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mopping up

HC is due back from vacation today. he had a pre-programmed post set to go, but i figure night’s meltdown might still be on people’s minds; i know it’s on mine. so HC’s post will run either tomorrow or tuesday, and i’ll toss out a few quick reflections about that loss.

the 21-blown-saves stat is getting a lot of play, and i think it’s worth parsing that for a moment. 21 blown saves don't (as many people seem to assume) translate into 21 losses; it’s commonplace to lose a lead late in the game, blow the save, and still end up winning the game. the cardinals have done that several times this year, e.g. on may 2 vs the cubs, may 17 vs the rays, june 15 vs the phillies to name 3 quick examples. and it almost happened last night: mcclellan blew a save situation in the 9th and allowed the pirates to tie the score, but the cards got the lead back in the 10th and, had they held the 2nd lead, would have recorded a win despite blowing a save. instead, they got two blown saves but only one loss --- another illustration of how we can’t map blown saves directly to win-loss totals.

the only way to gauge the won-loss impact of all those blown saves is to go through the schedule and count up how many of them actually led to defeats. which i have just done; not a difficult task, took me about 10 minutes. of the 21 blown saves, 8 came in wins and 10 came in losses. you’ll note the numbers don’t add up to 21 --- that’s because the cards have 3 losses (including last night’s) in which they blew more than one save opportunity. so the won-loss impact of those 21 blown saves is 10 defeats --- and in truth it’s less than that, because no bullpen can be expected to be perfect. every team blows some saves and loses some games late --- so the question is, how many games have the cards lost that they would have won with an average performance by the bullpen? my sense is that the number is right around about 5 --- a lot lower than 21, but it's still a depressingly high number. add 5 wins to the cards’ total and they have the second-best record in baseball; they’re 19 games over .500 (at 57-38), half a game behind the cubs, and 5.5 games ahead of milwaukee in the wild-card race.

the 5-game estimate, by the way, gibes w/ the bullpen’s aggregate WPA figure as listed at fangraphs. as a unit, they are at -2.31 in WPA, or negative 4.6 wins (0.5 of WPA = 1 win). the only team with a worse aggregate bullpen WPA is washington.

one thing i haven’t heard mentioned anywhere is that jason michaels has stunned the cardinals twice now: he’s also the dude who hit the grand slam off adam wainwright back on june 2 to tie up a game the cardinals seemingly had well in hand. they led 4-0, you’ll recall, but it seemed like a much bigger bulge than that because wainwright had a 3-hit shutout going through 6 innings and was only 2 batter over the minimum. in the 7th he gave up a double and two walks, and with two out michaels jumped on the first pitch and hit it out to tie the game; wainwright stayed in and gave up the go-behind run the following inning. that doesn’t count as a blown save, but it might as well; another late lead the team failed to protect.

i’m mostly a numbers guy, but i do wonder about the psychological impact of last night’s defeat. comes at a very bad time --- wins have been hard to come by this month, and the additions of sabathia and harden to the division seem to have raised a few doubts in the clubhouse; the team is looking to the front office for a countermove. one loss usually doesn’t mean much in a season this long . . . . . still, the last thing the team needs is another challenge, another hurdle to overcome. the cardinals have handled most of them so far this year, but how long can a thin lineup and thin rotation keep it up? if i may use a tour de france metaphor: the team is like a domestique who’s found himself in the leading pack in an alpine stage, right there with the elite hill climbers. how long can he stay in the group? how long before he cracks?