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driving with the breaks on

we are square with the devil.

a while back, we learned that the bastard owes the cardinals two games. i'd been hoping he would keep them until october and pay us back then, but for his own evil reasons he decided to settle the account this week -- last night and night before, to be exact.

in a perfect world -- ie, if the final score matched the outcome predicted by run-scoring models -- pgh would have won both games, 3-2 monday and 5-1 last night. the devil's interventions were not subtle last evening; he made one in the 4th, when he steered jack wilson's dp relay wide and enabled the tying run to score, and another in the deciding frame, when he guided yadi molina's game-winning 17-hopper through the ss-3b hole. (he may also have lengthened reggie sanders' left arm by two or three feet on matt lawton's two-out drive in the 6th.) two lucky breaks, one win; that's why they play 162 games, so the good breaks and bad have enough time to even out. and even is about where they stand for the cardinals through 45 games.

or do they? david pinto at baseball musings (as noted by josh schulz at the birdwatch) observed yesterday that the cardinals' run output per game has increased since scott rolen's injury, even though their basic hitting stats (avg / obp / slg) have decreased. "It's an example of a good team getting the lucky breaks," pinto said. without challenging that conclusion, i note that the anomaly is partly the product of stl's 19-run explosion in the first two games after rolen went out. set those two games aside, and the anomaly seems to disappear; the cards are scoring only 4.45 runs a game since then, vs 5.2 a game before the injury.

but pinto's basic point still holds: the cardinals have been getting lucky. "Runs created predicts the Cardinals should have score 53 runs instead of 66 over this time period," pinto points out, "or about a run per game less." set aside the two-game outburst and the effect is magnified; the cards have scored 49 runs in those 11 games (going back through game 1 of the series at shea), whereas runs created predicts an output of only 35 runs. tangotiger's linear weights ratio agrees. that's 14 extra runs, an overage of 40 percent, a 1.3-run-per-game premium. and the bonus is allocated in almost that way; in the 11 games the cardinals' actual runs have exceeded their expected runs 9 times (in the other 2 games they scored exactly the number expected). the average isn't skewed by a one-time windfall; they are, night in night out, squeezing a few extra drops of juice out of the orange.

take a look at the cards' stats in those 11 games and you tell me how they've avgd 4.5 runs a contest:

AB H W/HP HR TB AVG OBP SLG runs created
cardinals 381 82 31 11 131 .215 .274 .344 35
opponents 375 104 44 13 166 .277 .353 .443 52

how the heck are they doing it? let's check a few likely suspects. maybe the cardinals are
  • hitting with runners in scoring position? nope; they're at about .225 in RISP situations during the period in question.
  • hitting with more power? nyet; 1.0 hr a game during the period, down from 1.12/game before rolen's injury; .135 isolated power during period, down from .160 before the injury.
  • playing small-ball? not really; they've attempted 8 steals during the 11 games (0.73 per game), vs 18 attempts (0.53 per game) before the injury, and they've only bunted twice successfully in the 11 games.
only one thing stands out, and it supports pinto's conclusion that the cards have simply been lucky. in the last 11 games their opponents have committed 16 errors, or 1.45 per game. that's a rate of 235 errors per 162 games -- a shitload of errors. count wilson's errant dp relay last night as exhibit A; if he simply eats the ball the cards likely don't score, and they lose 1-0. the cards have scored 7 unearned runs in the 11 games, accounting for half of their overage; chalk up the rest to the breaks / the devil.

but give the cardinals credit for this: while their opponents' gloves have gone slack, stl's have stiffened tremendously. during the 11 games they've turned 19 double plays -- nearly two a game, up from less than one a game before rolen went out. and yadi molina has become the bane of baserunners everywhere. in the last 11 games he has taken out 7 runners, equaling his total from the season's 1st 34 games. total it up, and the cards have erased -- via caught stealing, pickoffs, and double plays -- 2.45 baserunners a game. their rate was 1.12 a game before rolen's injury.

so we can thank the defense for the cards' 7-4 record in the last 11 games -- a span in which stl is hitting just .215 and has gotten just three quality starts. the bullpen also has pitched very well (will try to quantify this soon). and we should probably give the devil his due as well. in addition to putting two perfect-world losses in the win column the last couple of games, the cardinals have gotten two Ws in perfect-world ties over the last 11 games -- may 18 vs the phils and may 14 vs the mets. so pinto's right -- the cardinals have been getting the breaks. "I would not expect this level of scoring to last with these averages," he concludes. i would take it further -- i would not expect this level of winning to continue. not less'n they start hitting and/or pitching again.