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if you haven't had a chance to read Cardboard Gods yet, here's the perfect starter post: a meditation on pot-smoking, baseball cards, and hal mcrae, the cards' batting coach. could this explain why the hitters aren't seeing the ball so well?

i've been looking into another possible explanation, which came to me after i saw that ian snell followed up his strong outing vs st louis with an almost equally strong game vs the dodgers, who are 3d in the league in scoring. then i remembered that last week john maine, who held the cards to 1 hit in 7 innings during the season-opening series, took a no-hitter into the 7th inning vs the marlins, the league's 2d-best offense. so i asked: have the cardinals simply run into a bunch of hot starting pitchers in the early going?

30 minutes' worth of homework provided the answer: yeah, they kind of have. not lights-out, ball-a-fire hot, but well above average. before i go on, let me issue a loud disclaimer: i don't believe this factor alone explains the cardinals' slow-hitting start. i think it's one of a range of factors, which include the cold weather and the team's spotty health. when you throw bad weather, bad health, and good starting pitching at a team that only has four above-average hitters, the result is bound to be an alarmingly bad batting line.

here's the composite line of all starting pitchers the cardinals have faced, minus their stats against the cardinals --- in other words, this line represents what those guys have done vs teams other than the cardinals. the second line in the table shows what they've done vs the cards, and the bottom line is the nl average for all starting pitchers:

BB/9 HR/9
vs other nl teams 14-11 3.80 1.29 .243 3.5 0.94
vs cards 6-5 2.64 1.04 .216 2.3 0.83
nl avg 12-14 4.19 1.38 .261 3.5 0.93

compare the first and third lines: the cards' average opposing starter so far in 2007 is nearly half a run per game better than league average. what does a starter with a 3.80 era look like? the three starters closest to that mark are all #1 / #2 types: chris capuano (3.68), barry zito (3.70), and livan hernandez (3.96). suppan is at 3.91, but that includes his game vs the cardinals (he's at 4.26 against the rest of the league).

likewise, the st louis' opposing starters so far in 2007 are nearly 20 points better than the norm in batting avg allowed. now remember, i've subtracted out the pitchers' stats vs the cards; this is what they're doing to hitters on other teams. the list of nl starters with opponent averages in the vicinity of .243 includes a bunch more #1 / #2 types: livan, jamie moyer, brad penny, chris young, and tom glavine, to name a few. ben sheets is also on this list, at .250; take away his game vs the cards and he's holding the league to a .220 average --- yet that's only the 7th-best mark among the pitchers st louis has faced. in one-third of their games, the cardinals have faced a starting pitcher who is holding other nl teams to a .206 average or lower. against a number of these guys, the cardinals actually fared better than the rest of the league --- or at least fared no worse:

vs others vs cards
lilly .164 .167
marquis .180 .241
snell .182 .180
el duque .206 .227
sheets .220 .364
glavine .244 .286

here's another way to break this down: only 5 nl teams have gotten a better era out of their starters than the 3.80 era averaged by the cardinals' opponents; only 3 rotations have held batters to an average below .243. so it's as if the cards have faced one of the league's 4 best pitching staffs every series. when you go against teams like that night after night, you have to earn every run. unfortunately, it doesn't get any easier this week; they'll see rich hill (0.41 era), kyle lohse (1.91), jason marquis (2.65 vs non-cardinal opponents), and bronson arroyo (3.25), plus carlos zambrano and aaron harang.

let me reiterate: i'm not trying to explain away the cardinals' offensive problems. their woes are very real; the offense is truly bad. i know that; we all know that. but the weakness has been exaggerated by a variety of factors, particularly a) small sample size, and b) disproportionately good opposing pitchers.

the most telling thing about this whole exercise lies in the bb/9 column of the first table. go back up and look. the cards' opponents have walked 3.5 men per 9 innings vs other nl teams, which is right at league average ---- but the cards are only drawing 2.3 walks per 9 innings off these guys. there's a whole lot of anxious, undisciplined hitting --- and outmaking --- encapsulated in that little statistical comparison.

Update [2007-4-24 10:41:42 by lboros]: juan encarnacion watch: he made his rehab debut last night by going 0 for 3 with a walk.