Sunday, June 30, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, June 30, 2024 -- "NL Central Notes"


This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider.

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St. Louis Cardinals

At the risk of repeating a theme, the Cardinals are hanging on to playoff position despite having less power than actual cardinals, something that happened in a hurry.

Busched (selected power stats, 2022-24 Cardinals)


        Brl%    HH%   SLG   ISO
2024    4.6%  36.5%  .377  .138
2023    5.7%  41.6%  .416  .166
2022    5.3%  37.4%  .420  .166

Brl%: Barrels per PA
HH%: Hard-hit rate

The Cardinals were just outside the top ten in the Statcast metrics a year ago, and around average in the other two categories. This year, they’re 27th in barrel rate, 24th in hard-hit rate, 20th in slugging and 24th in isolated power. 

It’s perhaps unfair to pin it all on one guy, but Nolan Arenado has aged like mayonnaise at a picnic, and that’s killed a lineup that needed him to grow old gracefully. Arenado has posted career lows in all the batted-ball metrics. Of 254 qualified batters, Arenado’s average exit velocity of 85.1 mph ranks 242nd. His max exit velocity ranks 221st. His barrel rate ranks 228th. 

If I had to diagnose Arenado, it would be that he’s starting to cheat even more to get to the fastball, which is making him more prone than ever to everything else, and the tradeoff isn’t working. Arenado is hitting .299 with a .446 slugging against fastballs, which sounds fine until you notice that was a .508 SLG last year and .606 two years ago. Remember, too, what we’ve talked about a lot this year, that most offense happens against fastballs. Arenado’s performance against them is barely above average.

The cost in that cheating shows up in Arenado’s performance against anything soft or with a wrinkle. 

Arena-DOH! (performance against off-speed/breaking stuff)

            AVG   SLG
2024 Off   .171  .200
2023 Off   .237  .355
2022 Off   .214  .482

            AVG   SLG
2024 Br    .235  .337
2023 Br    .275  .437
2022 Br    .261  .455

This isn’t an original story. For 120 years, veterans have learned they can’t get around on the fastball as well and tried to compensate by cheating just a little bit. Sometimes it works for a while, often it doesn’t. Arenado, at 33, is like a thousand other players losing the battle with age. Throw in some serious decline with the glove, and you have a player who, two years removed from an MVP-caliber campaign, is now a drag on the roster.