"But Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from these dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope."
~Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
What a difference a month makes. The Cardinals had a lot of questions going into the season. There were questions about how the outfield would coalesce, what kind of production the starting rotation would provide and whether the middle infielders could bounce back from declining numbers in recent years. A lot of those questions remain unanswered (but we've been given some hints) but it's awfully nice to look at the standings and see the Cardinals atop them, temporary or not.
Prior to the start of the season, I collected the community's predictions for the division and needless to say the Cardinals didn't quite come out on top. But beyond that, the Cardinals are blowing that prediction out of the water.
|Team||Winning % Predicted||Winning % To Date|
If the Cardinals played that .483 ball that we predicted the rest of the way, they'd wind up with 82 wins. That's over .500 ball and I'll still be surprised if it plays out that way. But we've got some data that we can add to the data set now. Let's just take a weighted average of the two numbers and see what happens.
|Team||Weighted Winning %|
Rejoice Pirates fans, we don't think your a .393 team still. If we think that the first 30-ish games are as representative as what we pegged each team as before the season, then the Cardinals still won't come out on top. But maybe the first 30 games are more important. What weight do we have to give the performance to date in order for the Cardinals to stay on top? It's difficult since the Cubs have been performing very well to date and pre-season predictions thought they were the best team in the division. If the games to date are about 5 times as representative as what we thought before the season, then the Cardinals would eek out the Cubs for the division title.
That seems like a bit of a stretch. Has our opinion of these teams really altered that much based on 30 games? I'd argue that it shouldn't even if it has. And I'm as guilty of that as the next person.
I won't venture to guess where this team is really headed but I will give you three players that are looking at some backsliding and three players that are better than they appear thus far.
When good luck goes bad:
- Ryan Franklin is walking twice as many batters as last year, striking out fewer and isn't a groundball pitcher. His ERA is under 2.00 but that's a function of his .239 BABIP and zero of his flyballs winding up in the stands. Regardless of the fact that these numbers are bound to go up even with him pitching from the pen, I've watched Franklin's outings and he's give up some screamers to the track. Once a few of those go out of the park, his numbers will look more like but his skillset and their peripherals.
- Kyle Lohse has something of a perfect storm of circumstances to cash in this coming offseason. He's in a slight pitchers park, in the weaker league and he has an above average defense behind him in the infield. If ever there was a time for him to set career highs, it's now. But a 2.36 ERA? That's not gonna stick. He has yet to allow a HR and his strikeout rate is down slightly. He's still pitching very well (and ought to continue to be a good pitcher) but he's stranding a lot of runners and expectations are a little too high for him right now.
- Elbows, shoulders and hips -- oh my. The Cardinals haven't really been hit by more than some minor mishaps thus far -- Springer's elbow, Izturis's wrist, Ryan's ribcage -- but does anyone really have faith that it's going to stay that way. I don't. How long until we have to watch Mulder pitch and then swear to us that he doesn't feel pain in his shoulder? Is Pineiro's shoulder impingement really better? Izzy doesn't look right to me still; could it be the hip again? Can McClellan shoulder the substantial innings totals he's been handed thus far? And, of course, can Pujols elbow stay healthy all year? Maybe none of this goes wrong, but we should all know by now that something is going to go wrong even if it's totally unexpected (see Rolen & shoulder).
Don't stop believing:
- Chris Duncan is absolutely lacing the ball but his power stats are uncharacteristically low. Part of the problem is that he's popping up a ridiculous number of pitches. His infield flyball per total flyballs % is at 30.8 -- or about 4 times higher than it was last season and the season before that. He's hitting more line drives than in the past and walking at a higher rate than ever before. The thing that sticks out to me the most though is that his homerun per flyball rate is about 80% of what it was last season. That's a number that really isn't going to fluctuate a great deal once you've identified the player's true talent level and Duncan's hitting well below the previous two seasons numbers. In summary, he's popping some pitches up but everything else points to more power than his .424 SLG would lead you to believe.
- Second verse, same as the first. Troy Glaus just can't get a ball to go over the fence. If he hits them, they will come. Eventually.
- Don't let anyone tell you that Thudwick's 1.037 OPS is luck. It's entirely possible that he's actually been a little unlucky on his batted balls thus far. 40% of his contact is line drives. He's taking walks despite the high strikeout rate and he's making hard contact. You can question whether he'll keep hitting that many line drives (he probably won't) or walk as often as he had (again, probably not) but thus far, his production isn't a lucky run of disguise, it's the real deal of someone hitting the ball very well.
I'd love to give you some rational preview of the Cubs/Cards game tonight, but I can't. Because I don't like the Cubs and I don't like to be rational about them. I hope the Cardinals destroy them. If things start to go bad, just count to 100 -- it's their centennial!