Cardinals news from a Sabermetric point of view

Where have you gone, Will Clark?

After shutting out the Giants 2-0 on Wednesday, the good news is that the Cardinals have now held their opponents scoreless an amazing and league-leading 16 times this season. But after failing to tally on Tuesday (as well as on Sunday), the bad news is that the Cardinals themselves have been shut out a discouraging 10 times. Has the team suddenly become the 1906 White Sox?

With a team wOBA of .303 that ranks 10th in the 15-team National League, perhaps the Cardinals have. After spending the last three seasons among the elite offensive teams in the league, the Cardinals — with a little more than half of 2014 in the books — are officially inept.

The lineup isn’t without its performers: Matt Adams stands out with his team-leading .363 wOBA, chiefly on the strength of his .515 slugging percentage. And Matt Carpenter is again posting one of the highest on-base percentages in the league at .381. But with the exceptions of Adams and Jhonny Peralta, the team has a decided lack of power, with erstwhile boppers Matt Holliday (.523 career SLG) and Allen Craig (.466 career SLG) turning in slugging percentages well below .400. Craig is the biggest disappointment, struggling to stay afloat above a .300 OBP, the Mendoza Line of on-base rates.

But beyond the statistical evidence of their lethargy with the lumber, the Cardinals lack any real sense of animation or spiritedness at-bat. In the  recent post-Pujols years, lacking any real offensive persona, they’ve rented veteran faces to provide an identity for the lineup, including Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran. Neither was a rah-rah type, but they served as the personality for a rather faceless lineup. Let’s face it: Holliday, Craig and even Yadier Molina are bland characters who in the past have been able to prosper without pressure in relative anonymity behind leading-man-type stars.

Being in San Francisco this week pondering the Cardinals’ lack of luster and seeing the statue of Orlando Cepeda outside of AT&T Park, we were reminded of the thrill of another player who split his greatness between the two clubs: Will Clark. Clark, as many fans will recall, came to the Cardinals in the latter part of the 2000 campaign to provide a spark to the offense; Clark wound up providing a VP Fair fireworks show of offense, racking up a .426 OBP, .655 SLG and an uncanny career-best .310 ISO in the final 51 games of his career while waking up a dormant club with his legendary (and literal) game face and determination.

Of course, grit alone won’t produce runs, which is why the Cardinals need more than a Bo Hart or Rex Hudler. Clark’s “Nuschler” persona was gratifying rather than grating because he put up the home runs and on-base percentage to back it up. That much the Cardinals can expect people like Holliday and Craig to do the rest of the season, assuming neither is hiding an injury. As for the rah-rah, it’s too much to expect the current cast to offer.

Tony La Russa’s 1983 White Sox team was known for “winning ugly.” Unless John Mozeliak can find this year’s Will Clark, it may be that the Cardinals’ best hope this year is to “win blandly.” Of course, it’s better than losing blandly.

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