In the top of the 5th inning last night, LaRussa (mercifully) removed Joel Pineiro for pinch-hitter Adam Kennedy and I was trying to explain to my 5 year old the concept of the pinch-hitter. He asked me – "Adam Kennedy’s gonna pitch?" I thought to myself – "It couldn’t hurt!" Sheesh! I guess Miles has more experience so it would’ve made more sense to put Kennedy at 2nd and put Miles on the mound, huh? I’m joking, of course, (sort of) but it highlights the problems the Cards are having on the mound these days.
With that in mind, there was a lot of mound news surrounding the Cardinals yesterday as it was announced that Chris Carpenter would start Wednesday in Atlanta. The rotation could sure use the help and Carp pitched pretty well in his rehab outing Friday night but the announcement still strikes me as a little surprising. He will throw a bullpen session today in St. Louis to verify that all systems are go and, barring any mishap, he’ll rejoin the rotation after missing 270 games. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to see big #29 on the mound but has anyone, ever, come back from Tommy John surgery and taken only 2 rehab starts? This move smacks as one of desperation and I’m gonna have to cross my fingers and hope everything turns out ok. I’m not at all worried that he’ll be worse than Parisi/Boggs/Garcia and maybe that’s the biggest concern of him coming back so quickly. If he stinks right now, he stinks and I can deal w/ it. It’s far more important that he’s healthy and ready to pitch. If the only harm (and I don’t know that it is) is that he won’t be very good and his command will be off, then it’s a risk worth taking. I hope we’re not taking any chances w/ his health to try and salvage a season that is heading in the wrong direction.
Despite the good news (he says w/ trepidation) on Carpenter, I almost came unglued last night when I heard Al say that there will be some discussion about Wainwright returning TO THE BULLPEN!!!!!!! when he returns from the DL. Apparently, some in the organization believe that the bullpen has been so bad that putting our best pitcher there will improve it. Of course it will! Duh! If the Mets put Johan Santana in the pen, their pen will get better also. Wouldn’t he make a great LOOGY? Maybe the D-backs should put Brandon Webb in middle relief to make their bullpen better! This idea positively makes me want to explode! Here’s why:
Yesterday was game 106. The Cards have 56 games left. Let’s say that Wainwright can be back in the rotation w/ 40 games left, thus leaving him w/ 8 more starts. Wainwright was averaging facing 28 batters per game before his injury. 28 batters per game times 8 games means that Wainwright, our best pitcher w/o a doubt, would face around 224 batters the rest of the season.
Brian Bass, middle reliever for the Minnesota Twins, has more IP than any other reliever in the big leagues who has failed to start a game this year. He’s faced, so far, 271 batters this season – 2.66 batters per TEAM game (not per appearance). To get the most use from Wainwright, one would want him facing the most batters, right? At 2.66 batters per TEAM game from here on out, even if Wainwright comes back today Wainwright would face 149 batters – 75 fewer than returning to the rotation in 2 weeks. Of course, Wainwright won’t return tomorrow so, if he returns even in a week, w/ 49 games left – we’re looking at 130 batters. That’s almost 100 fewer batters if he returns to the pen and pitches to as many batters as the most frequently used reliever this year.
But Wainwright might return as the closer. (Why Franklin, again?) Francisco Rodriguez leads the majors in saves this year and is threatening to break Bobby Thigpen’s record for the most saves in a season. He’s faced 193 batters in 104 TEAM games (again, not appearances). That’s 1.86 batters per TEAM game. At that rate, if Wainwright returned today, he would face 104 batters through the end of the season – 120 fewer than returning to the rotation in 2 weeks. If he returned in a week, he would face about 91 batters this season. Granted, these situations would be higher-leverage situations than the long relief role and even than most of the pitches he’d throw as a starter, but if the idea is that the best players can help you the more they play, Wainwright belongs in the rotation. He would face MANY more batters, and therefore have a greater impact on our team’s playoff chances, by starting than by pitching in long relief or by closing. We don’t leave Pujols on the bench every game so that he can pinch-hit in the highest-leverage situation, for Christ’s sake! And, do I really need to mention that getting consistent innings from Wainwright, as opposed to the 4-5 we’ve been getting from Parisi/Boggs/Garcia, would help the bullpen as well? I’m not sure what the solution to the closer’s role is (Chris Perez anyone? Kyle McClellan?) but I’m sure it’s not Adam Wainwright.
During the Brewers’ sweep of the Cardinals, Tony complained to the media about the performance of the offense, while ignoring the performance of the pen and there was considerable consternation from Cards’ fans (see any of last week’s game threads for reference, but they’re not for the faint of heart) about Tony placing the blame on the offense rather than the pen. While I’m not one to often come to Tony’s defense, there are a few things we should remember about that series.
The first is that the team scored 9 runs, total, in those 4 games. You’re not going to win many 4 game series by scoring only 9 runs. Second, the team scored 1 run in 4 games after the 4th inning and only 3 in the 3rd inning or later. Terrible! Third, the bullpen – though it gave up 3 9th inning homers and 1 10th inning homer – was asked to pitch 13 innings in 4 games. And Lohse allowed the Brewers to tie the score partly b/c Tony didn’t want to have the pen pitch any more innings than it was already being asked to pitch. If you have your relievers pitch an average of 3.1 IP per game, they’re going to wear down and pitch poorly and you’re going to lose games. (insert another subliminal plug for putting Wainwright in the rotation.)
Tony’s complaints re: the offense do ring somewhat hollow in this respect – the team is still playing w/ 12 hitters and 13 pitchers. I suppose you have to have more relievers when they’re not very good but you lose the right to complain about the offense when Braden Looper is being used as a pinch-hitter and Jason Isringhausen is asked to bat for himself w/ 2 outs and 2 runners in scoring position and then is PULLED IN THE BOTTOM OF THE INNING to bring in Ron Villone!!!! WTFranklin???? Wouldn’t it have made the 8th and 9th last night run more smoothly if a real hitter had gotten those 2 runners home rather than have Tony concede that situation?
Finally, though I’ve basically defended the offense and agree w/ most that pitching is the Cards’ main problem right now, I’ve come to believe that the offense isn’t nearly as good as we thought either. On a lark the other day, I was looking up some stats at Baseball Prospectus and looked at the stats page for "Batters Quality of Pitchers Faced." This table tells us which hitters in the majors have faced the pitchers w/ the highest OBP, SLG, and AVG. By limiting the numbers to all batters w/ 300 or more PA’s, here is what I found:
|MLB rank||Player||Pitchers’ OBP against|
These rankings are, obviously, rankings in the entire major leagues. In other words, the 6 Cards’ players who have more than 300 PA’s this year are in the top 7 in baseball in worst pitchers faced. We have, obviously, faced the worst pitching in baseball this year and it’s likely inflating our offensive numbers. Is the same true for slugging and batting average? Let’s see:
|MLB rank||Player||Pitchers’ SLG against|
All 6 are, once again, in the top 8 in baseball among weakest pitchers faced. As for batting average – Molina, Pujols and Ludwick are 1, 2, and 3 in the majors. Glaus is 8th, Schumaker is 12th, and Ankiel is 16th. Regardless, all three stats tell us that we have faced weaker pitching than any other team in the big leagues. Though we scored enough runs last night to win (although w/ our bullpen, you can never have enough runs), it appears as though we’re not as good an offensive team as our OBP, BA, and runs scored seem to indicate.