Panic! At Busch Stadium?

@StatsTy on Twitter

As I type this post, the St. Louis Cardinals sit at 6-9 on the year. This wasn’t the start most Cardinals fans had wanted or hoped for. In particular, the 3-9 jumped out at me, and I hope to put some thoughts on the horrendous start to the season in this post.

I wanted to look specifically at this pitching staff to see some early numbers in comparison to previous years. Spin rates are a metric that measures the spin on the ball, and the spin on a ball is said to cause additional movement to assist in getting swing and misses. Going down the rotation (plus a couple relievers), we start with the ace, Carlos Martinez.

*Please note that it is early in the season. Small sample sizes are abundant, but I am not going to state that every single time it is applicable.

As you can see, nothing too significant changed as far as spin rate for Martinez. In fact, he has added nearly 200 rpm to his fastball and curveball. My take on this would be is some of that extra spin #18 has introduced proposed some control issues. Look for that to be shaken out later in the season, and hopefully the spin rate increase will help the future of St. Louis’ mound.

Adam Wainwright is the next guy up for the Redbirds, and boy, he’s back and ready to go. Take a look below and you’ll see that to the full extent, until you see that ugly negative sign sitting in the curveball line.

Take it for what it’s worth, but if there is one pitch I don’t want to see with a negative spin rate, it’s that curveball. In 2016, 41.2% (61/148) of Wainwright’s strikeouts came on that curveball. Right now in 2017, 5 of 28 strikeouts (17.9%) have been finished off by the curveball. Waino is not going to be who he used to be, but if his curveball suddenly loses its edge, this could be a rough year for the former ace.

The next pitcher is an interesting case. You’ll notice below there is 2015 data rather than 2016, because for obvious reason, Lance Lynn did not have statistics in 2016.

Looking at spin rates, there is improvement, except for that curveball, similar to Wainwright. In all honesty, there are more factors than I can account for with Lynn coming off his injury, but come later in the year, it will be interesting to dive a little bit deeper into his statistical differences between 2015 and 2017.

A former Red is the next player on the docket, Mike Leake. He has look rather impressive in his few games played in 2017, and for the first time in this segment, there isn’t anything negative in regards to spin rate.

The only pitch losing spin was his knuckle curve (king of low sample sizes here today), and that’s not a bad thing. It is a knuckle curve after all. I’ll talk below too how he has contained the launch angles, so players still pound the ball, but they pound it right into the ground.

Rounding out the starting five for St. Louis is Michael Wacha.

There are his stats and nothing too shocking emerged. His changeup has done well, and four-seam/ curveball haven’t been too shabby either. Wacha looked real good against the Pirates on Wednesday, so hopefully we will continue to see flashes of the Wacha we once knew and loved.

Now for the only reliever people seem to care about right now, Seung Hwan Oh.

There’s the distribution, and honestly I think that the curveball and changeup are irrelevant. His dominant pitches, the fastball and slider, accounted for all but 7 of Oh’s strikeouts in 2016. Oh’s issues have been somewhat caused by control, and that data shows he has added some spin in this offseason. Correlation does not necessarily mean causation, but in cases like Oh and Martinez, it would make sense that more spin is causing control issues.

There is an in-depth look at my take on some of the Cardinals struggles on the mound. Obviously, there are more factors at play, but I feel that the pitching has been something that has been quantifiably bad early in the season.

St. Louis Cardinals @ Washington Nationals (April 10th-12th, 2017)

I don’t think there’s much to say about the first two games of the series. The Nationals came out hitting, and hit they did. This isn’t discrediting the Cardinals offense, which also saw its fair share of success, but there’s not a whole lot to say when you give up an average of 11 runs per game. A couple barrels went for home runs late in those games, courtesy of Gyorko and Diaz, so look at last week’s post for the importance of barrels. On the flip side, Tuesday’s game saw Murphy and Wieters barrel up a pair of dingers, so obviously, there is only so much you can do. Wednesday’s 3PM game featured one whole barrel and a dominant Mike Leake. 5 balls were probably hits by hit probability. FIVE BALLS. Playing the odds there gives St. Louis a great chance to win a ball game they controlled most of the way.

St. Louis Cardinals @ New York Yankees (April 14th-16th, 2017)

There’s not another way to put it. This series was ugly. Getting swept is never fun, but even the way St. Louis was put away in the Bronx was painful for Cardinals fans. In game one, perhaps what hurt worst was coming off a win in the capital city, Chapman proved to be too much. Jose Martinez doubled, but that was it off the perennial fireballer. Game two was a similar story, different closer. Other than that awful outfield play (1% hit probability from Statcast), the Cardinals put the bat on the ball. Three barrels off St. Louis bats ended 1-3 with a home run. The first two from Grichuk and Gyorko both lineouts with a 75%+ hit probability. Grichuk also had a 110.4 blast at a 13 degree launch angle that drops 75% of the time, but resulted in another lineout. The Cardinals lone spot that got a hit with under a 50% hit probability came from Gyorko’s Home Run, one I completely put on the lefty home run derby that is Yankee Stadium. Game three was just bad. No good hits by St. Louis, and the ball jumping off the Yankees bats caused the brooms to come in New York.

Pittsburgh Pirates @ St. Louis Cardinals (April 17th-19th, 2017)

Interesting stat – The Pirates have either swept their opponents, or gotten swept by their opponent in every single series thus far. I guess that means winning game one means a lot, and the Cardinals did just that. Seung Hwan Oh may have caused fans hearts to pump a little faster, but that is irrelevant to the fact that Lance Lynn delivered a beautiful performance. The first ball with over 100 MPH exit velocity? The fourth inning. The Bucs only did so four times while Lynn was on the bump, so that stands for something. Game two featured another Seung Hwan Oh No!, but the Cardinals escape once again. Leake was alright once again. I looked initially at his exit velocities against, and was a little shocked to see quite a few 100s creeping in. The launch angle was the trick here, with most of those harder balls going directly in the dirt. I think that’s a sign that Leake is working the way he wants to right now. As for game number three, Dexter. Fowler. A pair of barrels for the former Cub put the Cardinals up 2-1, and we called it a ball game. And for Michael Wacha, only one real mistake went into the bleachers courtesy of Bell’s barrel. Players aren’t hitting the Cardinals pitching staff hard recently, so I hope that trend continues and St. Louis can find their stride as we head into the final weeks of April.

Highs and Lows


You’ll never guess who has the highest average exit velocity for the Cardinals currently. Randal Grichuk? Forget about it. Stephen Piscotty? Haha, not even close. One Michael Wacha currently has averaged 96.4 MPH on his hits. Small sample size, I know, but still kind of fun. For those of you actually interested in the position player with the top slot, it is Matt Adams with 92.6 MPH, followed closely by Matt Carpenter’s 91.8 average.


A poor showing in 2017’s exit velocity average has been Jhonny Peralta. His 80.6 average sits at the base of St. Louis, standing alone with the pitching staff. This is not a good sign early on for the third baseman.