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outmakers in the outfield

it has been amusing to watch the numbers in the sidebar poll change over the last few days. i posted the poll a week ago, ie last friday; as of game time on sunday night, a solid 72 percent of the respondents had selected "close call, but they win the division again." i don't know if that particular candidate has garnered a single vote since sunday; its constituents have suddenly discovered the charm of "sorry, 83 wins doesn't cut it," and fringe-party nominees like "sub .500" are getting a second look. even the quixotic "franchise moves to buffalo" (the pat paulsen in this field) has been holding its own against "close call" since the season began. the protest candidacy of "0-162" hasn't caught fire yet, despite some promising endorsements . . . . .

i highly recommend houstoncardinal's diary about the looper start. HC is one of the volunteers charting games for the pitch-by-pitch data project, and braden looper is his designated starter; the diary breaks down the pitch selection and speeds in the fateful 6th inning wednesday night, adding some detail and hard data to the general impression we all got --- viz looper, unused to throwing 80 pitches a night, ran out of gas.

while i'm on the subject --- some sabermetric superheavyweights (tangotiger, mgl, nate silver, phil birnbaum) got into a discussion about close observation of pitchers yesterday. they were talking specifically about dice k, whose start i missed (although i did see about 8 of his pitches over and over and over and over and over again last night on espn with the sound turned down). perhaps our accumulation of pitch charts, over the course of the year, will add some useful fodder to that conversation.

apropos of nothing: my cousin mark wrote something pretty interesting at his blog, Bookfraud. it's not a very good blog; he typically writes about incredibly boring stuff like fiction, art, music --- you know, culture. hardly ever says a word about baseball, so why bother reading? but last night he put up a hilarious, seething rant about the sale of the cubs (pssst --- poor guy's a cub fan). in truth it's a rant about the current state of fandom and profiteering thereon. it's an entertaining read --- when he chooses to write about something worthwhile, the guy can turn a nice phrase.

if you head over there, go easy on him in the comments --- dude and his wife are expecting their first kid any hour now.

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given the current state of the cardinals' outfield corps, i thought it'd be interesting to look back 20 or 30 years and find the franchise's weakest-hitting outfield units. you have to go back that far to find a truly subpar group; even last year's outfield, tepid though it was, got most of its at-bats from average-or-better hitters like duncan, edmonds, spiezio, j-rod, and preston wilson. prior to that, going back all the way to the beginning of the 1990s, st louis outfields were stacked with players like edmonds, lankford, sanders, walker, drew, gant, and jordan. even nondescript regulars like mark whiten, bernard gilkey, and felix jose had batting lines that would do credit to our current lineup.

the last truly awful collection of cardinal flycatchers belonged to the 1986 roster. here it is, in its full glory:

coleman 600 94 139 13 8 0 29 60 | .232 .301 .280 63
mcgee 497 65 127 22 7 7 48 37 | .256 .306 .370 87
van slyke 418 48 113 23 7 13 61 47 | .270 .343 .452 119
ford 214 30 53 15 2 2 29 23 | .248 .318 .364 89
landrum 205 24 43 7 1 2 17 20 | .210 .279 .283 57
morris 100 8 24 0 1 1 14 7 | .240 .287 .290 61

van slyke's line doesn't count for full value, because by random chance his most productive at-bats in '86 came as a first baseman --- he hit nearly .400 at that position in 92 plate appearances. in 326 at-bats as an outfielder, slick batted .234 and slugged only .401. most of these same players were major offensive contributors to pennant-winning teams the years immediately before and after 1986, but some collective funk afflicted them for a few months. it'd be nice to blame it all on jack clark's injury, but he didn't get hurt until almost the all-star break (june 24) --- and most of the cardinal outfielders were at their worst early, while clark was still in the lineup. van slyke reached the all-star break hitting .237 with 4 homers and a .673 OPS; mcgee (who as i recall was hobbled by a bad hamstring that year) got to the break at .237 / .289 / .316; landrum was at .171 / .244 / .248. the cardinals, who led the league in scoring in 1985 and were 2d in 1987, finished dead last in runs scored in 1986.

that was a terrible year for the st louis outfield. but the worst of the last half-century, by far, was 1978. behold:

morales 457 44 109 19 8 4 46 33 | .239 .288 .341 77
mumphrey 367 41 96 13 4 2 37 30 | .262 .317 .335 84
hendrick 382 55 110 27 1 17 67 28 | .288 .337 .497 132
brock 298 31 66 9 0 0 12 17 | .221 .263 .252 46
scott 219 28 50 5 2 1 14 14 | .228 .278 .283 59

hendrick didn't join the cardinals until just before memorial day. at the time he arrived, the st louis outfield as a group had produced 4 home runs.

both the '86 and '78 teams suffered abysmally slow starts; each had a 7-game losing streak in mid-april and followed it up with a disastrous california road trip, and both found themselves more than 10 games under by the time summer started --- cautionary tales. yes it's early, but not too early to start spotting patterns. i'd like to see 'em score a few runs.