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.

4 Responses to “Hot off the Bat”

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  1. vivaelpujols says:

    The feeling of most Cards fans is that his 2008 season, and the second half of 2007 didn’t really depict Duncan’s true talent level. He was injured badly in 08, and he had to be shut down in 07 as well. In his first ~600 PA, he put up an OPS well over .900. I don’t doubt that he could maintain this years level of success if he stays healthy. His BABIP should regress, however, he hasn’t yet flashed the power that he is capable of. I wouldn’t be surprised if he finished with a .280/.380/.550 line.

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    • R M says:

      That seems a little bit optimistic to me.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        That was basically his line in his first 600 at bats before he got injured. I don’t know, it may be a little high, but I’ve watched him hit this year and he really looks good. His approach looks a lot better this year (13.6 BB rate) and he still hasn’t really shown the pop that his body lends himself to.

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      • cpebbles says:

        Definitely a bit optimistic, but Duncan sure looks like a much better hitter than the ~.800 OPS projections which are drug down by playing through a serious injury last year. I don’t know that anyone has any real certainty just what his true talent level is due to the injury and the fact that he was such a late bloomer, but if I had to guess I’d put him a little north of his ’07. He was victimized by lefties early in his career, but he has visibly improved in that area since.

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