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good discussion going over in Hardcore Legend’s FanPost about the cards’ search for a cleanup hitter --- ~50 comments and counting. a number of the commenters commended HL for the depth of the analysis, and i’d like to reinforce that. this is an example of what the FanPost section is meant for --- something that’s well thought-out and researched, and that offers a ton of meat for discussion. far too many of our FanPosts are shallow toss-offs without anything behind them --- "hey guys, what do you think of player X?" half the FanPosts currently running on the front page drew fewer than 10 comments --- ie, they didn’t generate any discussion. what’s the harm in that, you ask? dud FanPosts push other, better FanPosts --- ones that are generating discussion --- off the front page.

i’m not suggesting that every FanPost has to be as heavy-duty as HL’s --- that’s a high standard to meet. but i’d like to have more of them where the author thought his/her subject over and maybe did a little research before posting --- as opposed to just tossing something out there on a whim. FanPosts of the former type add a lot to the site; the latter just clutter it up.

bernie miklasz points out in his column this morning that the cardinal rotation started off just as hot in 2007 as it has in 2008. somebody made a similar point in one of the game threads over the weekend. i did a little addin’ up to flesh out the comparison. through 13 games:

W-L ERA IP H BB SO HR QS
2008 7-2 3.42 76.1 77 19 55  7  5
2007 4-7 3.35 80.2 71 29 50  4  9

again, we’re looking at starting pitchers only. this year’s rotation has a much better k/bb ratio (nearly 3 to 1, truly outstanding), but last year’s came out of the gate throwing more innings, allowing fewer hits and fewer homers, and --- most telling --- delivering quality starts ("QS" in the table) more reliably. (even randy keisler threw a quality start in the first 13 games of 2007.) the rotation had a much worse won-loss last year for a simple reason: the offense totaled only 42 runs in the first 13 games, vs the 60 runs the 2008 offense has backed the staff with. last year’s hitters only scored 4 or more runs in 3 of the first 13 games; this year’s team has scored 4 or more 8 times. a few more numbers, for the sabermetrically inclined:

FIP AVG OBP SLG SC WPA
2008 3.82 .265 .314 .423 53.2 +.08
2007 3.91 .243 .319 .342 53.9 +.04

"SC" stands for "game score"; the starters avg game score was slightly higher last year, and their slash lines were much, much better; FIP tilts slightly to the 2008 rotation, a reflection of its stellar k/bb ratio so far.

but that leads me to a final comparison --- a hopeful one --- and then i promise i’ll leave last year behind. the 2007 rotation had allowed a BABIP of just .276 through 13 games --- an unsustainably low figure, one that would have told us (had we checked) that the starters couldn’t go on pitching at that level; more hits were bound to start falling. (for those unfamiliar with the concept of BABIP, there are explanations here and here.) this year’s rotation has a BABIP of .303 so far, which is about an average figure. so this year’s good start rests on a firmer foundation than last year’s; it’s more squarely centered on ability than on random chance. of course, we’ve now got the lame-winged pineiro and mulder returning to duty, rendering these figures somewhat meaningless; the next 13 games will probably be more predictive of the staff’s future performance than the 13 just completed.

some thoughts about pineiro and wellemeyer after the jump.

is pineiro just rusty, or might he still be impaired? according to gameday, he didn’t throw as hard yesterday as he did last year (here i go with last year again). he threw 34 fastballs vs the giants at an average speed of 88.8 miles an hour, with a top speed of only 90 mph; in september 2007, gameday was clocking his fastball in the low 90s, averaging about 91 and getting as high as 93. before we conclude anything from this, it’s well known that the gameday readouts vary slightly from ballpark to ballpark; it’s possible the system is just a little slow at san francisco. but i doubt the effect is more than a half-mile an hour. (for some context, gameday had wellemeyer’s fastball averaging 91.8 mph in his first two starts, at stl and hou; in san fran, it averaged 91.4). so either pineiro was rushed out there before he was ready (by the cardinals? never!), or --- a worse scenario --- his shoulder is as good as it’s gonna get, in which case we shouldn’t expect him to throw it any better than he did yesterday.

since i’ve dragged wellemeyer into the discussion, let me turn to him for a second. yesterday houstoncardinal aptly noted that in his three 2008 starts wellemeyer has faded badly after 75 pitches. in each of his last two starts, welley yielded two homers in his final inning on the mound. i wondered whether his fastball gets appreciably slower as the game goes on. and here’s the answer, using gameday figures:

inn spd
1st 92.45
2nd 91.56
3rd 91.22
4th 91.22
5th 91.29
6th+ 91.05

only 3 games, but that’s a pretty steady pattern. the 3d inning corresponds to roughly the 50-pitch mark for welley; through 50 pitches, opposing batters are hitting .161 and slugging .226 against todd. after 50 pitches they’re hitting .273 and slugging .727 against him. i’ve been surprised by wellemeyer’s performance so far this year, and as houstoncardinal notes it’s all due to strike-throwing --- when wellemeyer keeps it over the plate, he can dominate. but the jury’s still out regarding his long-term suitability for the rotation.

final thought --- i should note that only 1 of the 5 homers he’s allowed so far came off a fastball --- that was the one matt cain hit. two of the others came off changeups, and two off sliders.

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