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off-day assortment

i'll be posting a Q+A this afternoon with memphis hurler blake hawksworth, assuming i get the transcription back. tomorrow morning, look for a Q+A with last year's #1 draft pick, adam ottavino.

that would have been a dispiriting loss yesterday. had the cards blown that game, it would have left them with 1 series win, 1 split, and 2 losses in what's supposed to be a mushy month in their schedule. instead, halfway through the 28-game slack stretch, the series ledger reads 2-1-1, and the cards' overall record is an acceptable 8-5. two weeks ago i'd expressed the (flimsy) hope that st louis might muster a 17-11 record during this portion of the schedule, and get to .500 by the all-star break; the first of those targets, anyway, lies well within reach.

during this 13-game run, the cardinals' run-prevention abilities haven't changed much --- they're yielding 4.8 runs per game, vs 5.0 runs per game in the first 7 weeks of the year. they've been winning because they finally remembered how to hit: st louis is scoring 5.4 runs per game over the last 13 games, nearly two runs a game better than their average through the first 41 games (3.5 runs/game). i'd attribute the upswing to two factors. the first reason is edmonds' health --- he's able to pull the ball again, which he couldn't do in the early part of the sched thanks to two off-season surgeries and only a dozen or so spring-training at-bats. his resurgence alone is probably worth half a run a game, and i say that without exaggeration. the second factor? easier pitching. the cards' last 4 series have come against teams ranked 10th through 13th in national league era. the cardinals this year are 6-18 against teams that rank in the upper half of the league in pitching, vs 18-12 against less well-armed clubs.

those extra 2 runs a game have very literally have been turning losses into wins, as we saw yesterday. at one point this year, the cardinals had a record of 2-20 in games where they yielded more than 2 runs; the pitchers had to be almost perfect for the cards to have a shot. since then, they have gone 7-10 when allowing 3 or more runs, a far more encouraging mark. here's a more detailed breakdown:

0 to 2 15-0
3 to 5 6-10
6 or more 3-20

the top and bottom categories more or less cancel each other out; the deficit lies in those 3- to 5-run games. when they weren't hitting, the cards had no chance once they gave up that 3d run; now they're beginning to hold their own. it's still only a formula for .500 play, but if the cards can stay at that level until carp returns they will at least hold our interest all summer. that alone would be a triumph, no matter where they end up in the final standings.

one other noteworthy split: st louis is 17-13 against the nl central, the only team aside from milwaukee with a winning record inside the division. the cards have outbatted (.260 to .250) and outslugged (.391 to .370) nl central opponents and are about even with them in homers and on-base percentage. they've somehow contrived to get outscored in intradivision games, 117 to 134, but never mind; on balance they have outplayed nl central opposition. that trend, too, bodes well for continued attention-worthiness --- in this division the cardinals probably aren't going to get left in the dust, no matter how helpless they might look outside the division.

* * * * * * * *

the cardinals' lax hitting this spring showed up clearly in the statistics. their defense has been equally substandard, but it's much harder to quantify because fielding stats are so squirrelly. last week we got a hint at just how weak the defense has been when ex-cardinal advisor mitchel lichtman (mgl) published complete year-to-date UZR ratings. the figures are current through may 31:
rolen +8
pujols +5
kennedy +1
encarnacion 0
p wilson 0
edmonds -1
taguchi -1
eckstein -1
duncan -1
schumaker -1
ludwick -2
spiezio -3
miles -4

basically, the cardinals have two good defenders, with everybody else performing at an average to below-average level; sorta like the offense. for those unfamiliar with the UZR system (which is among the two or three best-regarded methods for quantifying defense), rolen's "+8" means that he has saved his team 8 runs with his defense (compared to the average 3d baseman); miles' "-4" rating means he has cost the team 4 runs with the glove. according to mgl, rolen has saved the 5th-most runs in baseball and the 4th most in the national league; pujols has had the greatest beneficial impact 1st among big-league 1st basemen. all of these scores are aggregates, regardless of position; spiezio, for example, is an average 3d baseman (uzr of 0) but a terrible right-fielder (uzr of -3). the aggregate unit ratings tell the tale of this defense:

infielders +9
outfielders -9

good thing we kept all those no-hit good-field fly-catchers on the bench . . . . these figures accord with what we've all seen with the naked eye: the outfield D has been atrocious from the very opening series. mgl's figures also true up with the basic fielding stats --- he's got the cardinals as an average defensive team on the whole, and the cardinals rate about average in errors (8th) and defensive efficiency ratio (6th). notably, they're appallingly low in double plays (tied for 12th). i wondered if the latter was simply a reflection of the changing composition of the pitching staff, the loss of pure groundball artists like mulder and suppan, but it isn't so: the cards' groundout/flyout ratio is 1.3 (vs 1.4 last year) and ranks 4th in the national league (they tied for 2d last year). it's still a groundball staff; the defenders just aren't turning the dps like they used to, for whatever reason. without going into all the math, the substandard double-playing this year has cost the cardinals about a win in the standings.