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It's not sexy, but it works

Well I’ll be damned if the Cards aren’t once again tied for first w/ the Cubbies. I’m still surprised the Astros are hanging in there but we’ll save that story for another day. There’s no way their pitching will hold up. Will ours? I’m beginning to think it just might.

 

Wow! What a ninth for Chris Perez last night. After falling behind Jeff Kent and giving up a solid single to right, he simply blew away James Loney, Matt Kemp, and Blake DeWitt. You can really see Perez’s evolution, too. Last night there was one fastball after another and he was just pounding them down in the zone (where Duncan likes them). He missed w/ some of them but he went right back to it w/ every successive pitch and they just couldn’t hit it at 95 – 96. At one point he touched 98. By the time he went up in the zone for strike 3 against Kemp, he had no prayer. Then, after throwing about 15 straight fastball, he dropped 2 sliders in right over the plate against DeWitt. The night’s final pitch came in at 95 and DeWitt was toast.

Perez has always had the reputation of being somewhat wild. In the minors, he has a career BB/9 of 6.13. He was even over 4.50 at Memphis this season before being recalled. In 4.2 IP w/ the big club he’s walked one batter. Yes, I know – small sample size but he doesn’t appear wild at all w/ the fastball. As I said, he was dealing those fastballs down in the zone one after another. When he missed, it was narrowly and his strikes were, for the most part, right at the knees. The two sliders he threw DeWitt were right on the money. If he continues to throw strikes, he’s going to be special. It was good to see him on the mound as the game ended. My guess is that we’ll see more of that this year and in the future.

There’s been a lot of chatter here about the Cards’ rough-goings w/ men on base. LB addressed the Cards improvement w/ RISP here. It was pretty timely b/c, earlier in the week, Derek Jacques over at Baseball Prospectus wrote an article about offensive efficiency. It’s a good one. Take a look if you have a subscription. It, essentially, dealt with the question of how best to evaluate offensive efficiency. Should we go by runs scored? By runners left on base? Shouldn’t caught stealings and double plays affect the measurement? His conclusion – a logical one (and fairly simple, too) – is basically that an offense is most efficient when it scores a high percentage of the runners that reach base. In other words, we shouldn’t focus necessarily on the number of runners left on base.

He uses the example of the Red Sox of a couple of years ago who left a ton of runners on base but scored a ton of runs as well. It stands to reason if you have a lot of runners reach base, you’ll strand a fair number as well. The point was that the Red Sox offense was very efficient despite leaving a large number of runners on base b/c they scored a relatively high percentage of their runners.

So how then should we evaluate this year’s Cards so far? Jacques says that the best measurement of offensive efficiency is simply the % of runners who reach base that end up scoring (R/TOB, where TOB = number of times a runner reaches base). To this point in the season, the Cards have reached base 731 times – most in the majors. None of us expected this coming into the season. It should bode well for our offense. However, the Cards have only scored (before last night) 232 runs – 4.64 per game. This rate is 10th in the NL. Clearly, considering the number of times we’re reaching base, we should be scoring more runs. Of course I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

Using Jacques’ suggestion, then, the Cards have scored 31.7% of their runners who have reached base. This rate is 26th in baseball – terrible. Only 4 teams – Toronto, San Diego, San Francisco, and Kansas City – have been less efficient so far this year. I’m not sure if we’re going to be able to keep up our rate of reaching base but either we’ll have to or we’ll have to be able to score more of them in order to keep winning. LB’s Thursday post discussed that we are going through a period where we’re being more successful in getting those runners home. Hopefully that can become a trend.

This team is really playing good baseball after 50 games and it’s pretty surprising b/c in looking at the numbers, nothing really stands out. Sure, Pujols is tremendous and Ludwick’s playing great (2nd in the NL in OPS) but it’s not like we’re scoring a ton of runs (as referenced above). The pitching’s been solid but, again, not spectacular. Wainwright is an emerging star and Wellemeyer’s pitched tremendously so far but Pineiro’s been OK at best and Lohse has been up and down. The bullpen, at times, has pitched well but it’s also had its share of problems – Izzy, Springer. It’s really difficult to point to anything and say "That’s why the Cards are tied for 1st place almost a third of the way into the season."

There is, however, one area at which the Cards have excelled during the first 50 games: their defense. It’s been tremendous, according to the hardball times. Defense is very difficult to measure statistically, as we all know. Judging a team by number of errors is specious b/c it doesn’t factor in scorekeepers’ biases or, often, fielders’ range. Fielding percentage – same thing; it’s dependent on errors. THT does as good a job as anyone though and, according to their numbers, the Cards defense is easily the best in the NL .

The league average number of unearned runs allowed is 20. The Cards have allowed 12. Their fielding +/- is 23 – 4 plays better than the next highest in the NL. The Cards team RZR is .873 compared to a league average of .831. The next highest in the NL is .846. Their infield RZR is 50 points higher than the league average and 22 points higher than the next highest. In the outfield, the Cards are 28 points higher than the league average and, again, first in the NL. The team has made 145 plays outside of their defensive zone – highest in the NL and 17 plays more than the league average. We saw Albert make another last night. There were probably a couple others as well.

I was ready to heap plaudits on Mozeliak and LaRussa for making changes to help ensure a better defensive team but the only real addition is Izturis. He was, clearly, brought in for defensive reasons and he’s played very well defensively but most of the others – Ludwick, Skip, Ankiel – were players we already had. We did change Rolen for Glaus but that didn’t improve the defense measurably. Glaus has played well but Rolen would have also.

Whatever the reason, it’s worth noting that Skip, Ankiel, and Ludwick have all become above average OF’s. The fact that they’ve been playing well offensively has allowed them to stay in the lineup. Izturis and Glaus have been very good and Pujols and Molina are the best in the bigs defensively. Maybe if the team can continue to be pretty good at the plate, pretty good on the mound, and tremendous defensively, this team has a chance.

The Cards are going for a 5-1 west coast swing. When was the last time we could say that? After today’s game, they’ll get an off day and then 7 at home against the Astros and Pirates. It’ll be Wellemeyer against Dodgers’ rookie phenom Clayton Kershaw. He’s their Colby Rasmus. I’m looking forward to watching this one.