • Cardinals hitters put just 28.1% of their swings in play against RHP over the final 30 days of the regular season lowest in MLB. And their strikeout rate of 31 percent vs. RH over the final 30 days was the worst in the majors.
  • Over the final month the Cardinals batted .146 on breaking pitches against RHP (2nd worst in MLB), slugged a big-league worst .195 on those pitches, and posted a .421 OPS that was third-worst in the majors.

If left fielder Marcell Ozuna (as expected) leaves the Cardinals as a free agent, they could encounter a more difficult challenge against right-handed pitching in 2020.

Using wRC+ as the barometer — and again, 100 is league average — here’s how each Cardinal fared against RHP in 2019, minimum 100 plate appearances:

Ozuna, 113
Tommy Edman, 113
Kolten Wong, 111
Paul Goldschmidt, 108
Dexter Fowler, 107
Paul DeJong, 104
Matt Carpenter, 97
Tyler O’Neill, 93
Harrison Bader, 87
Jose Martinez, 85
Yadier Molina, 77
Matt Wieters, 75
Yairo Munoz, 70

Any candidates?

I’m an unenthusiastic, fantasy-GM guy. I have a strong aversion to concocted trade scenarios and nonsensical free-agent daydreams.

But Mark Saxon of The Athletic wrote a reasonable piece, suggesting that the Cardinals could make a trade for one of three LH-swinging outfielders that are said to be available if the trade exchange is attractive for their current teams.

What that is exactly, who knows?

But Saxon nominated Joc Pederson (Dodgers), Jackie Bradley Jr. (Red Sox) and David Peralta (Diamondbacks.)

— Bradley, 29, is an excellent fielder with decent stats vs. RHP. He has a career .431 slugging percentage vs. RH including a .464 slug last season. He can become a free agent after 2020.

— The price on Pederson, 27, would be high. And he can test free agency after next season. But he clobbers RH pitching: 36 homers and a .571 slug last season. Plus a career .507 slug vs. righties.

— Peralta, 32, has dealt with injuries, but he won a gold glove in 2019 and carries a strong platoon bat. Peralta’s career slugging percentage vs. RHP is .514, with a nice .360 OBP. Like Pederson, Peralta is eligible for free agency after 2020.

— If we’re playing fantasy GM, another left-swinging corner outfielder to think about is Corey Dickerson, 30, who has a career .533 slugging percentage vs. RHP. He’s a free agent who can be signed without draft-pick compensation. Cardinals fans saw a lot of Dickerson, a Pirate, in 2018-2019.

– Might as well add Kole Calhoun to the list; the former Angel, 32, is another LH-swinging corner outfielder set for free agency.  He slugged .486 vs. RHP last season. His career slug vs. righties is .438. The Angels declined to pick up Calhoun’s option for 2020. He can be signed without the penalty of draft-choice compensation.

— And of course, there’s former Royals-Brewers third baseman Mike Moustakas. The Moose, 31,  is a free agent again, and could land back in Milwaukee. He’s emerged as something of an obsession for Cardinals fans and media that covet his power. Indeed, Moustakas slugged .508 vs. RHP last season. But for his career Moustakas has a surprisingly ordinary 103 wRC+ against right-handers.

But the infatuation with Moose ignores a fairly significant point: Cardinals management is still committed to giving extensive playing time to Matt Carpenter at third base, and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak is adamant about that. And Edman certainly is in line to play a lot of games at third base in what could be an unofficial platoon-split situation with Carpenter.

I’m not saying that Mozeliak’s optimism over a likely Carpenter bounce-back season is on target; not at all. This has nothing to do with my opinion. It’s just the simple math, and here’s the point: if management is determined to stay the course with Carpenter — who of course bats left-handed — and will also use Edman at third … then please explain why there’d be enough at-bats at third base for Carpenter, Edman and Moustakas.

The other consideration is going to a platoon system. Let’s say that the Cardinals procure an outfielder who bats left and can mash against RHP — but is weak vs. lefties. The Cardinals have a variety of RH-swinging options — including Tyler O’Neill, Randy Arozarena  and Bader — to use when opponents start a left-handed pitcher.

The Cardinals like outfield prospect Justin Williams (who bats left) as a potential surprise for 2020.

And top prospect Dylan Carlson, an outfielder, is a switch-hitter who punished RH pitching for a .381 OBP and .551 slugging percentage last season (combined) in Double A and Triple A.

The Cardinals can figure all of this out.

That’s their job.

But I do know this much: the Cardinals absolutely need a left-handed batter to give the lineup more muscle against RH pitching.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie