ATLANTA, GA - MAY 30: Matt Holliday #7 of the St. Louis Cardinals waits for a bit of the old ultraviolence against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 30, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
ugh. what a terrible month. i am so glad it is behind us.
we finished the month 11-15. while we looked pretty decent on offense - with a team wOBA of .332, good for fifth in the majors - our pitching really struggled to get good results, with a 4.72 ERA. and our bullpen looked awful, the worst in the majors, allowing an ERA of 5.96. designated goat, fernando salas, finished the month with a 4.73 ERA.
yep, june 2011 was a pretty terrible month.
may 2012 didn't look much better. the team went 13-16. the offense produced a .349 wOBA, good for second in the majors. the 4.72 ERA for the pitching staff generally is actually identical to that of june 2011. the bullpen in may 2012 allowed a 5.44 ERA. and fernando salas put up an ugly 8.22 ERA this past month.
it was an ugly month of baseball, from any perspective.
but a bad month isn't a reason to panic. and it isn't a reason to lose faith that good performances are coming. nor does it mean our struggles are over. last year, we were 4 games under .500 on august 9. overreacting to the bad performances only makes you miserable. maybe the team will struggle again this month; it didn't turn the corner immediately last year, going just .500 in july.
if anything, we look better by our peripherals and predictive stats than we did this time last year. as noted above, our may wOBA was outstanding - even missing lance berkman and allen craig for big chunks of the month. the bullpen's 5.44 ERA went along with a 4.41 FIP and 4.26 xFIP for the month; compare that to the 5.12 FIP and 4.31 xFIP of june 2011. in june 2011, the rotation had a 4.15 ERA /4.11 FIP /3.89 xFIP; in may 2012, the rotation had a 4.38 ERA, but a 3.37 FIP/3.61 xFIP.
there's even less reason to think we'll continue to struggle next month than there was at the end of june 2011. there is not any obvious dead weight in our rotation, like kyle mcclellan. while it's hard to judge the make up of a bullpen that is changing, the promotion of cleto, the release of romero, the demotion of chuckie fick, and the continued disabled status of mcclellan mean that our bullpen is not hanging on to pitchers with terrible peripherals like franklin or batista. i'd like to see salas return to the bullpen as quickly as possible, but i think the team is generally well-configured, in light of our lengthy disabled list.
here is maybe the best argument for why we should be MORE hopeful now than on july 1, 2011. in june 2011, we scored 114 runs and allowed 132. in may 2012, we scored 157 runs and allowed 145. as long as we keep scoring more runs than our opponents, we're pretty sure to win more games than we lose.
that sounds like a dopey broadcaster comment, but it bears repeating here, just because the reasons not become too frustrated are so obvious. we've scored 270 runs on the season so far, more than any other NL team. we've allowed 205, which is better than the NL average (214).
over the 51 games played through the end of may, that leaves us with an average of 5.29 runs scored per game, and 4.02 runs allowed. that's a difference of 1.27 runs per game, in our favor. exactly one team last year outscored their opponents by more than 1.27 runs per game; the new york yankees finished 97-65.
the last time a team with a 1.0 or better run differential won fewer than 95 games was in 2003, when the red sox won 93 games. to get a worse final record than that, you have to go back to 1990, when the new york mets finished 91-71 (ignoring the strike year of 1994). now, i'm not guaranteeing a 95-win season here, but primarily because there's a decent chance we don't continue to score runs at this overwhelming rate. but i wouldn't use the team's performance to date as evidence we need to make big trades or changes.
right now, only the rangers are doing better in outscoring their opponents (+1.5 runs per game). we are playing 5 games behind our pythagorean record, which is pretty extraordinary, less than a third of the way through the season.
we've had bad months before. we know what it looks like. last summer was long and frustrating, but it ended as well as any season could. i'm not even sure that the team needs any of the dramatic trades we benefitted from last year. given the length of the disabled list, i'm more inclined to wait and see who is injured and who is healthy in july.
of note, the team FIP after the last two months is still 3.52, and the team xFIP is still 3.68, both good for fourth best in the major leagues. our club's SIERA at the end of may is 3.55, seventh best in the majors. the best predictive stats indicate that our team pitching as a whole is good-to-excellent. as stated above, even with injuries to lots of run-producing players, the cardinals' offense is exceptional.
our nearest in division competitors, the reds, have a team .309 wOBA; the brewers have a team .316 wOBA. the reds' pitching peripherals look comparable or worse (3.62 SIERA, 3.85 xFIP, 3.86 FIP). interestingly, the brewers, who have gotten horrible results from their staff generally, have pretty comparable peripherals (3.62 SIERA, 3.77 xFIP, 3.55 FIP).
basically, our competitors have comparable or slightly worse pitching staffs. we are probably slightly worse on defense (team UZRs - cardinals -9.4, reds -1.6, and brewers -6.2). but as long as we're outhitting our opponents by .030 to .040 points of wOBA and scoring 1.2 runs more than our opponent every game, i don't see a reason to be concerned about this team's ability to compete in and win the division. the reds are outscoring their opponents by .34 runs per game; the brewers are allowing 0.4 runs more to their opponents than they are scoring.
the biggest danger in slumps is overreacting to the slump and fixing something that doesn't need fixing. sending fernando salas down to memphis was the first example of an overreaction. he's not any more broken now than he was in june of last year; he went on to have ERAs of 2.08, 1.42, and 2.19 in the last three months of that season (i'm citing ERA in many places in this article to reach some of the people who may be suspicious of advanced metrics, not to express any faith in ERA; suffice to say his FIPs were also good in those months). i hope we can weather the next month or so without any radical or counterproductive moves.
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speaking of injuries, some of the despairing commentary about the team generally or the bullpen in particular is remarkable to me, since the club has announced elbow soreness for jaime garcia. that news seems to have mostly escaped discussion.
on the pants-soiling scale of importance for the season, an off month for the bullpen seems about a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10. jaime garcia having elbow soreness seems like a 5 or a 6. right now, he's only missing a start. but the step down from jaime garcia to joe kelly or shelby miller could be substantial, along with the collateral consequences of such a move to the club and the implications for future seasons in light of jaime's contract. if anyone needs a reason to feel pessimistic, jaime's elbow seems like a much better place for fixation.
perhaps there has been little discussion of the soreness simply because there is little to say until we know more, but i personally am concerned about the long-term health of a starting pitcher signed through 2015 for $27m, much moreso than what marc rzepczynski's ERA was last month.