The 2013 St. Louis Cardinals scored 18 more runs than in 2012 despite hitting 34 fewer home runs. A season after being ranked No. 7 in homers in the National League, they plummeted to No. 13.
Five Cardinals blasted 20 or more long balls in 2012 compared to two last season. And one of them—Carlos Beltran—left via free agency.
Is there a rebound in store for the Redbirds in the power department?
Before that question can be answered, let’s examine the causes for the drop-off in production.
Allen Craig’s total dropped from 22 to 13. He didn't go deep in April and had just 14 at-bats in September due to injury, so that certainly played a role. But it doesn't explain everything.
Craig’s fly-ball rate went from 33 to 28 percent, marking a third straight season in decline. That percentage jumped to 2012 levels in June when he enjoyed his largest home run output with six. However, in July and August, when fly balls travel well in the humid St. Louis summer, he managed just four big flies.
Craig also has dealt with significant leg injuries. In 2011, a broken kneecap cost him several months. Last season, an ankle injury cost him most of September and the postseason. As he approaches 30, if leg issues persist, it becomes more difficult to recover power.
For Yadier Molina, the 22 home runs in 2012 could serve as the outlier. His fly-ball rate remained consistent with previous seasons, but his home run-to-fly-ball ratio (HR/F) spiked to new levels. That percentage leveled out in 2013, hence the 10-homer drop.
David Freese's below-average fly-ball rate didn't suggest a 20-homer season was on the horizon in 2012. However, a career-high 500 at-bats coupled with a 20 percent HR/F rate combined to create a career year—and one he wasn't likely to repeat.
The good fortune ran out for Freese last season, as the HR/F rate dipped to 10 percent, and the ground-ball rate rose to 55 percent.
Beltran put 24 over the fence last season, falling well short of 2012 totals. The 20 percent HR/F rate that helped him achieve 32 homers dipped to 13 percent.
The Cardinals’ home ballpark also did its part to suppress the long ball.
Busch Stadium ranked No. 24 in the majors last season, surrendering 0.837 home runs a game. That’s down from 0.915 in 2012. But even 2013 levels represent a slight increase for a park that averaged 0.797 homers a game its first six years of existence.
|Busch Stadium HR/G (since 2006)|
Losing a perennial 20-homer slugger like Beltran doesn't bode well for the Cardinals reaching 2012 levels this season. But new additions, developing youngsters and a reversal of fortune for players like Craig and/or Molina give the Redbirds the potential for an increase from last season.
Matt Adams is the full-time first baseman in St. Louis. After hitting 17 homers in 296 at-bats last season, there's no reason to believe he won't surpass 20. And if he improves against lefties, a 30-homer campaign is realistic.
Jhonny Peralta and his nine straight seasons of 10-plus homers—and four seasons of 20 or more—replaces shortstop Pete Kozma, who has three major league long balls. Enough said.
Rookie Oscar Taveras, who hit 23 homers in Double-A in 2012, projects as a 25- to 30-homer player in the majors. While an unrealistic goal for this season, he could reach double digits with enough playing time. Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch addresses how the rookie could impact the Redbirds in multiple ways.
While some stats explain Craig's drop in power, another hints at a rebound. His 11 percent HR/F rate last season was significantly lower than the previous two seasons, suggesting he’ll be closer to his 2012 numbers.
Matt Holliday hasn't had a 30-homer season since 2007 with the Rockies. But he did come close to that mark with the Cardinals in 2010 and 2012. A player with eight straight 20-plus home run seasons only needs a smidgen of good fortune to crack 30 again.
Overall, statistical trends indicate the 2014 Redbirds will be closer to last year’s home run production. However, the development of sluggers like Adams and Taveras reflect the potential for a significant power boost in the future.