What a Difference a Year Makes (in Run Distribution)

The 2010 season was a frustrating one in which to be a member of the Cardinal faithful. After an ungraceful early exit from the 2009 playoffs, the Cardinals signed free agent Matt Holliday to fortify the middle of the lineup and ensure that nearly every member of the 2009 National League Central champions returned to defend their crown. The potential of the lineup on paper flexed its real-life muscles on Opening Day in an eleven-run pummeling of the Reds and for the first few weeks of the season the Cardinals looked like the type of juggernaut not seen under the bend of the Gateway Arch since the days of the vaunted MV3. Then Rasmus fell into a slump that would be half of the hallmark of his Harvey Dent, good-and-bad 2010, David Freese again injured an ankle, and the brittle Ryan Ludwick suffered a calf injury. Combined with the yearlong struggles of Brendan Ryan and Skip Schumaker, the offense was frustrating to watch for many. The knife was then twisted by the Mozeliak-La Russa roster reformation. By late summer, the Cardinals featured a lineup with below-average offensive production at second base, shortstop, and third base, no matter which of Lopez, Schumaker, Ryan, Miles, or Feliz were penciled in to start.

The critique that seemed to take hold is the one that often does in baseball, that the Cardinals were not consistent enough on offense. Aiding the establishment of this common knowledge were those instances where the Cardinals would squander a brilliant pitching performance from Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Brad Penny (early in the season), Jake Westbrooke (late in the season), and Jeff Suppan (whose lucky results should have resulted in more team wins than they did). Yes, the Cardinals won a fair amount of games, but, with their pitching and a lineup featuring Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday as a beating heart, they should have won more of the games where the starter pitched well enough for the team to win.

Those more spreadsheet-inclined pointed out the club was unlucky. “The Cardinals are simply under-performing their Pythagorean Record,” the basement-dwellers would say. And, to be sure, the Cardinals were. They scored 736 runs in 2010 and allowed 641. The Cardinals, a club which finished with an 86-76 record, had a Pythagorean Record of 91-71.

For comparison, the 2009 Central Division Champions had a record of...91-71 and a Pythagorean Record of...91-71. The 2009 club scored 730 runs, or, six fewer than the inconsistent and offensively disappointing 2010 group that plated 736. The 2009 Cardinals also allowed 640 runs, just one run less than the 641 given up by the 2010 team. How then do we account for five fewer team wins last season than what their Pythagorean Record is and what the club compiled in 2009? With virtually identical seasonal totals for runs allowed and scored, it would seem that the the ebb and flow of run production and prevention is the difference between satisfying champion and disappointing also-ran. Perhaps it was consistency? Perhaps it was luck?
For fun*, I thought we could take a look at a three-way comparison.** I thought we could take a look at how often the 2010 Cardinals scored a total number of runs in a game, how often the 2010 National League did it, and how often the 2009 Cardinals did it as well as how often these three entities allowed a certain total of runs in a game.

*Yes, this is what I do on Saturday nights "for fun."

**To be sure, there are other, natural comparisons. As RB noted in last Wednesday's Main Post, the 2010 NL Central champion Reds went...91-71 with a Pythagorean Record of...91-71. And if back-to-back NL Central champs with 91-71 records and 91-71 Pythagorean Records is not enough to totally freak you out, then you are much less superstitious than I feel you should be as a baseball fan.

Baseball-Reference has a wonderful page for each club and league, entitled "Scoring and Lead Summary," that allows one to see how run distribution breaks down. Based on this information, I put together some charts for the 2010 Cardinals, 2010 National League, and 2009 Cardinals.

2010 ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Runs Scored

# of Games

Share of 162

Wins

Losses

Winning %

0

13

8.02%

0

13

.000

1

17

10.49%

3

14

.176

2

22

13.58%

3

19

.136

3

13

8.02%

3

10

.231

4

21

12.96%

16

5

.762

5

15

9.26%

11

4

.733

6

17

10.49%

14

3

.824

7

14

8.64%

9

5

.643

8 or more

30

18.52%

27

3

.900



2010 NATIONAL LEAGUE

Runs Scored

# of Games

Share of 162

Wins

Losses

Winning %

0

207

7.99%

0

207

.000

1

282

10.88%

44

238

.156

2

350

13.50%

88

262

.251

3

367

14.16%

142

225

.387

4

315

12.15%

179

136

.568

5

283

10.92%

172

111

.608

6

229

8.83%

168

61

.734

7

171

6.60%

135

36

.789

8 or more

388

14.97%

360

28

.928



2009 ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Runs Scored

# of Games

Share of 162

Wins

Losses

Winning %

0

10

6.17%

0

13

.000

1

10

6.17%

1

9

.100

2

24

14.81%

8

16

.333

3

33

20.37%

16

17

.485

4

17

10.49%

8

9

.471

5

19

11.72%

17

2

.894

6

13

8.02%

8

5

.615

7

12

7.40%

9

3

.750

8 or more

24

14.81%

24

0

1.000


2010: CARDINALS & THE NATIONAL LEAGUE

My first impression was that the 2010 Cardinals were largely in line with the 2010 league average when it comes to the distribution of how many games they score a certain number of runs. The Cardinals did not get shutout any more often than average; they did not score one run at a greater rate than the league average; they were right in line with the NL in how often they scored two runs, too. Only a single runs-scored total, three, was achieved by the 2010 Cardinals less often (8.02%) than what was the average for the National League (14.16%). Those games where the Cards plated three runs were an outlier in another way, as well. In those games where they scored three runs, the Cardinals had a winning percentage, at .231, that was a touch below the League’s of .387. From this we can deduce that, while the Cardinals were in line with the National League as a whole in the number of times they got shutout, scored one run, and scored two runs, a disproportionate share of these outcomes occurred when the pitching staff gave up three runs, as compared to the league average.

Another winning percentage that sticks out is the .643 winning percentage when scoring seven runs. The league as a whole enjoyed a .789 winning percentage in games where a team
reached the seven-run plateau. While I don't care to further elongate this post with yet another graph, I will share with you what one of my spreadsheets tells me. The Cardinals only allowed eight or more runs in 11.73% of their games. I type "only" because the NL allowed eight or more runs in 15.08% of its games. Bad luck would be having a pitching staff good enough to allow the opposition to score eight or more runs at a lower rate than the league as a whole and yet lose a greater share of those games where you score seven runs, which is what happened to the Cardinals. They allowed eight or more runs at a greater rate when scoring seven runs than the league average.

CARDINALS: 2009 & 2010

Despite Thurston and then DeRosa making out after out as the third basemen as well as Ankiel and Duncan getting a combined 708 PAs in which to make outs while attempting to defend an outfield position, the club was shut-out only ten times and plated one run just ten times, as well. The percentage of games in which they scored zero runs and games in which they scored one run of 12.34% is six percentage points lower than the same combined total in 2010. Also of note is how differently the club wound up doing in games where it managed just three runs in 2010 as compared to 2009. For starters, the percentage share of three-run performances from the offense (20.37%) for the 2009 season is quite large. The 2009 winning percentage in those three-run performances of .485 is also rather high. In 2010, it was just the opposite with a lower than expected share of three-run offensive outputs and slightly below-average winning percentage in those games.

What struck me more than anything else about 2009 was how consistently average the offense, in fact, performed. It scored three or more runs in 118 games. The 2010 team scored three or more runs in 110 games. The 2010 offense was shut-out or held to one run more often than in 2009. In 2010, the Cards scored zero or one run(s) 30 times; in 2009, they did so in just 20. And therein lies the rub. There were more offensive valleys in 2010, where the bats only mustered the most frustratingly low of totals, and it showed in the standings. The low offensive output fell disproportionately on days where the pitching staff performed well in preventing runs. In games where they allowed two runs, the 2010 Cardinals were 12-8, which equals a .600 winning percentage. The 2010 National League as a whole was 256-93 for a .734 winning percentage. In games where the 2010 club scored three runs, it was 3-10, for a .231 winning percentage well below the .387 league-average winning percentage where a club scores three runs are behind the 2009 Cardinals' .485 winning percentage. Last season's Cardinals lost far too many games when they plated three runs and far too many games when their opponents only plated two runs.

The common knowledge spin and spreadsheet enthusiast takes thus were very much in line. The 2009 club experienced more of the lowest-scoring offensive performances in 2010 than in 2009 and those performances occurred disproportionately during those games where the club allowed only two runs. Likewise, the pitching output cost the Cardinals disproportionately in games where the offense plated three runs and seven. In the much-panned Goold article regarding team defense, Mozeliak stated that they could have returned the same club in 2011 and probably had a better offensive output. This flawed exercise seems to prove him right. But it also perhaps supports the need to make changes in the lineup where we find the blackest of holes in terms of production as a lineup with better hitters from top to bottom ought to be more consistent than a team with three or four hitters producing a sub-.300 wOBA. In looking at the 2009 and 2010 clubs' performances, we have proof that run distribution can make all the difference in a team's won-lost record. Hopefully, we will see the run distribution pendulum swing in the opposite direction for the 2011 Cardinals.
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