Bird Bytes: Will Cards hit more homers?

2013-12-19T07:00:00Z 2014-03-12T13:15:47Z Bird Bytes: Will Cards hit more homers?Bernie Miklasz bjmiklasz@post-dispatch.com stltoday.com

Carlos Beltran is gone, having cashed in for a three-year free-agent contract with the Yankees after giving the Cardinals 56 home runs over the past two seasons.

David Freese was traded to the Angels. And though he slumped to only nine homers in 2013, Freese banged 20 home runs two seasons ago.

The Cardinals ranked 13th among 15 National League clubs in home runs last season. Their total of 125 was the lowest by a Cardinals team since 1993.

According to Baseball Prospectus, the 2013 Cardinals generated 26.05 percent of their runs via the homer; that was the lowest percentage among the 30 MLB teams.

That was also the lowest HR/runs percentage by a Cardinals' team since 1992.

The Cardinals used a historically good .330 batting average with runners in scoring position to push across the most runs scored in the NL last season.

That freakish .330 mark was 31 points higher than the previous best RISP batting average posted by a Cardinals club in franchise history. It was also the highest RISP average by a major-league team since the statistic became official in 1974.

Matching that .330 in 2014 is an extreme long shot.

There have been 1,108 individual-team seasons 1974 ... and only 15 MLB teams of the 1,108 have have hit .300 or higher with runners in scoring position.

The overall major-league average with RISP since '74 is .263.

And the highest MLB-wide batting average with RISP in a single season came in 2007 when teams combined to hit .272.

Even the most over-the-top optimist would likely concede that the chance of reaching .300 again with runners in scoring position is remote at best.

So if the Cardinals are merely average or above-average when batting with runners in position to score, then how will that impact their runs-scored output in 2014?

That's where the need for more homers comes in. That's one way to make up for a likely regression in RISP performance.

But with no Beltran, where will the extra homers come from?

It's a good question that doesn't lead to a simple answer.

First, we can take a look at the Cardinals' ZiPS projections for homers for 2014. I'll go down the list of the likely regular and semi-regular players. We'll list the number of homers by that player in 2013; then present the ZiPS projection for homers by that hitter in 2014.

In the matter of new shortstop Jhonny Peralta, I listed his 2014 HR projection but deviated by comparing it to shortstop Pete Kozma's total in 2013.

Yadier Molina: 14 homers in 2013. Projection: 13

Matt Carpenter: 11 homers in 2013. Projection: 10

Matt Holliday: 22 homers in 2013. Projection: 21

Jhonny Peralta: 11 HRs in '13. Projection: 12. Kozma had 1 in'13

Allen Craig: 13 homers in 2013. Projection: 16

Matt Adams: 17 homers in 2013. Projection: 17

Peter Bourjos: 3 homers in 2013. Projection: 9

Mark Ellis: 6 homers in 2013. Projection: 4

Jon Jay: 7 homers in 2013. Projection: 7

Daniel Descalso: 5 homers in 2013. Projection: 5

We have to add two rookies to the mix.

ZiPS projects eight homers for second baseman Kolten Wong. That's based on 555 plate appearances.

And outfielder Oscar Taveras is projected for nine homers in 388 plate appearances.

So what should we make of this?

I admire Dan Szymborski's ZiPS system. But it's only a projection. And the projections can be significantly altered based on injuries and playing time and unexpected developments.

I could easily see several players exceeding the projections.

Craig hit 22 homers in 2012. He surely can be a 20-homer guy in 2014. The Steamer projection of 19 homers is slightly more optimistic than ZiPS. 

Adams hit 17 homers in 319 plate appearances as a rookie in 2013. ZiPS has him at 17 homers again in 2014, but on 382 plate appearances. Yes, there are some holes in Adams' swing. But I'd have to believe that with increased playing time Big City will crank more than 17 homers.

With Craig moving to right field, Adams figures to get many more at-bats as the regular first baseman in 2014. I don't think it's crazy to think Adams can rip 25-plus homers. Steamer has him at 24 homers. Oliver, another projection, forecasts 26 for Adams in '14. 

I think Peralta is capable of hitting more than 12 bombs; he had 21 as recently as 2011. And Peralta had 11 in 409 at-bats for the Tigers last season. Given his record of durability, Peralta should be around 600 plate appearances this season, and has a chance to hit 15+ homers. 

Taveras is a wild card. Coming off ankle surgery, he may start the season in the minors to get the at-bats that he needs to make the jump to the big club.

ZiPS likes Taveras overall for 2014, projecting him for a .331 onbase percentage, .448 slugging percentage and an OPS+ of 114. (Again: anything over 100 is above average.)

It's conceivable that Taveras could emerge later in the season to lift the Cards' home-run power. Same with Stephen Piscotty, another promising rookie outfielder. 

The 2014 Cardinals should get more homers at first base and shortstop. There's a potential for more homers at third base and center field. The home-run counts will likely be about the same at catcher, second base and left field.

There may be a drop in right field. But a combination of Craig and Taveras certainly seems capable of matching — or exceeding — Beltran's 24 home runs in '13.

Before he signed with the Yankees, ZiPS projected Beltran at 23 homers in '14. But that projection was raised to 26 based on Beltran's new yard and the homer-friendly conditions for lefthanded hitters at Yankee Stadium.

I believe the Cardinals will hit more homers in 2014. It probably won't be a dramatic, eye-opening increase. But they should go deep more often.

Weather could play into it, too. Because of milder than usual summer temperatures and humidity, Busch Stadium played big in 2013. The ball didn't carry as well. If the normal sweltering summer moves back into Busch in 2014, that should spike the homer total.

It's also important to remember this: the Cardinals led the NL with 322 doubles last season. That was more doubles by a Cardinals team since 2003, and the 23rd-highest total in a season by an NL team since the pitching mound was lowered in 1969. Doubles are why the Cardinals finished third in the league with a .401 slugging percentage.

I don't know if Carpenter can repeat what he did last season, when he pelted 55 doubles. And Molina may not be able to match last season's 44 doubles. But Peralta and associates should deliver more doubles from the shortstop position. And ZiPs projects 22 doubles for Wong, and 23 for Taveras. Overall the Cardinals still have plenty of doubles in them.

The potential for extra home-run power is there.

Much of it depends on the young hitters. 

Thanks for reading ...

— Bernie

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Bernie Miklasz

You've read Bernie Miklasz in the Post-Dispatch since 1989. Now check out a new video "Breakfast with Bernie" every weekday morning. You'll also see more "Bernie Bytes" around the clock as he posts quick-hit commentaries on a variety of topics.

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