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October 28, 2013

Baseball Therapy

Is Cardinal Magic Real?

by Russell A. Carleton


The St. Louis Cardinals hit .330/.402/.463 with runners in scoring position during the 2013 regular season.

Snarkiness about clutch aside, let’s give the Cardinals their due. The .330 average was 48 points better than that of the second-place Tigers. It wasn’t just empty batting average, either. In OBP, the Cards outpaced their nearest competitor (the Reds) by 49 points in RISP situations. Take another 49-point tumble and you end up somewhere between the 27th-place Pirates (.316) and the 28th-place Mariners (.310).

The .330/.402/.463 line isn’t completely out of left field. Overall, the Cards did hit .269 (fourth place)/.332 (third)/.401 (12th), so we are talking about one of the better offenses in the game, but when there were runners in scoring position, the Cardinals suddenly found 132 points worth of OPS. Even allowing for some sampling issues (in a RISP situation, they’d be more likely to pinch hit for a pitcher), that’s still a fantastic jump. Is this magic?

If you stare at the Cardinals’ team splits for the year, it doesn’t take long to see the number .377 listed under BABIP for hitters. Unlike for pitchers, whom we generally believe will regress very heavily toward a mean of .300 or so, hitter BABIPs stabilize more quickly, so we can believe them. Still, .377 seems like a lot of seeing-eye singles. Perhaps they had a bit of luck there?

Of course, this is where we start to hear the arguments for Clutch and Heart. (A reminder that if you see someone clutching their heart, it’s most likely a heart attack.) We know. The Cardinals have that something special. In addition to having the Best Fans in Baseball™ and getting to elect the Pope, the Cardinals also have magic elves that get them base hits in key situations.

Looking at this from a more rational point of view, there are a couple of possible explanations for this statistical anomaly, none of which are mutually exclusive.

  1. There is something that the Cardinals do all the time that plays up particularly well in situations in which there are runners in scoring position (RISP).
  2. The Cardinals change their approach in RISP situations to something that works better in general.
  3. Some combination of 1 and 2, where there is some approach that works really well but only in RISP situations, and they’ve figured out what it is, so when those situations happen, they switch to that.
  4. Magic elves.

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Related Content:  St. Louis Cardinals,  Clutch Hitting,  Clutch

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<< Previous Article
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Baseball Therapy: What... (11/04)
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