The St. Louis Cardinals win the first leg of the I-70 Series; Meanwhile, Kyle McClellan Searches for His Effective Curveball

And just like that the I-70 Series was upon us. Interleague kicked off with a trip west to Kansas City, for the annual conquering of the Kauffman Stadium stands by Cardinal fans clad in their battle red. Royal blue and powder blue were but dots in a sea of red--and a fair share of the powder-blue were St. Louis fans in their eighties throwback finest. Chants of "Let's go Roy-als!" were quickly drowned out by "Let's go Card-inals!" 

I was fortunate enough to slip away, down to Kansas City for Friday and Saturday's games. The weather was absolutely perfect for baseball. Disappointed as a I was with the result of Friday night's fast-paced pitchers duel, my up-close seat on Saturday gave me a wonderful view of Matt Holliday crushing a homer, providing all the runs the Cards would need with one fell swat. After losing 0-3 on Friday and winning 3-0 on Saturday, the series run differential fittingly sat at zero.

These are not the Royals of the aughts, even if they very much resembled those cellar-dwelling clubs of yore in the early going of Sunday's series finale. It looked like the Cardinals were well on their way to a vintage drubbing of the Royals, but the bullpenners had other plans. Beginning with Miguel Batista, the plague of ineffectiveness seemed to have been contracted by every reliever summoned from the bullpen. Batista threw 0.1 IP and surrendered 2 ER (making it 0.1 IP total in his last two appearances combined, 4 ER, 4 R, 4 H, 3 BB, 0 SO). The bright spot of the 'pen was clearly Jason Motte, who came in fastballs-a-blazin' at 98-to-99 MPH according to MLB Gameday, shutting down the Royals so that their relievers could walk in the two runs that would give the Cards enough to hold on for a 9-8 victory.

The Cardinals won the first half of the I-70 Series over the much-improved Royals with a run differential of +1. The second act at Busch next month ought to be just as close and just as hard-fought. For now, the Cardinals notch another series win and push their lead in the NL Central to 2.5 games as they head west to San Diego.


For those of you who missed it, last week Tim Kurkjian wrote a column on our own Kyle McClellan last week. This is the title of the column:

Kyle McClellan has given Cards 'real lift'; Righty has stepped in for the injured Wainwright, and is tied for the team lead in wins

The paragraph focuses in on pitching "wins" as opposed to the above replacement kind, but we are not here to give Mr. Kurkjian the Fire Joe Morgan treatment, for that blog's title has been realized. In this column, McClellan seems more realistic about his pitching "wins" total than either Kurkjian or Derrick Goold.

"I'm not replacing Adam Wainwright; I can't be him, there are only a few pitchers in the league who can,'' McClellan said. "All I can do is give us a chance to compete every fifth day. I feel I've given us that chance in most starts. I have a good record, but I haven't had a lot to do with that.''

It's so refreshing to come across a pitcher who recognizes that his pitching "wins" and "losses" are not really so much about him as his offense, defense, and bullpen, and especially so when he has a strikeout rate that is a bit too low and a walk rate that is probably a bit too high.

The paragraph immediately following is what I wanted to touch on. Here it is:

Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan disagreed, giving McClellan far more credit, but added, "He can pitch better than this. He hasn't had his curveball all year. It's a swing-and-miss curveball. If he can find that pitch, he can do even better than he has this season.''

I love it when we get observations about pitchers from Duncan (even if they seem to reveal the hope of the renaissance of a fascist pitch). Here, we have an observation that K-Mac's curveball has not been good so far this season. I went to Fangraphs to check and see how valuable a pitch K-Mac's Uncle Charlie has been this season. Not surprisingly, Duncan is dead-on. Last season, it was rated at 5.9 runs above average. In '08 and '09, McClellan's curveball was 4.1 and 2.5 runs above average respectively. This season? It's been a -1.9 pitch, meaning it's below average.

Due to its ineffectiveness, McClellan has gone away from it, not throwing his curveball as often. Last season, opposing batters saw a K-Mac curve 22.6% of the time. In '09, the curveball was thrown a tad over 25% of the time by K-Mac. In this young season, McClellan has spun his curve only 16.7% of the time. All in all, K-Mac is throwing his fastball slightly less and his curveball less, filling in the void with his change-up and cutter. His change is a good pitch, and is the best in his repertoire this season. His cutter, on the other hand, was not very good in '10 and has not been that good this year, either. At -1.41, it's been about as ineffective as the curveball.

McClellan's swinging strike percentage has fallen from 7% last season to 5% as a starter during the 2011 campaign. Perhaps this downturn in swings-and-misses is attributable in part to an ineffective curveball, as Duncan states, and, if McClellan can rediscover his breaking ball, his swinging strike rate could increase. That alone would be unlikely to push McClellan's K/9 from where it currently sits at 4.37 to something approaching the 7.17 it was last season as a reliever, but it certainly could not hurt. That is why I am going to watching to see if McCellan can rediscover his curveball and once again deploy it effectively against opposing hitters. It would help to temper his results catching up with his peripherals.

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