Game 21 Open Thread: April 22, 2008

Lohse Parra
2-0, 1.48 1-1, 5.40

stat of the day: albert pujols has seen more balls this year --- 166, or 54 percent --- than strikes (143, or 46 percent). from 2001-07 he saw strikes about 58 percent of the time, and never less than 56 percent strikes in any given year. for the sake of comparison, from 2001-03 barry bonds only saw strikes 46 of the time and averaged 175 walks a year (albert’s on pace for ~140 walks). in 2004, when bonds drew 232 walks, only 40 percent of the pitches thrown to him were strikes. . . . last night was albert’s second 3-walk game of the season, and we’re just 20 games in. he’s never had more than three 3-walk games in a single year. . . . .

ryan ludwick’s misadventure in the 8th inning last night got me curious about the overall play of the cards’ outfield defense. you may recall that i wrote a post last month about the sharp sag in the cardinals’ fly-catching ability in 2007. how are they faring so far in 2008? by the numbers, much better. the outfielders have chased 166 catchable flyballs so far (ie, flyballs minus home runs) and put 119 of them away, a 72 percent rate --- that’s about average. but they were well below average last year (only caught 67 percent of the catchable flyballs), so mere competency from the outfielders is a big improvement.

the infield defense, on the other hand, remains outstanding: through 20 games the cardinals are the best in the league at turning groundballs into outs. opponents are batting .177 on groundballs, vs a leaguewide average of .222. that means the cardinal infield has saved 12 base hits over an average team, or about 9 runs ---- nearly half a run a game. the cardinals are a full run a game better than average at run prevention so far (3.55 runs allowed / game, vs a league average of 4.53); if the defense accounts for about half of that savings, then the pitchers get the rest of the credit. they have walked the fewest men in the league (56) and allowed the second-fewest homers (14). avoid free passes, keep it in the park, keep it on the ground . . . . . perfectly executed pitch-to-contactism. but those of us who like strikeouts also have reason to cheer --- the cards’ strikeout total is nearly average this year. they rank 10th in the league in that category, with 6.4 k/9 --- haven’t ranked that high since 2004.

the pitchers’ strong start is probably the main reason the cards are talking such sense about mulder’s return. in 2006 and 07 they were panicky with him, rushing him back (with disastrous results) because they hated the available options (i.e. reyes). but the rhetoric from tony in today’s paper about mulder is refreshingly sensible: "He needs to come up not in a process of rehabbing" (emphasis added). amen. mulder’s rehab assignment began april 15 and can run 30 days, so the team doesn’t have to make any change at all until may 15 --- three more weeks. we’ll know a lot more about mulder by then, but more important we’ll know more about todd wellemeyer, braden looper, and joel pineiro --- as well as (vain hope) anthony reyes. . . . . .

impressions at random:

  • i was extremely impressed by glaus’s at-bat in the 8th inning against guillermo mota. a quick re-set: the score was tied 2-2; ludwick was on 3d after hart’s 3-base error; pujols was on 1st (after an ibb), and there was one out (ankiel had popped out just ahead of glaus). troy looked terrible on the first pitch, swung at a changeup way out of the zone; he fell behind 0-2 and you and i and all of us were thinking he was gonna strike out and the cards were gonna fail to get that damn runner home from 3d. glaus barely stayed alive by fouling off on an 0-2 change (the 3d one he’d seen in that at-bat); mota wasted a couple of fastballs to set him up, then came back with a changeup at the knees on 2-2, hoping to get a groundball (and an inning-ending DP), but glaus recognized the pitch and laid off. mota came back with another on 3-2; glaus recognized it again and didn’t bite. it was glaus’s first at-bat against mota since 2005 --- he hasn’t seen the guy’s pitches in quite some time. so he made a hell of a quick adjustment to avoid a costly out. kennedy’s sac fly ensued, but glaus’s walk was easily the best at-bat in that inning --- the only truly good one in a "rally" that essentially consisted of two fly balls (one misplayed for an error, one caught for a sac fly).
  • wainwright relied on his 3d-best pitch, the slider, to escape trouble in the 7th inning --- both kendall and hardy grounded out on it. the curveball deserted adam that inning --- he threw 6 of them, and 5 missed the strike zone. but 3 of the misses were probably quasi-intentional --- they came against rickie weeks, and adam seemed to be pitching around him to get to jj hardy, who hasn’t hit a ball out of the infield vs wainwright this year (0 hits in 7 tries --- 3 groundouts, 2 pop ups, 2 strikeouts).
  • here’s one of those little splits that is not predictive --- ie, we shouldn’t count on the trend to continue --- but is mildly descriptive: the cardinal hitters in 2008 have been the most productive in the league in innings 7 through 9. that split comes courtesy of Baseball-Reference. through the first 20 games they’re hitting .302 / .392 / 493 in the final 3 innings. the cardinals have played most of their games to date against three of the league’s weakest bullpens (milwaukee san francisco and houston), which is one reason we shouldn’t expect them to keep this up.
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