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avenues of regress

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the cardinals have turned 94 double plays in their first 92 games, a respectable total. they're 4th in the league in that category, behind arizona houston and colorado. last year, you may recall, the cards turned 196 double plays, the 19th-highest total of all time -- a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that the cardinals allowed so few baserunners, and hence had fewer opportunities to turn dp in the first place. after the season i estimated the cardinals' double-play premium at 54 -- that is, they turned 54 more dp than an average team would have turned in the same number of opportunities. the marginal value of that high double-play rate was, at a minimum, 27 runs -- about 3 games in the standings.

so, how fare the cardinals this year? not bad, but not nearly as good. like last year's team, the cards in 2006 are doubling up an inordinately high percentage of the runners who reach 1st base against them. but the premium isn't nearly as juicy as it was in 2005. they're only about 10 percent above average, vs roughly 33 percent above average in 2005. last year at this time, the cardinals were about 30 double plays better than average (adjusted for opportunities); this year they're at about plus 9 dp. what's the value of the 21 "lost" double plays? maybe 10, 12 runs -- a full win in the standings.

i wouldn't blame the defense for that. it's the pitchers who've changed: they're getting fewer ground balls. whereas last year's hurlers had a groundout-flyout ratio of 1.72 -- by far the highest team ratio in the short history of that statistic -- this season they're at 1.40, good for second in the nl.

note that the cardinals still excel in all of these categories -- they rate among the league leaders this season in dp total, dp per opportunity, and go/fo ratio. it's neither realistic nor fair to expect better performance; they're already doing quite well. but they're no longer off the charts -- and that, i think, sums up the difference between this year's pitching staff and last season's. they were never as good as we thought they were last year; they were simply all at the top of their games simultaneously. and, quite naturally, they're regressing to the mean in 2006. their numbers this year more accurately reflect their ability than last year's did.

sigh.

quiet night in the farm system; stl prospects, though, are on baseball america's radar. the following blurbs all from this week's Prospect Hot Sheet:

Shane Robinson, of, Cardinals (Low Class A Quad Cities)
It was a good week to be nicknamed Sugar Shane. The original (Shane Mosley) TKOd Fernando Vargas on Saturday, while Sugar Shane Robinson went off for Quad Cities. The fifth-rounder out of Florida State was 13-for-24 on the week with four multi-hit games.

Tyler Greene, ss, Cardinals (Low Class A Quad Cities)
The Georgia Tech product is still striking out a little too much, but eight homers in 58 at-bats since his demotion is impressive. If he can replicate it at a higher level, we'll find him a spot in the top 10.

Blake Hawksworth, rhp, Cardinals (Double-A Springfield)
Finally healthy this season after having shoulder surgery in 2004, Hawksworth had his best start since being promoted to Double-A in his last outing, allowing a pair of runs and whiffing eight over seven innings. His strikeout rate is up from earlier this season in the high Class A Florida State League where he struck out just 55 in 84 innings, going 7-2, 2.47 overall. Let the trade rumors begin.

as to who those trade rumors might involve . . . . i'll leave that for another post.