what halve we here

Update [2007-8-27 15:30:49 by lboros]: breaking news out of houston: garner and purpura are out, according to KBME radio in houston (790 am).

if we break the season so far into two halves, the dividing line falls on june 15 --- just about the time the cardinal pitching reached its low point. the cardinals lost 14-3 that day, after having lost 17-8 the previous night; scott spiezio had to come in and pitch the bottom of the 8th, and he was the only st louis moundsman who wasn't scored upon. braden looper left with an elbow injury that day and went onto the dl, and kip wells had been dumped from the rotation the day before --- two starters lost in two days. that left wainwright and reyes as the only surviving members of the opening-day rotation (and reyes, of course, had already been kicked out of it once and was only recalled out of necessity). the team era stood at 5.15, nearly its worst point of the whole season (it would reach 5.16 a couple of days later); the rotation consisted of wainwright, reyes, thompson, and wellemeyer.

a lot more has gone wrong since then --- wellemeyer and tyler johnson got hurt; thompson and maroth pitched themselves off the team --- but these woebegotten rag-arms have stiffened up anyway:

W-L ERA AVG OBP SLG BB/9
through jun 15 28-36 5.15 .272 .340 .432  3.4
since jun 15 35-28 4.04 .266 .325 .415  2.8

in trying to understand the improvement, the decreased walk rate is the place i would start; that alone has shaved more than half a baserunner a game off the ledger, which translates into about 0.35 of the era improvement. st louis pitchers were slightly worse than league average (3.3 bb/9) through june 15; as of today, they have yielded the 2d-fewest walks in the nl. the other major change since june 15 is that they've yielded fewer extra-base hits --- not fewer homers (63 hr through june 15, versus 64 since) but fewer extra-base hits on balls in play (12 fewer doubles, 8 fewer triples). this could be the result of a) better luck, b) better outfield defense, c) a better groundball ratio, or most likely d) some combination of a, b, and c.

i thought the apparent improvement might just be an illusion produced by the last 3 weeks of strong pitching --- ie, a sample-size distortion --- but it isn't. from june 16 through july 18 --- 5 weeks, 27 games --- the cardinal staff maintained a 3.63 era. then it got bombed for two weeks (6.08 era) before reclaiming its mojo; since august 5 the staff era is 2.82. this run has really lasted 10 weeks, not 3; it began roughly when wainwright got hot and kip wells and anthony reyes became the 4.00-ish pitchers we thought they'd be, instead of the 6.00-ish pitchers they had been up to that point. it also helped significantly that the cardinals added troy percival, which eliminated the opportunity for sub-replacement performers like jimenez and cavazos to inflate the team's stats. out of curiosity, i compared the cards' 4.04 era since june 15 to that of the top 5 teams in nl era:

cardinals 4.04
padres 4.04
dodgers 4.46
cubs 4.18
mets 4.37
giants 4.30
the cards have outpitched most of the league's best staffs over a 63-game stretch. they've been about the best in the league since june 15, after being the worst in the league up until that date.

raise your hand if you saw it coming.

the next, obvious question is whether they can keep it going --- and my answer to that is, do i look stupid? i'm not gonna try to predict what this team might do next. rolen had it right a couple weeks ago --- it don't make no sense. it's almost labor day, and the games are still worth watching --- that in and of itself is a triumph, given everything this team has faced in 2007. whether or not they close the deal in the last 34 games, you have to applaud them --- and the joke that is the nl central --- for hanging in there. a couple other items:

  • wainwright over this period (ie, since june 15) has the 5th-best era in the national league, behind peavy, webb, zambrano, and (??) tim redding.
  • mulder threw 4 innings last night --- 2 hits, 1 run. in 9.1 rehab innings, he has yielded 7 hits, 2 earned runs, 3 walks, and no homers --- all in class A, in a pitcher's league no less, so don't draw too many conclusions from those stats.
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