right as rain

a quick promotional note: i accepted an invitation to write the foreword for a photo volume commemorating the 2006 cardinals: "Diehard Cards." the book is already at the printer and should be shipping within a matter of days -- 128 pages, full color, retails for $14.95. take this link to get to the ordering page.

there are championships that come on like a stampeding herd; you hear the hooves thundering in the distance, you know exactly what's coming, but when it arrives you're in awe nonetheless. then there are championships that surprise you like rattlesnakes -- rise up out of the weeds with little or no warning and strike before you have any chance to prepare yourself.

finally, there are championships like the one we've just witnessed, which i can only liken to a hailstorm of frogs -- you know, like the one in the climactic scene of magnolia. these are not merely sudden and unexpected; they're inconceivable. and although you learn, after the fact, that in very rare circumstances it really can rain frogs, the scientific explanation for the phenomenon isn't very compelling. the mind can't absorb it. one just walks around in a happy head-shaking daze, unable to get past the fact that it was f*king raining frogs!

so this is how the cardinals' championship drought ends. we watched all those mighty la russa teams billow up like anvil clouds and rattle with thunder and lightning, only to blow over and leave us with dry harvests. then along comes this homely little wisp of vapor, this .500 club, and brings forth a freak monsoon. as long as i live, i'll never figure it out.

but i know it's got something to do with pitching.

that, and what i asserted half-jokingly in my playoff preview at deadspin four weeks ago: being the favorite sucks. it sucked this year for the twins, the padres, the yankees, and ultimately for the tigers, just as it sucked for the cardinals in 04 and 05. when a team gets declared the winner before a pitch is thrown, it only adds pressure to an already pressure-packed situation; lose, and it will be said that the club was never as good as people thought. so it tends to put the team's whole reputation on the line -- hence jim leyland's pointed declaration, after game 5, to the media: "i hope you guys won't just heap dirt on us now that we've lost; i hope you'll at least say a eulogy and acknowledge that we had a pretty damn good season." the only club that handled overdog status well this month was the mets. they didn't just crumble when confronted with a difficult foe and the prospect of defeat; they battled their asses off down to the last pitch, damn near attained the fate prophesied for them. perhaps that's because the mets knew better than to believe their press clippings -- not with their rotation in such a shambles. looking back, that was the only good series of the entire postseason.

so, to return to the pitching: as i noted friday night, the cardinal mound corps outdid itself in october, shaving nearly 2 full runs off its regular-season era. how often does that happen? before we answer that, let's ask first: how often does any championship team post an era as low as 2.62 over an entire postseason? i only looked back as far as 1995, ie the era of the three-series postseason; prior to that a championship might be won in fewer than 10 postseason games, which doesn't seem comparable to the relatively marathon-length course today's champions run. here's how the cardinals stack up:

team era oct w-l
98 yanks 2.38 11-2
99 yanks 2.39 11-1
01 dbacks 2.39 11-6
05 chisox 2.55 11-1
06 cards 2.62 11-5
95 braves 2.69 11-3
00 yanks 3.44 11-5
96 yanks 3.70 11-4
97 marlins 4.25 11-5
03 marlins 4.30 11-6
04 boxos 4.47 11-3
02 angels 4.82 11-5

the cardinals did post an outstanding figure, right up there with the very best, but it was hardly an unprecedented performance. now let's expand the table and rank the teams by the differential between regular-season era and postseason era:

team reg season
era (lg rk)
oct era diff
06 cards 4.54 (9) 2.62 -1.92
99 yanks 4.13 (2) 2.39 -1.74
98 yanks 3.82 (1) 2.38 -1.50
01 dbacks 3.87 (2) 2.39 -1.48
00 yanks 4.76 (5) 3.44 -1.32
05 chisox 3.61 (1) 2.55 -1.06
96 yanks 4.65 (5) 3.70 -0.95
95 braves 3.44 (1) 2.69 -0.75
03 marlins 4.04 (7) 4.30 +0.26
04 boxos 4.18 (3) 4.47 +0.29
97 marlins 3.83 (4) 4.25 +0.42
02 angels 3.69 (2) 4.82 +1.13

note, first of all, that the cardinals are the only team on this list to rank as low as 9th in the league in era; the last champion to match that profile was the 1992 toronto blue jays. we should also observe that the cardinals' team era is extremely misleading, insofar as it largely reflects the failure of three starting pitchers --- marquis, mulder, and ponson --- who weren't on the postseason roster. those three pitchers logged nearly 1/4 of the cardinals' regular-season innings and posted a cumulative era of 6.18; the rest of the pitching staff put up a regular-season era of 4.00. another way to look at this would be to calculate the cardinal staff's era per weighted postseason innings. for example, chris carpenter pitched 23 percent of the cardinals' overall postseason innings, so we'll assign a weight of 23 to his regular-season era; if do the same thing down the line and divide by 100, here's what we get:

pitcher era weight factor
carp 3.09 23 71.1
weaver 5.18 21 108.9
supps 4.12 18 74.2
reyes 5.06 8.5 43.0
wainwright 3.12 7 21.8
looper 3.56 6 21.4
johnson 4.95 5 24.8
kinney 3.24 4.5 14.6
flores 5.62 4 22.5
hancock 4.09 1.5 6.1
thompson 3.34 1.5 5.0
TOTAL 100 413.4

in other words, if each of these pitchers had carried a regular-season workload identical to his october workload, the cardinals would have posted a 4.13 team era. they pitched better than that, obviously -- much better than we had any right to expect. two individuals in particular exceeded expectations to an historic degree this october; i'll write about those guys tomorrow.

other reading:

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