time to give braden looper a little love. he had a very difficult month of may ---- 5 starts, 6.37 era, capped off by an 8-run pounding administered by the astros at busch III. that was his 11th start of the year, and it left his era at 5.05; opposing hitters were batting .304 against him on the season. we all looked forward to the day when chris carpenter, matt clement, maybe even mark mulder or anthony reyes would replace him in the rotation.
but in his 14 starts since june 1, looper has compiled a 3.35 era. that leads the staff. on the year as a whole he has allowed 3 runs or fewer in 17 of his 24 starts, or 71 percent; that’s second on the staff, behind lohse (73 percent). is this sustainable? i would tend to think not, although i can’t cite a specific reason why ---- looper’s BABIP is normal (.289, almost right at his career avg of .291), as are his batted-ball data; his strand rate (75 percent) is only a couple points higher than his career norm. it’s just hard for a vanilla pitch-to-contacter to remain ahead of the curve for very long. looper does avoid walks and keeps the ball on the ground, but he gives up too many hits (especially the extra-base kind) and doesn’t strike enough people out; sooner or later the balls start dropping in for hits. but whatever you think of him, looper has had a nice run of results stretching back almost three months; even if he regresses (as we should expect), the guy deserves some credit for keeping the cards’ season relevant. since wainwright and welley went down, he has gone at least 7 innings in 7 of 13 starts, which is the same ratio as kyle lohse; he pitched very well in both of his recent matchups against the cubs and brewers. he’s never going to pitch the cards to a championship, but he’s also not going to pitch them into the cellar. he’s a perfect fit for this year’s squad --- a hang-in-there pitcher for a hang-in-there team. he embodies all of the 2008 cardinals’ traits: ie, a broad base of competencies, a number of glaring limitations, and no real standout skill.
if that sounds like criticism, it’s not meant to be. braden looper, my hat’s off to ya.
hats off, too, to chris perez, who is clearly no fun to hit against. since his recall last week, he has faced 20 batters and given up 1 hit, a single. batters have swung and missed against him almost twice as often (14 times) as they have put the ball in play (8 times). overall this year, big-league opponents are batting .220 against him. last night he did it almost exclusively with his fastball --- threw it 27 times out of 33 pitches --- but two of the strikeouts (including the guy who reached base on the wp) came off the slider. he’s gonna walk some guys, but there is little doubt about who will be closing games the rest of the year ---- especially now that wainwright’s rehab regimen has been re-calibrated for a rotation role. that’s where it should have been all along, and that’s where it should stay --- regardless of what happens with carpenter. the suggestion is out there that wainwright might be shifted back yet again if (and it gets iffier by the day) carpenter proves able to pitch; i think it’s a mistake to treat important pitcher like wainwright as a utility piece. you might yank brad thompson around that way; you don’t do it to someone like wainwright. you figure out where wainwright helps you the most, and you fill the other pieces in around him.
a few quick items, and then i gotta wrap up the post and run off to a (zzzzzzz) breakfast meeting:
- looper’s 2 hits last night raised his batting average to .298. that’s 3d in the league among pitchers (minimum 25 at-bats), behind zambrano and brandon backe.
- in his olympic debut, brian barden went 3 for 4 w/ a double, rbi, and run in an 8-7 loss to south korea; last night (or yesterday; or tomorrow; whatever it is) he went 0 for 5 as the usa pounded the netherlands, 7-0.
- jess todd made his triple A debut last night and did very well: 4 hits, 1 run in 6.2 innings. he struck out 6 and got 10 groundball outs; the run came on a solo homer in the 7th inning.
- another intriguing pitcher, deryk hooker, debuted for quad cities and gave up a run on 5 hits in 5 innings. hooker impressed mightily last year in rookie ball and the instructional league; he got off to a slow start this spring, but in his last 33 innings at johnson city he gave up just 4 runs while striking out 44. he's big and lanky and only 19 years old; definitely a guy to keep your eye on. quad cities rallied for 5 in the 9th to win the game.
- updates on a couple draftees with local ties: aaron crow took the luke hochevar route and signed with an independent-league team, the fort-worth cats; he’d been drafted by washington. and tim melville, who dropped all the way to the 4th round because nobody thought they’d be able to sign him, looks ready to ink a deal with the royals.
- another nice outing by anthony reyes last night for cleveland --- 6 innings, 6 hits, 2 runs.