Thurston running in the ninth inning, if you're a member of the STLToday blog-commenting community, is a terrible exemplar of the dearth of fundamental baseball we've witnessed thus far, in the course of the Cardinals leading the NL Central by two games through the first week of May. They're 14/20 on stolen bases thus far, which is pretty solid but not quite over the SABR-approved 75% mark, but there's a Bill James-developed Useless Stat™ for this very purpose, so let's check it out: the 2009 Cardinals' Percentage Player Index.
The PPI brings together four more or less unrelated stats that are often used to determine a position player's "baseball intelligence"—fielding percentage; stolen base percentage; strikeout to walk ratio; and walk rate.
Fielding Percentage: Not so great. The league average is .984; the Cardinals, in the basement with the Nationals and the Reds, are at .979. The major issues are with Chris Duncan (three errors, .932), Khalil Greene (six errors, .936), and Colby Rasmus (a .964 fielding percentage in the outfield.) It's not a great measure of individual fielding prowess, but as a unit of Gross Fan Frustration it's got few equals. It could be worse—the Nats are almost as far from the second-to-last place Reds and Redbirds as those two teams are from the league average. (That's just Adam Dunn, bringing his Terrible Hatred for Baseball to his new ballclub as it continues to hamper his old one. Right?)
Stolen Base Percentage: As we discussed earlier, the Cardinals aren't quite stealing three quarters of their SBA successfully, although it would take a look at the conditions in which they've stolen to learn whether or not it's been a positive or negative over the course of the season. The league as a whole is actually doing worse on this measure—they've stolen 252 bases out of 375, for a percentage of 67.2.
Strikeout to Walk Ratio: The Cardinals, astonishingly enough, have four regulars with even strikeout to walk ratios—Molina, Pujols, Schumaker, and Khalil Greene. (Joel Pineiro has also done the trick: three walks, two strikeouts.) They walk 64.9% as often as they strike out, way higher than the league average of 54.7.
Walk Rate: The Cardinals nearly trace the league average here—11.1% for the Cardinals, 11.4 for the league at large. Among the regulars, Ludwick, Ankiel, Thurston, and Barden are dragging the average down.
So all in all, the Cardinals are a pretty good fundamental team. They make a lot of errors, and their defense hasn't been particularly rangy, either, but it's early yet. Thurston's play—or La Russa's call, if the post-game chatter is not just a manager protecting His Guys—was an ugly one, but microcosms and synecdoche are for literature and history, not May 9 in a long baseball season.
Chuck's got a game thread set in three hours—go Cardinals.