PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 20: Shane Robinson #43 of the St Louis Cardinals is congratulated by teammates in the dugout after returning without injury from center field while playing the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 9th inning during the game on April 20, 2012 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
it's very early in the season already, and yet i see people worrying about things in game threads and on the boards that nobody has any business worrying about. a lot of the early impression of players is merely dumb luck, with batted balls that happen to fall a certain way, or weird numbers of home runs going over the fence
things not to worry about
nobody should be worrying about fernando salas. yes, after 5 innings, he has a 5.40 ERA. after 5 innings.
but he also has the best strikeout rate on the team (16.20 k/9), hasn't yet given up a walk, and has a .600 BABIP-against. none of those things are likely to persist. his fastball speed is the same as last year (around 91 mph). he's faced 25 batters, given up 10 hits, and 9 Ks. anybody worrying about the way he looks needs to take a deep breath and remember that it's still april.
nobody should be worrying about adam wainwright. adam has the second best k-rate among starters, a normal GB rate, and a pretty good BB rate. his velocity in his last appearance was right where it should be (his season numbers, which reflect 3 games, are dragged down by sluggish FB performance in his second start on a chilly, rainy april day).
he's given up 5 homers, which may be somewhat related to throwing some bad pitches, but is mostly luck-related. even the biggest meatball-throwing pitchers out there do not get rocked for a 35.7% HR/FB rate. it may be that we will see some shaky command from adam, and a few more sinkers that don't sink, or sliders that don't slide, but even still-recovering adam will not be as bad as the results we saw in the first three games.
adam wainwright's k/bb rate is 3.5. jake westbrook's is 0.8. but jake westbrook hasn't given up a homer yet. i will make two guarantees -- barring a season-long return to the DL before may 15 for either pitcher, adam wainwright's 2012 HR/FB rate will be less than 35.7% and jake westbrook's will be more than 0.0%. crowing about how great westbrook looks and fretting about adam wainwright is just letting the small sample size magic lure you in.
you should not be worrying about matt holliday . . . much. matt holliday sticks out like a sore thumb in an over-performing offense (while our offense should continue to be good, it won't continue to hit for a .337 BABIP). he's hitting .203/.230/.390 (note - some of these stats do not reflect last night's game). but that's with a .196 BABIP. he's not going to keep that up long, and should regress to a much more normal line. even in his current straits, he has a 16.3% line drive rate, which is only a minor departure from his career numbers.
one thing to flag for holliday, however, is that his bad luck on batted balls has made him enlarge his strike zone substantially. he now has a 41% out-of-zone swing rate, versus a 26% career out-of-zone swing rate. he may also feel added pressure, given lance berkman's intermittent appearances with the club.
that significantly increased rate of swinging at bad balls is certainly affecting his poor walk rate so far, and may have something to do with his batted ball numbers.
baseball players are just as prone to small-sample-size errors as everyone else. however, most likely, dumb luck will take over, a few more line drives will drop in, and holliday will return to his normal self.
is there anything we SHOULD worry about?
well, yes, the accumulation of injuries thus far this season was anticipated but moving faster than i thought. allen craig's delayed return left the corner positions a little thin. thankfully, matt carpenter has taken up a lot of the slack. i hope that by the time carpenter's performance regresses towards his normal levels -- whatever they may be -- craig will be back in the lineup, healthy and productive.
mostly, the peripherals on the team - even these tiny sample size peripherals - tell us what we already knew. the worst pitchers on the team by xFIP: jake westbrook and kyle mcclellan. it's still far too early to draw any meaningful conclusions, though.
inspiring small sample size peripheral #1: mitch boggs hasn't walked a batter even after facing 25 batters in 7 innings. if i'd had one wish for mitch in the off-season, it would've been improved control. obviously, the 0.0 bb/9 won't keep up, but i hope the early numbers are a sign of improved control.
inspiring small sample size peripheral #2: -0.03 FIP v. LHB by JC Romero. perhaps credit for his best split should actually go to matheny -- Romero has faced 6 LHB and 6 RHB, for a 50/50 split. last year, he faced only 38% LHB. if matheny continues to use him judiciously as a specialist, he may be a tolerable or even useful part of the cardinals' bullpen.
inspiring small sample size peripheral #3: lance lynn. mostly lance lynn generally, but if i have to name an actual peripheral, he has the best k rate of all the starters with a 9.75 k/9 rate and a 4.33 k/bb rate. i don't expect that to continue, but our sixth starter's performance has been easily the best surprise of the season thus far.
but mostly, it's far too early to scrutinize even peripheral numbers: even basic stats like k rate and GB rate require that a pitcher face 100+ batters before they stabilize, and our starters are not there yet. not surprisingly, batters require about the same 100-150 PA sample size before their basic peripherals stabilize, too.
so, anyway, the answer is: don't worry. we know little more right now than we did in the off-season.