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my vacation's over, and upon my return i find the cardinals right where they were when i left, ie 2.5 games up on the reds. they've fattened their lead on the astros, which is nice --- houston appeared poised to blow the race to pieces, but they've won just 2 of their last 8 --- and improved their position relative to the league's only good team, the mets, thanks to the injuries to new york's #1 and #2 starting pitchers. this may, in the end, prove to be st louis' best strategy in october: hope their playoff opponents sustain crippling disablements in the rotation. of course, that would only level the playing field; the cards' three probables for their upcoming series vs new york have eras of 6.07, 6.09, and 5.70.

many thanks to all the bloggers who filled in for me while i was out, with a particular note of gratitude to Valatan, who in addition to filing two regular posts took it upon himself to open overflow threads and do general housekeeping to keep the place up. the comments section got a lil' bit dicey on saturday, but we'll talk about that later today; for now, i gotta talk some baseball, get myself back into practice . . . .

let's start off with a table. here are the nl leaders in batting average since july 1 (min 125 at-bats):

c duncan .367
r durham .365
c utley .360
p lo duca .360
m barrett .358
a pujols .353

duncan is also 3d in on-base pct, 4th in slugging, and 2d in ops over that span. his batting average is unsustainable -- it's being fueled by a freakishly high BABIP of .380. (for a primer on BABIP, or batting average on balls in play, see this post.) that figure will eventually have to come back to earth, bringing duncan's overall avg / obp / slg line down along with it. duncan's power, though, appears to have a solid basis in reality. i wondered whether he might be building his hr total by exploiting weak pitchers, but that's not the case; he has victimized the dodgers' two best starters (penny and lowe), ditto the reds' (harang and arroyo), plus philadelphia ace brett myers and some decent relief pitchers (cormier, howry, beimel). i still don't believe duncan's a .950 ops guy (altho i am open to being persuaded), but it's pretty clear that .850 is a very attainable target.

a bit of followup from this old post: duncan is now stl's 2d-most prolific hr-hitting rookie of the la russa era, trailing only el hombre.

the cardinals' other prominent rookie, anthony reyes, is supposed to pitch tonite for memphis. he lasted 10 starts in tony la russa's rotation and failed to live up to his billing; even so, if you look at the numbers it's hard to build a case that reyes is only the 6th-best starting pitcher on the staff. here are the stats for all the starting pitchers between june 21, when mulder left the rotation, and friday's action, when reyes was sent down:

w-l era whip wpa
carpenter 5-3 3.77 0.93 610
supps 3-3 4.88 1.57 408
reyes 3-6 5.30 1.41 -259
weaver 2-3 5.54 1.57 -398
marquis 3-7 7.34 1.66 -1312
mulder
(rehab)
0-1 6.23 1.85 n/a

during his stint as a rotation regular, reyes ranked 2d among the stl starters in whip, 3d in era, and 3d in wpa, or win probability added (which is explained here, if you're not familiar with it). looking at the same numbers over the full season, reyes rates even higher --- 2d in all the above categories, as well as in opponent batting avg, ops allowed, k/9, and k/bb. he didn't pitch consistently well, but that's not really the question; the question is whether or not he is, at this moment, one of the cardinals' five best available starting pitchers.

with a playoff berth still far from certain, it's rather important that they call this one correctly.

i found an oddity in reyes' splits: he's much more vulnerable against right-handed hitters than lefties. yielded one homer per every 18 plate appearances vs right-handers, but only one per 37 appearances v lefties; also walked right-handers far more often --- once per 9.4 plate appearances, as opposed to once per 12 vs left-handers. and that split gets even wider when you factor in reyes' hbps --- all 7 were against right-handed hitters. put all this together and you find that while reyes held left-handed batters to a .689 ops, an excellent figure (frame of reference: chris carpenter has held opposing batters to roughly a .660 ops this year), right-handers pounded the rookie for a .920 ops.

that doesn't make any sense. anybody wanna take a stab at explaining it?