MLB trends: Cardinals’ surprising problem; Dodgers’ stolen-base problem; Least powerful team in baseball

The 2023 MLB season is now more than a month old and we’re settling into the daily grind of regular season baseball. All the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day and home openers is over. Now it’s just baseball, day by day. Playing every day is the best and worst thing about this sport. A quick turnaround to forget failure, not enough time to enjoy success.

However, our bi-weekly series of breaking down various trends across the league continues Wednesday, including one team’s surprisingly poor defense, a contender’s difficulty preventing stolen bases and another team’s lack of power. Two weeks ago we looked at a catcher who improved his defense, a hitter who adjusted his swing, and a team’s dire DH situation..

The Cardinals have a surprisingly poor defense

By any measure this has been a very disappointing start to the season for the Cardinals. They’re in last place in the NL Central, sending top prospect Jordan Walker less than a month into the season. And they fired free agent prize Willson Contreras as the starting catcher. Not much is going right in St. Louis this year.

It also includes their unique superior defense. From 2019-22, the Cardinals led all teams in defensive runs saved with 228 (the Astros’ 219 were the only other team with more than 180) and ranked third with a .722 defensive efficiency, which is a fancy way of saying that St. Louis turned in 72.2. % Outs of balls in play. Elite defense has been a constant for the Cardinals, seemingly forever.

Not so this season. Entering play Tuesday, the Cardinals ranked 18th with minus-2 defensive runs saved and 29th (!) with a .657 defensive efficiency. With the exception of Contreras behind the plate, this is the same defensive group as last season, and the catcher doesn’t contribute much to defensive efficiency because he doesn’t field as many batted balls.

“It’s a different guy every night, and it’s just unfortunate timing when these non-plays happened,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. St. Louis Post-Dispatch Last month, after a sloppy sequence against the Giants, Lars Knutbar dropped the ball in center field and the runner scored on a wild pitch.

MLB implemented new rules to limit defensive turnovers this season, and yes, it could absolutely contribute to the Cardinals defensive woes. Last season St. Louis allowed a .284 batting average on balls in play with the shift, equal to a .283 league average. Without the shift, it jumped to a .298 BABIP, which was still below the .303 league average.

The thing is, the Cardinals didn’t change at all. He swung 27.9% of plate appearances last season, which ranked 21st in baseball and comfortably south of the league average of 33.3%. That doesn’t mean St. Louis didn’t improve their position. It also meant they didn’t use those drastic shifts (three infielders in right, etc.) like most teams.

The defensive damage this year has come across all batted ball types, it should be noted. It’s not just ground balls or fly balls or line drives that are giving the Cardinals trouble this year. He is converting all kinds of batted balls into short outs. Here are the BABIP numbers:

2022 Cardinals




2023 Cardinals








Several defensive metrics indicated that last year’s Cardinals weren’t a particularly exciting bunch, but they excelled at completing plays. He converted the balls he got into outs and you can make up for the lack of range with shifts. Now the shifts are limited and it is not so easy to cover the rank. That could hurt the Cardinals this season.

It probably doesn’t help that Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt are in their 30s and at an age where you’d expect their defensive skills to slip, or that the Cardinals can’t settle into a regular outfield lineup. No one thing on the field caused the team to lose. It could be a number of things, and whatever they are, 2023 is just another thing going wrong with the Cardinals.

“The timing of what we’re doing right now is not good,” Marmol said St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Wake up tomorrow, play another game, and hope you figure it out, and get up the next morning and keep going until you get out of this little rut. It’s unfortunate that nothing clicks. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

The Dodgers are struggling to prevent stolen bases

Last month the Dodgers did something they’ve never done before in franchise history, and it wasn’t a good one. From April 25-28, he allowed at least three stolen bases in four consecutive games after never having done so in more than three straight games before. In those four games — Los Angeles still managed a 2-2 split — opponents went 15 for 16 stealing bases. Alas.

“Right now, I don’t know the answer,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts recently told about preventing steals. “The best answer is to try to keep them off first base, but once they get there, they’re taking advantage of us. So I think sometimes it’s a combination of pitchers and sometimes catchers are at fault. And yeah, I want it to be a quick fix.”

Entering Tuesday’s game, the Dodgers had allowed an MLB-high 45 stolen bases (the White Sox with 41 are the only other team with more than 35 steals) and an MLB-high 11 steals of third base. The Base Stealers have an 87% success rate against Los Angeles, even higher than the league average of 79%. An era of increased stolen bases.

Perhaps the most staggering number is how often teams run against the Dodgers. Here’s the top (or bottom, I guess) of the stolen-base attempt rate leaderboard:

  1. Dodgers: 10.4%
  2. White Socks: 8.9%
  3. Defenders: 8.9%
  4. Athletics: 7.7%
  5. Blue Jays: 7.7%
    (MLB Average: 6.5%)

A stolen-base opportunity is defined as a runner on first or second base, so runners attempted to steal 10.4% of their stolen base opportunities against Los Angeles. In that list no. 1 and no. 2 The distance between the no. 2 and no. 7 is the same as the distance between The Dodgers are great at many things. Preventing theft is not one of them.

Obviously the catcher is a factor. Runners were 28 for 31 (90%) against Austin Barnes, who caught more than expected due to Will Smith spending time on the concussion list. According to Statcast, Barnes has the lowest average throw velocity and below-average pop time among qualified catchers, so he’s an easy target. Smith has an above-average rate on speed and pop time, but runners are still 10-for-12 (83%) against him.

Pitchers are not infallible. The Dodgers have too many pitchers who are slow to the plate or don’t do a particularly good job of holding runners, which is tougher now with the pitch clock and the limit on disengagements. Noah Syndergaard has always been a stolen-base victim, and runners are 9 for 9 against him this year. Runners are a combined 17 for 18 (94%) against Yancy Almonte, Phil Bickford, Caleb Ferguson, Shelby Miller and Alex Vecia.

Los Angeles is on pace to allow 203 stolen bases this season. Only one team this century has allowed 200 steals (223 with the 2001 Red Sox) and no team has allowed even 170 steals since the 2007 Padres (189). The Dodgers are the most stolen-base prone team we’ve seen in a while, and it’s not because of the catchers or the new rules. Many of their pitchers don’t do a good job of holding runners. A chance to steal too many won’t sink a team’s season, but it could improve the Dodgers.

“If you don’t have the ability to handle the running game, you’re not a viable option to get into the inning with runners on base,” Roberts told “And I think everybody has to take it personally to get better. A couple of guys are doing a good job. But we’ve obviously given up more bases than anybody in baseball. The arm talent is still there. . . the track record is still there. But we’ve got to get better.”

Lack of power of defenders

A year ago the Guardians, while sporting baseball’s youngest roster, won 92 games and the AL Central thanks to a relentless team that rarely hit and constantly pressured the defense. Cleveland batters hit just 18.2% of plate appearances last season. The Astros had the next-lowest team strikeout rate at 19.5% and the league average was 22.4%.

The Guardians are striking out a bit more this season, though their 20.2% strikeout rate is still the fourth lowest in baseball and comfortably south of the 22.7% league average. With the exception of Mike Zunino, Cleveland’s offense is built around dudes who put the ball in play and force the opposing team to make plays.

That’s all well and good, but a low strikeout rate doesn’t automatically equate to a good offense. The Guardians are averaging 3.50 runs per game, second fewest in baseball behind the Marlins (3.28 runs per game) and they rank at or below the bottom of the league in most major offensive categories:

Batting average

.223 (29th in MLB)


On-base percentage

.299 (29th in MLB)


Slugging percentage

.330 (30th in MLB)



77 (30th in MLB)



19 (30th in MLB)


Average departure speed

87.8 mph (26th in MLB)

89.0 mph

barrel price

4.0% (30th in MLB)


Despite some strikeouts, the Guardians have hit a low batting average because they don’t hit the ball that hard. The barrel is basically the best combination of exit velocity and launch angle, they are the most damaging balls, and no offense produces as few barrels as the Guardians. To say they’re a team of slappers is an oversimplification, but kind of?

“We never talk about it. Ever. I think that’s the worst thing we could do,” Guardians manager Terry Francona told when asked if his team should try to hit more home runs. “We need them to be good hitters. If they’re good hitters, some balls are going to get out of the ballpark. But if you start trying to hit home runs before you’re a good hitter, you’re not going to accomplish anything.”

Jose Ramirez leads the Guardians with four home runs, Josh Bell and Josh Naylor each have three homers and no one else on the roster has more than two. The Rays, for comparison, have nine players with at least five home runs. Cleveland recently went five straight games without a homer and the Guards have hit just two home runs in their last nine games. It’s one thing not to rely too much on homers. It is another to be completely deprived of power.

With the exception of Ramirez and Kwan and maybe Zunino, everyone is underperforming on offense. Bell, Naylor, Andres Gimenez, Amed Rosario, a revolving door in right field. Everyone. Cleveland’s offense was somewhat overpowered last season, based on the quality of their contact and the results it produced. This year things have turned in the other direction. They actually aren’t This is Bad, but they have little margin for error offensively, and it shows when things aren’t going well.

“I think with hitters, you always think one swing is going to get real hot on somebody,” Francona told “Sometimes you see it, sometimes you don’t. Some guys work at it.”

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