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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 after day after day. Playing every single day is both the best and worst thing about this sport. Quick turnaround to forget failure, not enough time to enjoy success.

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

The Cardinals' surprisingly poor defense

By any measure this has been a supremely disappointing start to the season for the Cardinals. They are in last place in the NL Central, they sent down top prospect Jordan Walker less than a month into the season, and they removed free agent prize Willson Contreras from the starting catcher's job. Not much is going right in St. Louis this year.

That also includes their typically superlative defense. From 2019-22, the Cardinals led all teams with 228 defensive runs saved (the Astros at 219 were the only other team over 180) and ranked third with a .722 defensive efficiency, which is a fancy way of saying St. Louis turned 72.2% of balls in play into outs. Elite defense has been a constant for the Cardinals, seemingly forever.

That has not been the case this season. Entering play Tuesday, the Cardinals ranked 18th with minus-2 defensive runs saved and 29th (!) with .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 many batted balls.

"It's a different guy every night, and it's been unfortunate timing of it, of when these non-plays have taken place," Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last month, following a sloppy sequence against the Giants in which Lars Nootbaar dropped a ball in center field and the runner scored on a wild pitch.

MLB implemented new rules to limit defensive shifts this season and yeah, that absolutely could be contributing to the Cardinals defensive woes. Last season St. Louis allowed a .284 batting average on balls in play with the shift, essentially identical to the .283 league average. Without the shift, it jumped to a .298 BABIP, which was still a tick below the .303 league average.

The thing is, the Cardinals didn't shift a whole lot. They shifted on 27.9% of plate appearances last season, which ranked 21st in baseball and was comfortably south of 33.3% league average. That does not mean St. Louis didn't optimize their positioning. It just means they didn't use those extreme shifts (three infielders on the right side, etc.) as often as most teams.

The defensive damage this year has come on all batted ball types, it should be noted. It just not merely ground balls that are giving the Cardinals trouble this year, or fly balls, or line drives. They are turning all types of batted balls into fewer outs. Here are BABIP numbers:

Ground ballsLine drivesFly balls

2022 Cardinals




2023 Cardinals




MLB average




Several defensive metrics suggested that last year's Cardinals were not an especially rangy group, but they excelled at completing plays. They turned the balls they got to into outs, and you can compensate for a lack of range with shifts. Now shifts are limited and compensating for range isn't quite as easy. That could be hurting the Cardinals in the field this season.

It probably doesn't help that Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt are in their 30s and at an age when you'd expect their defensive skills to slip, or that the Cardinals can't seem to settle on a regular outfield alignment. No one single thing has caused the team's slip in the field. It's likely several things, and whatever they are, they're just another thing going wrong with the 2023 Cardinals.

"The timing of what we're doing right now isn't great," Marmol told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "There is no way out of it other than wake up tomorrow, play another game, and hope you address it, and wake up the next morning and you keep going until you're out of this little rut. It's unfortunate not anything is clicking the way it's supposed to."

Dodgers struggling to prevent stolen bases

Last month the Dodgers did something they had never done before in franchise history, and it wasn't good. From April 25-28, they allowed at least three stolen bases in four consecutive games after never doing it in more than three straight games previously. In those four games -- which Los Angeles still managed to split 2-2 -- opponents went 15 for 16 stealing bases. Yikes.

"Right now, I don't know the answer," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told recently about better 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 it's a combo of pitchers at times and also I think that the catchers can be guilty at times as well. So yeah, I wish it was a quick fix."

Entering play Tuesday, the Dodgers had allowed an MLB-high 45 stolen bases (the White Sox with 41 were the only other team with more than 35 steals allowed) and an MLB-high 11 steals of third base. Base stealers have an 87% success rate against Los Angeles, well above the 79% league average even in this era of increased stolen bases.

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

  1. Dodgers: 10.4%
  2. White Sox: 8.9%
  3. Guardians: 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 with the next base open, so runners have attempted a steal in 10.4% of their stolen base opportunities against Los Angeles. The gap between No. 1 and No. 2 on that list is the same as the gap between No. 2 and No. 7. The Dodgers are excellent at many things. Preventing steals is not one of them.

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

The pitchers are not blameless. The Dodgers have several pitchers who are slow to the plate or don't do a particularly good job holding runners, which is of course tougher now with the pitch clock and limit on disengagements. Noah Syndergaard has always been extremely stolen-base prone and runners are 9 for 9 against him this year. Runners are a combined 17 for 18 (94%) against relievers Yency Almonte, Phil Bickford, Caleb Ferguson, Shelby Miller, and Alex Vesia.

Los Angeles is on pace to allow 203 stolen bases this season. Only one team this century has allowed 200 steals (2001 Red Sox with 223) 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 all on the catchers or the new rules. Many of their pitchers simply don't do a good job holding runners. Allowing so many steals won't sink the team's season, but it is something the Dodgers can improve.

"If you don't have the ability to manage the running game, then you're not a viable option to come into an inning with runners on base," Roberts told "And I think that they each individually need to take it upon themselves to get better. There are a couple guys that are doing a nice job. But we've clearly given up more bases than anyone in baseball. The arm talent is still there. The track record is still there. But we got to be better." 

The Guardians' lack of power

One year ago the Guardians, while sporting baseball's youngest roster, won 92 games and the AL Central thanks to a relentless lineup that rarely struck out and constantly put pressure on defenses. Cleveland batters struck out in only 18.2% of their 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 build 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 does not automatically equal a good offense. The Guardians are averaging only 3.50 runs per game, second lowest in baseball behind the Marlins (3.28 runs per game), and they ranked at or near the bottom of the league in most major offensive categories:

GuardiansMLB average

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 exit velocity

87.8 mph (26th in MLB)

89.0 mph

Barrel rate

4.0% (30th in MLB)


Despite few strikeouts, the Guardians have hit for a low batting average, largely because they don't hit the ball all that hard. A barrel is essentially the best possible combination of exit velocity and launch angle, they're the balls that go for the most damage, and no offense produces as few barrels as the Guardians. It's an oversimplification to say they're a team of slap hitters, but kind of?

"We never talk about that. Ever. I think that's the worst thing we can do," Guardians manager Terry Francona told when asked whether his team needs to try to hit more home runs. "We just need them to be good hitters. If they're good hitters, there will be some balls that will go 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."

José Ramírez leads the Guardians with four home runs, Josh Bell and Josh Naylor have three homers apiece, 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 only two home runs in their last nine games. It's one thing to not be overly reliant on homers. It's another to be completely devoid of power.

Other than Ramírez and Kwan and maybe Zunino, everyone is underperforming on offense. Bell, Naylor, Andrés Giménez, Amed Rosario, the revolving door in right field. Everyone. Cleveland's offense overperformed to some extent last season, just based on the quality of their contact and the results it produced. This year things have swung in the other direction. They're not actually this bad, but they have little margin of error offensively, and this is what it looks like when things don't go exactly right.

"I think with hitters, you always hope that one swing will get somebody real hot," Francona told "Sometimes you see it, sometimes you don't. Some guys work into it."