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Pitch counts and stranded runners

There’s been some discussion, and for the life of me I can’t find it, about Wainwright’s workload so far this year. I know that on at least 1 occasion, I’ve expressed some concern about the number of pitches that Tony’s having the kid throw. He’s thrown 5 starts and has thrown more than 100 pitches in the 3 of the 5 – not , in and of itself, horrendous. However, against Milwaukee 10 days ago he threw 115 pitches and yesterday against the Astros he threw 126. Just for reference, those 126 pitches were more than any other pitcher in the majors has thrown in a game so far this year. It’s also Wainwright’s career high in pitches.

 In my view, we’re starting to see a pattern w/ LaRussa. Wainwright has emerged as the de facto ace of the staff and Tony’s going to ride his horse as much as possible. Because Wellemeyer, Looper, Pineiro and Lohse are basically 6 inning pitchers max, he’s concerned (rightfully so) about the load he’s placing on the bullpen. AZ and I had a pretty good back and forth on McClellan’s and Izzy’s workload just a couple of days ago. Therefore, Wainwright becomes the ace that Tony’s going to get as many innings as possible from. The fact is that he trusts Wainer probably more than any other pitcher on the staff, Izzy included, at this point and, regardless of Wainer’s pitch count, Tony wants him in the game.

Yesterday, Tony left the wagonmaker in to pitch the 9th inning of a tie game despite the fact that he had already thrown 102 pitches entering the inning. AW was due to hit 2nd in the bottom half of the ninth. It’s reasonable to have Wainer start that inning. 102 pitches is not an outrageous number. However, as the inning drew on, it became pretty obvious that Wainer was just going on guts and fumes as he tried to get the Astros’ middle of the order out. That point is important – AW wasn’t facing Loretta, Ausmus, and the pitcher’s spot. It was Matsui, Tejada, and Berkman, the last of whom had already hit 2 bombs off Wainer.

He got the first 2 out and faced Berkman having thrown 110 pitches. It was clear that he didn’t have his best stuff and this was definitely a tough PA for Adam. He pitched carefully to Berkman and faced Carlos Lee w/ Berkman on first, having thrown 115 pitches. Franklin was just now getting warm in the pen. I would argue that at this point Franklin, Izzy or McClellan should’ve been in the game. I understand trying to get your starter through the inning when he’s due up in the next half inning if it’s the 6th. In the 9th, it makes no sense whatsoever. You’re not likely to need a lot of innings out of your relievers at this point in the game – it’s not like you need Franklin to pitch 2-3 innings – he’s going 1 inning max. Have him get the 3rd out and pinch-hit or, if you just have to now keep him in the game, double-switch Miles into the game. Kennedy was the final out in the bottom of the 8th.

Wainwright is our best pitcher, but is he better on his 116th pitch (or his 120th which began the Pence PA) than Franklin is on his first? The difference is probably negligible at best but even if Wainer is slightly better, I DON’T CARE!!! What’s most important is the health of our 26 year old ace. Franklin should have been in the game to pitch to Lee or, at least, Hunter Pence w/ 2 on and 2 out. AW gutted out that PA by throwing slider after slider – 7 in a row – and finally getting him to chase a third one out of the zone for the K.

Here’s what we know, definitively, about pitching injuries: there’s no correlation between pitching often and the likelihood of injury but there is a correlation between pitching when tired and the likelihood of injury. Wainer was tired in the 9th. This is indisputable. Does that mean that he’s definitely headed for arm surgery? Of course not and, as many will point out, Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens threw a lot of pitches and never had major arm surgery. These patterns are not guarantees but the correlation is nevertheless significant and one that is worth paying attention to. We know now that Ryan and Clemens were freaks who could throw it 120 to 130 times or more in the mid-90’s and not get hurt. Maybe we’ll look back in 10 years and say that Wainer was a freak as well but we don’t know that today. One 126 pitch start isn’t going to kill the kid (probably) but there is a trend developing. Two of his 5 starts this year would go down as 2 of the 3 longest of his career and as long as this trend continues, Tony’s playing with fire.

Baseball Prospectus calculates a stat called pitcher abuse points as a way of measuring which pitchers are throwing when tired. Any start less than 100 pitches receives 0 points but the "abuse" a pitcher suffers from increases exponentially with every pitch thrown above 100 in a start. It’s not a big deal to throw 105 pitches. 115 is getting up there but AW was at 126 yesterday. As I said earlier, it is the most pitches thrown by any pitcher in baseball so far this year. He received 17,576 pitcher abuse points yesterday bringing his season total to 21294 – the most in baseball so far this year. Only 3 pitchers in baseball – Cliff Lee, Jake Peavy, and (gasp!) Yovani Gallardo – are averaging more pitches per start than Wainwright so far this year. Message to Tony: the marginal cost of having Wainwright, as opposed to Franklin, pitch to Lee and Pence is MUCH GREATER than the marginal benefit that was gained. If there was any benefit whatsoever, it was negligible, but Wainer will have to be THE MAN for the next 6 years – not just for those 2 PA’s.

I also wanted to piggy-back on Red Baron’s thread from yesterday about the number of runners the Cards are leaving on base. When it first came up a few days ago, I didn’t think much about it but, again, a trend seems to be emerging. It’s still a little early but I was curious about why it’s occurring and wanted to see if we could see if it was as bad as it seems and if it is likely to continue. The Cards stranded another 8 baserunners in yesterday’s game.

First of all, you’d think that team LOB stats would be pretty easy to find, but they’re not. I think I was able to figure out a way to calculate it but I really thought I’d just be able to pull up a site and it would be there. Alas, it was not to be. First of all, would you believe that, prior to yesterday’s game, the Cards were 2nd to Boston in number of times on base so far this season yet we’re only 11th in runs scored. Still, I’ll bet that most of us didn’t know we were in the top half in baseball in runs scored.

In our 24 games, prior to yesterday, we had had 240 (10 per game) runners reach base who failed to score – by far the most in the big leagues. Only 10 others have had more than 200 baserunners fail to score this year. The good news, of course, is that we’re getting a lot of runners on base. Our OBP is surprisingly the highest in the NL. One would think that if we continue getting runners on base we’ll eventually be able to push them across, right? Maybe, maybe not.

At first I thought the problem was poor performance w/ runners on base. Nope. Our BA w/ runners in scoring position is .257 – not tremendous but it’s above the league average. Our OBP w/ RISP is a whopping .376. That’s pretty damned good! Our slash stats are .284/.390/.403 w/ runners on base. W/ 2 outs and RISP, they’re .252/.383/.374. The BA and OBP numbers are ok but I think we’re starting to get to the crux of the problem.

The Cards are 22nd in baseball in homers and haven’t hit one in their last 8 games. The Cards last homered more than a week ago, on Friday, April, 18 against the Giants when both Duncan and Pujols went deep. The Cards are 14th in slugging and 19th in ISO. As you can see from the numbers above (thanks to AZ for helping us easily calculate and understand the significance of ISO) the Cards ISO w/ 2 outs and RISP is .122 – not good. W/ RISP regardless of the number of outs their ISO is .114. W/ runners on base, regardless of the base/out situation, their ISO is .119. A season ISO of .119 would put the Cards among the bottom 7 or 8 teams in baseball. The problem isn’t that the Cards are having trouble getting runners on base or even that they’re performing particularly poorly w/ runners on base. The problem is that the Cards are having a hard time leaving runners on base b/c their lack of speed and power is forcing them into playing station-to-station baseball. We need 3 hits in an inning to score and it’s tough to score a lot of runs that way.

We saw this pattern emerge yesterday. The Cards were getting runners on base but having a tough time pushing them across yet the Astros were able to tie the game despite the fact that Wainwright was mowing them down most of the game. 3 swings of the bat negated all the work the Cards were doing on the offensive end. Fortunately, the Cards were able to get the 2 hits and a walk we needed in the 9th to win the game but, as long as the Cards are unable to get the ball out of the yard, we’re going to continue to leave runners on base.

Again, the good news is that it should get a little better. Ankiel’s in a slump. If we’ve learned anything about Ankiel as a hitter it’s that he’s streaky as hell. He’ll be back and pounding homers at some point. Ludwick’s cooled off. Glaus is hitting the ball OK – he leads the majors w/ 11 doubles but has no homers. Still, he’s gotta be good for 25-30, right? Duncan has plenty of power and seems to be seeing the ball well. He’ll hit 25-30 if he’s healthy for the entire season and, God knows, Pujols will hit his share.

Still, it cannot go unnoticed that 4 of the 9 spots in the order, the Cards have basically 0 power. Kennedy/Miles, Izturis/Ryan, Skip, and the pitchers spot will probably COMBINE for about 10-12 homers all year long. That puts a pretty heavy burden on the others to produce. Another spot – Yadi’s – has only a little more than the others. Yadi can hit the ball into the bleachers but he has only 23 homers FOR HIS CAREER – in more than 1500 PA’s. Don’t expect him to be the savior. The bottom line is that this LOB problem may persist.

There is one lineup change I’d like to see. It may help to alleviate the power burden somewhat. It’s a lineup that we’ve seen just once this year -- an OF of Duncan, Ankiel, and Ludwick. I know that lots of us have been clamoring for more of Barton and I also know that Skip has an OBP of .406, a SLG of .446 and an ISO of .133. Still, he has 4 career homers and putting Ludwick in there in Skip’s place might help bring across a few more runs. The big problem with this approach would be that Tony would then be tempted to put Ryan, Izturis, Miles or Kennedy in the leadoff spot despite the fact that they all belong in either the 7 or 9 hole.

He’d never do this, but he could try Ludwick or Duncan in the leadoff spot. Ludwick has a .419 OBP this year (though it’s just .327 for his career) and Duncan’s OBP’s are .406 and .360 respectively. Their power makes them unconventional leadoff hitters. Skippy fits the profile better, ironically, b/c he lacks power but it makes no sense to play Skip over Ludwick b/c you want someone WITHOUT POWER in the leadoff spot! Run that notion through your brain one more time. Go with the guy w/ less power and put the guy w/ more power on the bench b/c the guy with less power is a better fit to the conventional wisdom of what a leadoff hitter should look like. The bottom line is that Tony needs to get the best hitters in the lineup and Ludwick, despite Skip’s hot start, is a better hitter than Skip. Our lineup would look strange and those who insist on doing things the way they’ve always been done just b/c that’s the way they’ve always been done will ask questions, scratch their heads and criticize but so what? We’re already batting the pitcher 8th! Why not stick our best hitters in the lineup and put the best OBP guys at the top of the lineup. Hell, put Glaus in the leadoff spot if you’re afraid of too many solo homers in the top of the 1st!

Anyway, back to reality. It’s the rubber game of the series – Lohse v. Backe. I absolutely detest that guy – Backe. Houstonians love him. You know why? B/c he’s short and spunky/scrappy and from the Houston area (Galveston). He’s the David Eckstein of hometown pitchers. He blows but those Astros’ fans just love him – one more reason to hate those guys (and I do!!!!!!). The good news is that Backe’s road ERA, in more than 190 career IP is 5.54. Though he’s only yielded 2 ER in 6 IP in new Busch, he gave up 28 H and 15 ER in 14.1 IP in old Busch. Let’s hope we can break that homerless streak and send him to an early shower. Isn’t it about time we brought back 10-run Sundays?