ST. LOUIS -- It's a statistical oddity that continues to confound the Cardinals, even as their season nears its halfway point: How can a club on pace to eclipse 200 home runs for just the fifth time in franchise history be having so much trouble tallying extra-base hits on balls
ST. LOUIS -- It's a statistical oddity that continues to confound the Cardinals, even as their season nears its halfway point: How can a club on pace to eclipse 200 home runs for just the fifth time in franchise history be having so much trouble tallying extra-base hits on balls that don't clear the wall?
The trend has those within the organization puzzled, though a few plausible theories have emerged. What hasn't, however, is a move toward the mean.
Through 73 games, the Cards have 94 doubles and three triples. Both totals rank last in the Majors, and it's not really all that close. And what makes St. Louis' double trouble so bizarre is that it's not indicative of a larger power drought.
The Cardinals are on pace to eclipse last year's home run total (196), as they rank eighth in the Majors with 95 homers this season. They are one of four National League teams to boast four players with at least 10. Yet the correlation one would expect to see between home runs and doubles is oddly absent.
"I don't believe there is anything analytically that explains it," general manager Michael Girsch said. "I think it's mostly an odd confluence of luck more than anything else. If we had some special skill to hit the ball just over the fence, not off the fence, we would do that more. I think it's just a weird coincidence of batted balls and where they're landing and guys making great catches on balls that would otherwise be a double or triple. I don't think it's an approach [issue]. I think it's odd, but not instructive in any way."
St. Louis, as you might expect, has never finished a year with more home runs than doubles. It's happened seven times in Major League history and just once since 1963. That exception came last season, when the Rays had 226 doubles and 228 home runs.
At their current pace, the Cards would finish the season with fewer doubles (209) than they've had in any year since 1988. The last team in the Majors with so few two-base hits was the 2003 Tigers, who lost 119 games.
"I think at the end of the season, we'll look back and say we have exactly as many as we thought we'd have," said Matt Carpenter, who, with 19 doubles, has accounted for 20 percent of the team's total. "It's like me. I hit .150 the first month. Was I going to hit .150 the rest of the season? No. But people thought I would. People talk about it. We have to let the games play out. We don't have a lot of doubles right now, but at the end of the year, I guarantee the doubles category will look right."
There is some statistical basis for such optimism.
Entering their series against the Brewers, the Cardinals had suffered more bad luck on line-drive hits than anyone else. According to Statcast™, the discrepancy between their weighted on-base percentage (.587) and expected on-base percentage (.692) is the largest in the Majors. So is the difference between their expected slugging percentage (.984) and actual slugging percentage (.803).
In other words, the offense is not getting the return it should expect when making solid contact.
"Keep hitting the ball hard, good things are going to happen," manager Mike Matheny said. "It all comes down to this: you can't control those results. What you can control is grinding the at-bat. We hope those turn into rallies."
But while most within the clubhouse struggled to come to any other conclusion for the statistical abnormality beyond bad luck, outfielder Tommy Pham offered a different theory.
"Last month, I had a very high amount of lineouts to the outfield, and I thought that was unusual," Pham noted. "Those are usually my extra-base hits. They're starting to position me better in the outfield. A lot of teams are playing me deeper. They are willing to give me the single instead of the extra-base hit."
Statcast™ data supports Pham's assessment. He is being played deeper at all three outfield spots, including an average of six feet deeper in left. And he's not the only one. In fact, teams are playing the Cards deep as a whole. The average start distance (320 feet) by opposing center fielders is fifth deepest in the Majors. That could explain why fewer balls are getting over outfielders' heads.
Even still, the Cardinals expect the numbers to normalize. And perhaps that's starting. St. Louis recorded multiple doubles in three of the first four games on this road trip after doing so just twice previously in June.
"If I were a betting man, I'd bet our doubles and triples will look more like what you'd expect from now until the end of the season, because it's not something systematic," Girsch said. "It's just unique."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.