National League Wild Card race: Who has hitting edge?

The National League wild card is…a thing. The San Francisco Giants, New York Mets, and St. Louis Cardinals are within half a game of each other, and only one loss separates the Giants from the Mets and the Cardinals. How do these opponents stack up against each other? Here’s a look at the hitting side of the equation.

All the Mets can do right now is win, as they have a six-game win streak and are 8-2 in their last 10. As for the Giants, they keep losing–typically, late in games. The Cardinals are just, what’s the word, Cardinaling. Trolling their way to wins with homer after homer after homer after, wait for it, homer. The real question is how the teams shake out in terms of actually winning the wild card?

Here’s what needs to be said about the wild card game: it’s a crapshoot. Undeniably. You can put your two best pitchers on the mound for 6-7 innings and hope it all goes well. Not to mention it’s just one game.

The reason this is necessary to point out is that almost all of the following argumentation and analysis is irrelevant. Instead, where it can be applied, is to the rest of the regular season and the NLDS.

Having said all of that, it would be nice to actually break down the teams. There is so much to talk about that we couldn’t do this in just one article. We have to do this in three! *audible gasp* That being said, let’s get into how good/bad of hitters these teams are.

This is really a battle of the Cardinals and the Giants. I used Fangraphs’ team’s rankings and compared the three teams using wRC+, wOBA, and OPS. wRC+ says that the Cardinals are far and away the best of the three. As of last Friday night, they had a wRC+ of 106, good enough for 2nd in baseball, let alone the Wild Card teams. wRC+ is predictive of the rest of the stats because the Cardinals are just way ahead.

They are almost 50 points in OPS ahead of the Mets and Giants. And what about wOBA? The Tom Tango invented, OBP-One-Upper-Because-Linear-Weights. 20 points. Sure, the numbers conclude the Cardinals are the best, but why? It’s very simple.

The Cardinals have hit an unreal number of home runs and hit for insane power. They lead the league in ISO, which calculates power by subtracting batting average from slugging percentage. The biggest advantage for hitting clearly goes to the Cardinals.

But how do the Mets and Giants break down against each other? For that, I need a side tangent to explain my answer. Runs win you baseball games. The more run production you get, the likelier you are to win. Which means if you hit single after single, runs score. This is ultimately why I favor OBP to SLG. OBP is much more predictive of run production than slugging. This is backed up by the Mets and Giants. Let’s take a look.

The Mets are currently slugging, as a team, .416. The Giants: .398. The difference comes in getting on base. The Giants have an OBP of .328, which is six points better than league average. The Mets have an OBP of .312. So what this should tell you is that the Giants get on base more and hit fewer extra base hits. But it should also show that they generate more runs.

Sure enough, the data backs it up. The Giants have scored 59 more runs and also have 87 more hits. This doesn’t even take into account the walks aspect of OBP. Would you be shocked if I said the Giants are walking a lot more than the Mets? San Francisco has 69 more walks than New York, which is a pretty nice amount. Taking a peak at walk rate, well, yup, still the Giants. Almost a full percent ahead of the Mets and half a percent on the Cardinals.

Ultimately, this means that the best hitting National League wild card team is the Cardinals. The Giants are second, and the Mets are way, way back in third. Look for more on these three teams in the coming days.