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BenFred: Cardinals pitchers included in quest for improved offense

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Time and time again this spring, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt has discussed his ideal lineup.

We keep asking him about which hitters will hit where.

He keeps answering about how he wants the entire lineup to hit, and hit and hit.

We want answers.

He wants results.

“A long lineup,” Shildt said Monday in the visitors’ dugout at Hammond Stadium before the Cardinals beat the Twins 3-0 in Grapefruit League play. “That’s really what good lineups are. They have one through nine.”

Yes, nine.

“I include our pitchers in that,” Shildt said. “We have been able to do a little more specifically with them this year. Our expectations are higher for our pitchers’ offense as well, in totality.”

From Jack Flaherty to Adam Wainwright, Cardinals starters have pressed Shildt to find earlier in-game action this spring.

Shildt has prioritized smarter work instead.

An often overlooked element of the National League game, one that will eventually be scrapped when the designated hitter inevitably arrives, is being sharpened in Cardinals camp. Cardinals pitchers are talking advanced hitting analytics.

Assistant hitting coach Jobel Jimenez and bullpen catcher Jami Pogue are working with the pitchers to double down on their strengths and avoid and improve their weaknesses. Lay off these pitches. Hunt those ones. The days of every pitcher doing the same drills have ended.

“The pitchers have their own specific routines, based on what we have seen in the last year or so,” Shildt said. “What they like to swing at. What they are better at swinging at. We have gone through that whole process. We treat them as hitters. Now, we don’t have the proverbial sample size (compared to a position player), but we have to work off something. So we are moving the needle with that. We are being more specific. We are being intentional about what their work looks like. Not more work. More targeted.”

Anyone interested enough in the Cardinals to read this far into blog about how their pitchers hit does not need to be reminded that the 2019 team did not hit well enough. But did you know that regression included the pitchers?

Last season, National League pitchers averaged .131 with a .161 on-base percentage and a .168 slugging percentage.

(And still people wonder why I’m pro-DH.)

Cardinals pitchers were pretty much right on pace with that average. They slashed .142/.162/.171.

It did not go unnoticed by the pitchers, or their manager, that the pitchers’ .333 on-base plus slugging percentage was the lowest OPS by a group of Cardinals arms since a .330 OPS in 2015.

Cardinals pitchers combined for just eight extra-base hits last season. None hit a home run.

Former Silver Slugger Adam Wainwright mustered a batting line of .160/.189/.220, a disappointing performance for him, considering his career averages read .199/.225/.302.

Yes, Wainwright’s average has slipped below the Mendoza line.

Perhaps that’s what was on the starter’s mind earlier this spring, when he pounded not one, not two, but three consecutive batting-practice pitches over the fence of Field 1 at Roger Dean Stadium. One of those homers sent a ball over the practice mounds between the clubhouse and the Field 1 fence, a ride that did not end until the ball stopped beneath a trailer that sits close to the complex’s batting cages. Reliever John Brebbia said it was the longest homer he’s witnessed at Field 1, and while there have been longer hit by position players, an unofficial survey suggests it might be the longest hit by the pitcher.

“I can’t speak for Waino, but I don’t think Waino was thrilled about his year last year offensively,” Shildt said, somewhere between serious and amused. “So, you know, he was one of the big guys rightfully pushing for more.”

No one is suggesting the Cardinals pitchers will make the difference for the 2020 offense.

No one should disagree that every little improvement helps.

Ben Frederickson

@Ben_Fred on Twitter

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