Hot off the Bat

Albert Pujols is no mere human baseball player, of that we were already pretty certain. Ryan Ludwick as well put a rather impressive impression of his hitting skills on display last year. That those two have followed up so far in 2009 comes as no real surprise. Neither is a tremendous surprise to see the Cardinals pacing the league in offense this season. They were, after all, the third best offensive team last year behind the Rangers and the Red Sox. Besides Pujols and Ludwick though is a different crop of supporters.

In 2008, Troy Glaus, Rick Ankiel and Felipe Lopez were the primary secondary hitters for the Cardinals, posting wOBAs of .371, .360 and .415 respectively. This year, Brian Barden, Yadier Molina and Chris Duncan are trio providing the offense behind Pujols and Ludwick this time around. Barden is currently getting his at bats at third base, which opens the question about what the Cardinals might do when Troy Glaus returns if Barden defies the odds and is still hitting. Barden has some experience at the middle infield positions, so that might be the route they go. Of course, even a cursory glance at Barden’s past results will lead one to be skeptical that he’s going to be any significant part of the Cardinals plans as the season progresses.

Yadier Molina, though highly unlikely to maintain an OPS over .900, has shown a marked increase in offensive production over the past few seasons. After establishing a baseline wOBA in the high 200s, and declining, after his first three years, Molina posted a wOBA of .311 and .323 in 2007 and 2008. A final line in that range is more plausible than his current standing.

Never much on the fielding side of things, Chris Duncan has seen his offensive output decline since he came onto the scene in 2006. Still, most projection systems pegged Duncan to return to a hitting level somewhere between 2007 and 2008. He’s been much better than that so far in 2009, but looks to be the fortune of an inflated BABIP number. When that falls back down to Duncan’s established career norms, his overall production is likely to regress back to a more expected figure.

Even with the expected regression from all three of the above players, the Cardinals still boast a powerful offense that should remain one of the league’s best as long as Pujols and Ludwick stay healthy.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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