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Comparing the Cardinals' run prevention to last year

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The Cardinals had elite run prevention and strand rates from their pitching in 2015. In 2016 they haven't been as lucky but there's still plenty of time for that to change.

Scott Kane/Getty Images

After 52 games, close to a third of the way through the season, the Cardinals have seen the opposing team cross home plate 235 times. Only eight teams have allowed more runs. For comparison, after 52 games in 2015 the Cardinals had allowed only 150 runs, and they didn't surrender run number 235 until the first game of a double-header against the Cubs on July 7th - the 83rd game of the season. In short, teams are scoring 1.63 more runs per game against the club in 2016 than they did a year ago, the largest difference in baseball (the grotesque Reds are second with 1.51 more runs allowed per contest as compared to 2015). This is a pretty obvious recipe for a large drop off in the win/loss column and as such the Cardinals are seven games behind last year's pace.

Before moving on, here's a look at the Cardinals pitching stats for the entire 2015 season as compared to the first 52 games in 2016:

K%

BB%

HR/9

LOB%

ERA

FIP

2015

21.7%

7.8%

0.76

79.4%

2.94

3.48

Rank in MLB

10th

17th

2nd

1st

1st

5th

2016

20.6%

7.8%

1.02

69.6

4.22

3.93

Rank in MLB

16th

12th

12th

t28th

21st

13th

When Ben Lindbergh's cluster luck column was published at Grantland on August 13, 2015, the Cardinals as a team, as he noted, had an ERA of 2.60, far and away the best in baseball and a shade better than Matt Harvey (2.61) at the time. The idea being every time a team played the Cardinals they were always up against the equivalent of Harvey. As shown above, they slipped a bit the last month and a half of the season but still finished with a league best ERA, and near the season-long equivalent of Madison Bumgarner (2.93).

The Cardinals, this year, have not been as fortunate. Following Monday's 6-0 shoutout win over the Brewers, as a team the Cardinals have a 4.22 ERA (the Cubs sit atop MLB at 2.60), which is 21st in baseball, and if looking for a similar Harvey/Bumgarner comparison, the Cardinals are basically trotting out Patrick Corbin of the Diamondbacks (4.21 ERA) for nine innings each night which doesn't quite have the same feel to it.

The crux of Lindbergh's column - that the 2015 Cardinals were able to suppress runs with a historically high strand rate - looks completely foreign in 2016. In 2015 the Cardinals' staff had a strand rate of 79.4%, which was not only the best in baseball that year by a wide margin (the Rays were second at 75.1), but also the best in the Wild Card era. That holds true even if you count the first two months of this season. When only counting full seasons, the second best strand rate since 1995 belongs to the 2011 Phillies and 2013 Reds, both at 77.5%. In contrast, this year the Cardinals are stranding runners at a rate of 69.6%, tied for second-to-last in all of baseball with the Reds and behind only the Rockies (66.4%).

The luck, as has already been noted in several prominent places online, appears to be gone - especially for the starters - who have a higher strand rate and are underpeforming their FIP. Heading into Monday's game, here are the starter/reliever splits for the Cardinals in 2016:

IP

K%

BB%

HR/9

LOB%

ERA

FIP

Starters

309.0

18.1%

7.2%

0.87

67.1%

4.37

3.89

Relievers

151.1

25.9%

8.9%

1.31

75.4%

3.93

4.01

While tempting, I don't believe there's a lot of blame to place on the Cardinals front office for these woes. Whiffing on David Price seems to loom even larger now and they perhaps could have pursued John Lackey a bit more aggressively than just laying down the qualifying offer. But even those who were most bearish on the rotation heading into 2016 expected better results than this.

Though he's coming off a lost season not many thought Adam Wainwright would have the worst stretch of starts in his career. Few expected Michael Wacha to appear broken (8.63 ERA in 24.1 IP in last five starts). The Michael Leake signing at the very least was a sensible plan to fill Lance Lynn's innings. Jaime Garcia showed last year when healthy he's one of the better lefties in the NL. And in spite of his late injury in 2015, Carlos Martinez was a decent bet to pick up where he left off. But every starter other than Garcia had an April or May with a 5.00+ ERA.

The good news is, luck, of both the good and bad variety, has a tendency to not last. Wainwright still doesn't look quite right but he has had a much better month (4.62 ERA and 3.68 FIP vs. 7.16 and 5.28 in April). Leake has a 1.28 ERA in his last 28 innings. Garcia has been the steadiest pitcher in the rotation (3.47 ERA, 3.08 FIP in 59.1 IP). Martinez threw eight innings of shutout ball yesterday and was touching 99 mph late in the game. And Wacha's 3.58 FIP matched against his bad 4.99 ERA tell us he's been bad but maybe not that bad?

The pitching staff has been disappointing in 2016 but there are a lot of reasons to still be hopeful. Factor in the Cardinals' surprising offense, which has accounted for a +47 team run differential - another stat I'm going to look at later this week - and you get the sense that the remaining two-thirds of the season will be a bit more kind when it comes to the opposing team crossing the plate.