Welcome back to Patience or Panic! It is now September and we are in the stretch run of the season. Playoff races are getting tighter and everyone is on edge waiting to see how things shake out. For this week’s edition of Patience or Panic we’re once again looking at an entire team that is firmly in the playoffs already, but has some concerns of late, as well as an individual from a team trying to sneak in via the second wild card spot.
We’ll start with our individual to kick things off.
Nolan Arenado, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals
Acquired over the winter, Arenado came to St. Louis hoping to get back to the playoffs and make a run, something he had not accomplished with the Rockies outside of one Wild Card win against the Cubs in 2018.
Arenado held up his end of the bargain for most of the season but the Cardinals have simply disappointed all around him due to injury and lack of production. So it’s been a disappointing season in St. Louis, at least by their standards, and yet they still find themselves just 2.5 games out of the second wild card entering play on Wednesday.
Unfortunately, Arenado has not had similar production. Since August 11th, the Cardinals third baseman has hit just .219 with a .284 OBP. He has still hit for decent power, with 4 doubles and 4 home runs for a .438 SLG, but three of those homers and two doubles came during a four day stretch from the 12-15th. So taking those out and looking at the last two weeks alone (a 12 game sample size) Arenado has hit .180/.212/.280 for a .492 OPS.
If the Cardinals want to leap the San Diego Padres and the Cincinnati Reds, Arenado is going to have to start pulling his weight and play like the star we all know him to be, like the guy who had a .825 OPS and 120 wRC+ at the end of July.
One thing that sticks out right away is that Arenado has been striking out at a nearly 20% clip, up 7% from where he was at the end of July.
So when seeing a spike like that, the thing we want to look is at what Arenado is swinging at and how often, and when we look at those numbers, we see a tiny uptick in his swings and contact at pitches outside the zone. Since the start of August, Arenado is swinging at pitches outside the zone about three percent more, and making contact with pitches outside the zone about five percent more than he was from April through July. This correlates with the decrease in the swings and contact he is taking inside of the strike zone.
It jumps even more over the last two weeks (namely when you take away the four day power surge), as since August 18th, we see Arenado swinging at 39% of pitches outside the zone and making contact with just 59% of those pitches, compared to 72% at the end of July.
Looking at the type of pitches he has been seeing lately, it’s an interesting picture. Arenado has not been good against fastballs this year, hitting just .222 against them over the course of 2021. And in August, although he saw fewer fastballs at a lower rate than the rest of the season, the results still weren’t there.
Well, remember how we said he isn’t swinging at as many pitches inside the zone? Arenado saw the second most fastballs inside the zone in August than any other month, only slightly behind the amount he saw in June. Actually, Arenado saw an increase of pitches inside the zone for all pitches, not just fastballs.
Now, here’s the thing: Arenado knows the situation. A few weeks ago, when asked about the Cardinals’ chase for the second wild card, he responded, “This is what I’m here for.” Plus, everyone around him is starting to heat up as well, so eventually the transitive property will take effect and he’ll naturally turn it around, right? Right?!
On the bright side, Arenado’s average exit velocity has been up about 3 mph over the last week, and he still ranks in the top seven defensively from an Outs Above Average standpoint. With two series against Cincinnati and another with San Diego this month, the Cardinals are in a position to control their own destiny. If Arenado can start hunting for more pitches inside the zone and doing damage with them, then the Cardinals offense will get another boost.
For our second entry, we once again look at a full team, but this time the team in question already has their postseason plans locked up.
The Chicago White Sox
Now the White Sox may seem like an odd entry here. After all, we still have a month of the season to go and they’ve already won 77 games, with a ten game lead in the division.
That being said, the White Sox still have some concerns, namely injuries.
Cy Young candidate Lance Lynn just went on the IL, and fellow rotation member Lucas Giolito (who has had a 2.82 ERA in the second half) exited his start on Tuesday with a hamstring issue. Carlos Rodón just came back from injury, but he has never thrown more than 165 innings in a season and is already at 114 in 2021.
Last year, the White Sox’ issue was that they only had two legitimate starters in the postseason, and as of right now, they only have one. Again, there is still a month left in the season, so the team can afford to take it slow with Lynn and Giolito and let them get fully healthy before bringing them back. And that may be the plan, as manager Tony La Russa told reporters that Lynn should only miss one start before returning. But, these injuries are something to watch because once playoff time rolls around, things aren’t going to go great if Dallas Keuchel and Dylan Cease are two of the top three pitchers in the rotation.
Eventually Lynn and Giolito will come back, and the White Sox have more than enough going for them as it is. Luis Robert has been back for a few weeks now and carries a .335/.378/.539 line so far. Yasmani Grandal also returned recently and picked up right where he left off, with four homers and 11 RBI in four games.
Verdict: Patience. All the patience in the world