What's there to say about Joel Pineiro? His success is consistent with the way he's pitched—the results he's gotten are commensurate with the things he's done—but the things he's doing are unimaginable over the course of an entire season. Strikeouts per nine: 3.75; strikeouts to walks: 4.0. That just doesn't look like something a major league pitcher can do now. I have a list, hot off the Baseball-Reference presses: here are the last ten seasons in which a starting pitcher has struck out fewer than four batters a game and had a K:BB of more than four:
- Carlos Silva 2005 (3.39, 7.89)
- Bob Tewksbury 1992 (3.52, 4.55)
- La Marr Hoyt 1985 (3.55, 4.15)
- (I think you should take a breath here, because time travel can be disconcerting the first time you do it.)
- Babe Adams 1920 (2.87, 4.67)
- Babe Adams 1919 (3.14, 4.00)
- Christy Mathewson 1913 (2.74, 4.43)
- Addie Joss 1908 (3.60, 4.33)
- Deacon Phillippe 1903 (3.83, 4.24)
- Jesse Tannehill 1902 (3.90, 4.00)
- Cy Young 1901 (3.83, 4.27)
Of all the ways to become a first-rank pitcher, this is obviously the rarest and the most difficult to maintain; it is pitching without a margin for error, without any buffer for poor ball-in-play luck. Even Greg Maddux got that half a walk per nine innings tacked back on eventually, and he had the added benefit of being able to strike batters out when absolutely necessary.
I don't believe that this new Joel Pineiro is workable in the long term—it's astonishing that he's even doing it in the medium term. He is a new pitcher, and probably a good one, but even Tewk, the ultimate late control bloomer, could only keep his walk rate this low for a year or too. But if he gets out of the season with his numbers looking something like this I don't envy John Mozeliak at all.
How much better does this offense look with Ryan Ludwick producing in the middle of it? Up to now Albert Pujols has stood on the bases after driving in runs more or less because of societal pressure to conform; to suddenly have that .458 OBP put to good use on occasion is like, uh, trading for a leadoff man without getting rid of anybody, it certainly is. It's like—and I hope La Russa sees this, gets intrigued with the arbitrary name of the concept, and doesn't touch the lineup any more, save for plugging in the prodigal outfielders as necessary—having three leadoff hitters!
Of course, that late inning rally gets stomped out and we feel a lot worse about the offense. This team getting confounded by Manny Parra, whose walks-to-Pineiro's-walks ratio is well over five, is just about the least surprising thing there is, but it was good to see the Cardinals finally taking advantage of second base, perhaps the most obvious and least utilized platoon this side of Strat-o-Matic baseball. Skip Schumaker still can't hit lefties, and getting his glove off the field—which is difficult in a logistical sense, because it's made of solid iron—is additional incentive to pick his spots, namely the ones in which he has an OBP of .379.
Any second baseman, even Joe Thurston, is going to be an improvement on both offense and defense against left-handed pitchers. Which is why it's been so frustrating, even more frustrating than the thirteen pitchers, for me, to see Schumaker start against the following pitchers:
- Mike Hampton
- Wandy Rodriguez
- Zach Duke
- Barry Zito (twice!)
- Cliff Lee (???)
- Johan Santana (in left field!)
- Glen Perkins
- Francisco Liriano