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a look at looper

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the game ended on a base hit by the other team, but the cardinals triumphed anyway; maybe they're regaining their nose for winning. that's now two comeback wins in a row, and three in the last week they've won in their last at-bat. it's also the 2d time this year albert has been involved in a game-ending baserunner kill; he and molina, you might recall, co-authored a pickoff of brian giles to cement a 4-3 win over san diego back on may 27.

braden looper stole off with his 8th win last night. for a primary setup man --- especially one with 8 wins --- he has been remarkably invisible this year; we're all blinded, i guess, by the glare of izzy's blown saves and the bright light of wainwright's emergence. but the 8 wins represent the franchise's highest relief-win total in a decade --- mark petkovsek went 8-2 in relief in 1996, la russa's 1st season. one more victory, and looper will become the franchise's 1st 9-game winner out of the pen since mike perez in 1992; two more, and he'll become only the 2d cardinal reliever in the last 31 years to win 10 games, joining the other cris carpenter (10-4 in 1991). i don't think he'll be challenging the franchise record (at least, i'm pretty sure it's the record) for relief wins -- 13, set by lindy mcdaniel in 1959 and tied by al hrabosky in 1975.

looper's win last night was a cheapie, and given how uneven he's been this season --- 3.84 era, plus a shoddy inherited-runner strand rate of 53 percent --- one might assume that his entire 8-1 record is a fraud. but this was actually the first undeserved W on looper's ledger; he's earned the other 7 on merit, with an aggregate line of 9.2 innings, 3 hits, and 0 runs in those games. last night was only the 4th time all season he has yielded a hit that put the cardinals behind. that performance is reflected in looper's very good win-expectancy figures: fangraphs estimates that he has boosted the cardinals' win expectancy by 1.5 games, 3d-best among the pitchers (he trails only carpenter and wainwright). baseball prospectus, which has a shmancier way of calculating win expectancy, puts looper's value at +2.1 games --- 13th best among national league setup men. (wainwright ranks 4th on that list.) and hardball times rates looper tied for 10th (with wainwright) among nl setup men in win shares (pitching only).

sure doesn't seem like he's pitched that well, does it? his era is just 10 points better than it was last year, when an ailing shoulder ruined his stat line; opposing hitters are batting .275 against him, his worst figure since 1999, and slugging .380, only a slight improvement over 2005. more disappointing, looper hasn't squashed right-handed hitters with his accustomed force; he's limited them to .250 / .282 / .342, which is good but does not approach the near-unhittability he achieved in prior seasons. even last year, pitching hurt, he held righties to .210 / .285 / .266; his career line against them is .223 / .293 / .289. so looper has slipped vs right-handers and is as bad as ever against left-handers (.325 / .400 / .455 this year, slightly worse than his career avgs). his strikeout rate, though improved from his injury-impaired 2005 mark, is only 5.0 per 9, well below looper's career norms; his groundball percentage is his lowest since 2002, and his flyball rate is the highest of his whole career --- neither of which is a good sign for a sinkerball pitcher. looper has managed to keep the ball in the park (only 3 hr) so far this year, but a market correction may be in order in that regard; per his fangraphs page, only 5 percent of the flyballs hit off him have sailed out of the park, which is an extremely low percentage and way below looper's established level.

i doubt many stl fans will be brimming with confidence if looper should get called into a close playoff game. nor should they, necessarily; looper, like the team as a whole, has been quite the mixed bag in 2006. but the record shows that he has fairly reliably hauled the cardinals toward victories this year; hasn't always been pretty, but what is pretty about this team?