A narrative, whether read on social media or heard in the Busch Stadium concourse before a game, the St. Louis Cardinals just cannot seem to shake is the notion that their offense struggles against “no-name” starting pitchers. The opposing team could send a Cy Young Award-caliber pitcher like Clayton Kershaw or Jacob deGrom to the mound and the offense would be fine, but man, if [John Smith] or [Jim Davis] is starting, the hometown team might as well forfeit before a pitch is even thrown.
We all know that baseball is a game fueled by narratives. A long regular season, after at least a month of spring training, cultivates an environment in which analysts, broadcasters, and fans are able to produce a narrative based on a string of events and return to said narrative at hand-picked times throughout a given season. As a whole, the narrative may not even be true, but over the course of 162+ games, it can be shown as true at least a handful of times. That is simply a byproduct of a long season and recall bias.
All of this being said, baseball is also a game fueled by statistics. And because most statistics are publicly available online (on sites like Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs), the handful of narratives propagated each season can be readily fact-checked. Well, 348 days ago, I wrote an article titled “Rookie pitchers have not ‘shut down’ the St. Louis Cardinals in 2015.” In the piece, I made my attempt to point out that the narrative of “no-name” pitchers shutting down the Cardinals is mostly false. Unfortunately, the narrative persisted into the 2016 season, so again, I find myself writing a very similar piece.
However, instead of limiting the sample to just rookie starting pitchers (as I did in 2015), I included any starting pitcher with at maximum two years of MLB experience. I felt this was necessary because it not only provided me with double the sample size but, in my opinion, it also provided a better representation of the idea of a “no-name” starting pitcher. In other words, just because a pitcher has graduated beyond rookie status doesn’t mean the Cardinals have already faced him. Given the inconsistency of interleague play, a handful of second-year players faced off against the Cardinals for the first time in 2016.
If interested in my data collection, it can be found at this Google spreadsheet.
Considering we are now in the last month of the regular season, 2016 has provided the narrative another season’s worth of data, and yet, just as I pointed out in 2015, the offense of the St. Louis Cardinals has not struggled against “no-name” starting pitchers. In fact, if the collective stat. line listed in the table above was one pitcher qualified for FanGraphs leaderboards, it would possess MLB’s 7th highest ERA and 15th-worst WHIP.
Now, treating the group as one individual isn’t entirely fair as some of the pitchers included in this “study” did indeed shut down the Cardinals. On June 1st, second-year pitcher Zach Davies twirled an eight-inning gem in which he allowed three hits and zero runs, while striking out nine and walking none. Then on July 7th, John Lamb held the Cardinals to one run over seven and one-third innings.
However, given the final stat. line (seen in the table above), bad outings outnumbered the good ones. While I wouldn’t necessarily consider Rockies’ top prospect Jon Gray a “no-name” starting pitcher, he fit the requirements for inclusion (as he made his MLB debut in 2015), and on May 9th, the Cardinals tagged the 24-year-old righty for nine earned runs over three and one-third innings of work. Second-year starting pitcher Taylor Jungmann (pictured above) endured the wrath of the Cardinals’ offense as well, surrendering eight earned runs over two innings back on April 11th.
I will be the first to admit that narratives can indeed be fun. I cannot even begin to claim that I avoid all use of narratives in my tweeting, writing, and on-air analysis. That being said, after now two years of data collection (and given that we are in an election year), I have embedded an image below to help describe the persisting narrative that the Cardinals struggle against “no-name” starting pitchers:
Again, you can find a link to my data collection here.