Heading into the season, it is best to have reasonable expectations. The Cardinals had questions in their rotation and the roles in the bullpen were not entirely nailed down. Even with those expectations, it is always nice to hope for a pie in the sky dream first half. What if Adam Wainwright has another Cy Young-caliber season? What if Michael Wacha overcomes his injury problems, Carlos Martinez delivers as a starter, Lance Lynn takes another step forward, and John Lackey provides his typical solid production? What if Trevor Rosenthal has better control, Jordan Walden slots into the eighth, and Kevin Siegrist recovers his form?
Even if all of those things had happened, we would not have predicted the Cardinals to have this good of a pitching staff. The rest of this post uses graphs to take us through the Cardinals first half of the season.
Let's start with the rotation ERA:
The Cardinals run prevention overall has been incredible. Despite losing their ace shortly after the season began, the Cardinals' starters have put up the best ERA in MLB. ERA is not always the best indicator of a how the pitchers have performed. The Cardinals have an excellent defense, and it is possible that the Cardinals have had a bit of luck with runners on base. Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) aims to take some of that context out of it. Here is how the Cardinals have performed relative to the rest of the league in FIP.
Even stripping away defense and the Cardinals' performance with runners on base, the Cardinals' rotation has been fantastic. Here is how the rotation fares by WAR.
The rotation is just one part of the pitching staff. The Cardinals have also had a fantastic bullpen. Here are the bullpen ERAs.
And once again, FIP:
Then WAR, which does have leverage as a component, and includes more difficult situations into account.
The Cardinals are the only team with a top-five WAR for the both the starters and the bullpen. Combining both to encompass the entire staff, here are the ERA numbers:
Since 1972, only one team has finished the season with a better ERA than the Cardinals' current 2.71, and the Houston Astros of 1981 is still more than 30 years ago. The last team to finish with an ERA below three was the Dodgers in 1989. Since the strike the only teams to finish with an ERA below 3.10 were the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011 and the Washington Nationals last year.
And finally, WAR:
Even taking out any effects of luck or including the Cardinals' excellent defense, the team's pitching staff has been the best in baseball.
Enjoy the game tonight. Real baseball starts again in just a few days.