“The Unexpected Challenge of the Cardinals and Dodgers: MLB Trends Highlight Stolen Base Issues and the Struggles of the League’s Least Powerful Team.”

More than a month into the 2023 MLB season, we are settling into the hustle and bustle of regular season baseball. All the glamorous atmosphere of the season opener and home opener is over. Now it’s just baseball every day. Playing every day is both good and bad about this sport. You switch quickly to forget your failures, but not enough time to enjoy your successes.

Anyway, our bi-weekly series analyzing various trends across the league continues Wednesday with one team’s shockingly poor fielding, a candidate’s difficulty in stopping stolen bases and another’s underpowering.

Two weeks ago, we looked at catchers who improved their defenses, hitters who adjusted their swings, and one team’s terrible DH situation.

Cardinals’ surprisingly weak defense

By all appearances, it’s been a very disappointing start to the season for the Cardinals. Less than a month into the season, they are bottom of the NL Central, selling top prospect Jordan Walker and removing free agent award winner Wilson Contreras from the starting catcher. bottom. Things haven’t gone so well in St. Louis this year. This includes their typically top-tier defenses.

From 2019 to 2022, the Cardinals led all teams in 228 runs per game (the Astros were the only team with 219 runs scored over 180) and ranked third in .722 defensive efficiency. That’s a fancy way of saying that St. Louis is now 72.2. Percentage of balls in play that are out. For the Cardinals, elite defense has been forever. That was not the case this season.

Entering the game on Tuesday, the Cardinals ranked 18th in minus-2 saves allowed and 29th (!) in .657 defensive efficiency. With the exception of Contreras at bat, the defense is the same as last season, and catchers don’t contribute much to defensive efficiency because they hit fewer balls. Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last month that after a sloppy game against the Giants, “every night was a different player and it was just unfortunate timing that these nonplays happened.” told the paper.

MLB introduced a new rule this season that limits defensive shifts, which could undoubtedly contribute to the Cardinals’ defensive woes. Last season St. Louis allowed a .284 batting average on the ball in play for this shift, which was essentially the league average of .283. Without change, BABIP jumped to .298, but he was still just one notch below the league average of .303. The problem is, the Cardinals haven’t changed much. His at-bat appearances last season were 27.9%, ranking 21st in baseball, well below the league average of 33.3%. That doesn’t mean St. Louis didn’t optimize their positioning. It just means they didn’t use extreme shifts (like putting three infielders on the right wing) as often as most teams.

It should be noted that this year’s defensive damage spans all types of batting. Ground balls, fly balls and line drives aren’t the only things plaguing the Cardinals this year. Every batted ball is turned into a few outs. Here are the BABIP numbers:

2022 Cardinals .218 .633 .097
2023 Cardinals .249 .657 .119
MLB average .244 .633 .098

Some defensive metrics suggest the Cardinals weren’t a particularly rowdy group last year. but suggested that he was better at completing the play. . They turn the balls they get into outs, and any lack of coverage they can make up for with shifts. Shifting is now limited and compensating for range is not so easy. That could hurt the Cardinals this season. It probably doesn’t help that Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt are in their 30s and are expected to wane defensively, and that the Cardinals aren’t likely to settle for a normal outfield arrangement. Nothing has caused the team to stall on the field. There are probably a few possible causes, but whatever they are, they’re just new problems for the Cardinals in 2023. “The timing of what we are doing now is not good,” Marmol told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “There’s no way out of this situation other than to wake up tomorrow, play another game, deal with the problem, wake up the next morning, and keep going until you’re out of this little rut. It’s a shame nothing clicks.” It should be.

Dodgers Struggle to Stop Stealing

Last month, the Dodgers did something they’ve never done before in franchise history, and it wasn’t good. From April 25 to 28, he had never allowed a stolen base in more than three consecutive games, but allowed at least three stolen bases in four consecutive games. In the last four games, Los Angeles still managed to draw 2-2, but their opponents stole 15 bases and 16.


Dodgers manager Dave Roberts recently told MLB.com that he “doesn’t know the answer at this point” when it comes to improving stolen base protection. “The best answer is try to keep them away from first base, but when they get there, they’re going to take advantage of us. Yes, I wish I could solve it quickly.

At the start of the game on Tuesday, the Dodgers allowed an MLB-leading 45 stolen bases (the White Sox are the only team to have allowed at least 35 stolen bases) and an MLB-leading 11 third-base stolen bases. His stealing success rate against Los Angeles was 87%, well above the league average of 79% even in an era when stolen bases are on the rise.

Perhaps the most surprising number is how often the team plays against the Dodgers. Here are the top (or bottom) stolen base attempt percentage leaderboards:

Dodgers: 10.4%
White Sox: 8.9%
Guardians: 8.9%
Athletics: 7.7%
Blue Jays: 7.7%
(MLB average: 6.5%)

A stolen base opportunities is defined as having a runner on first or second base and the next base is vacant, so 10.4% of stolen base opportunities against Los Angeles are runner attempts. The difference between his 1st place on this list and his 2nd place is the same as the difference between 2nd place and his 7th place. The Dodgers are better in many ways. Preventing theft is not among them.

Catcher is obviously a factor. Runners were 28-of-31 (90%) against Austin Barnes, who caught more pitches than expected as Will Smith spent time on his concussion list. According to Statcast, Burns has the lowest average throw speed of any qualified catcher and has below-average pop time, making him an easy target. Smith is above average in speed and pop time, but runners are still 12-10 (83%) against him.

The pitchers are not without sin. The Dodgers have had some pitchers who were slow to hit the plate or weren’t very good at keeping runners down, but the pitching clock and defensive restrictions make this, of course, even harder. Noah Syndergaard has always been very steal-friendly and has had 9-for-9 runners against him this year. The runners are 17-18 combined (94%) against relievers Yensy Almonte, Phil Bickford, Caleb Ferguson, Shelby Miller and Alex Bashir.

Los Angeles is on pace to allow 203 stolen bases this season. Only one team has allowed 200 stolen bases this century (the Red Sox had 223 stolen bases in 2001), and no team has even allowed 170 bases since the Padres in 2007 (189 stolen bases). The Dodgers are the most stolen base team we’ve seen in a while, but it’s not because of the catchers or the new rules. Many of their pitchers are simply not good at keeping runners down. Allowing so many stolen bases won’t sink the team’s season, but it’s something the Dodgers can do better.

“If you don’t have the ability to manage your running game, going into an inning with runners on base isn’t a viable option,” Roberts told MLB.com. “And I think they each need to work on themselves to get better. We gave him the bases, and the talent is still there.”

A year ago, the Guardians had one of the youngest members in the sport, but thanks to an unrelenting line-up that rarely struck out and constantly put pressure on defense, the Guardians finished 92 games in the AL Central. won the championship. Cleveland struck out just 18.2 percent of at-bats last season. The Astros had the second-lowest team strikeout percentage at 19.5%, while the league average was 22.4%. The Guardians have been striking out a little more…

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