As I was watching the broadcast last night, the silly text poll that Fox Sports Midwest runs every night caught my eye. The question was on who the fans trusted the most for the Cardinals – the offense, the defense, or the pitching. For the first time that I can recall, I honestly had no idea which one I would choose. These things happen when you are playing .667 ball, one would hope.
So let’s break this down a little. I’ll hold my final decision for the end, and we’ll see if it holds water. So buckle in for fun with numbers with Ang (I promise it’ll be at least as fun as one of my math classes – no really)!
Coming into the beginning of the year, we were all feeling fairly confident that the Cardinals would have no trouble scoring runs. After having some fun with the sortable stats on mlb.com, here’s where I’ve found the Cardinals stand with the rest of the NL:
Hits: 4th (Cubs are first – bet you didn’t expect that, did you?)
Home runs: 3rd
Strike outs: 3rd most, with 210… 3 true outcomes, anyone?
Here’s a fun one – intentional walks: 1st with 21. No other team even is in the double digits. Fear? Respect? I’ll accept both as correct answers.
Obviously I did not choose very in-depth numbers or newer statistical measurements here. Heck, I didn’t even throw any percentages at you! But it’s safe to say even with these small-ish sample sizes of the last month+ that this team is going to get on base (the OBP of .340 told me so… oops! Percentages!). I know that we’ve had those games where Albert’s up with the bases loaded or one of the bench guys like Stavinoha pinch hits in a critical situation and we as fans just know that this is going to be the at-bat that breaks open the game. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, and Albert pops up or Stavi strikes out. Still, the Cards are creating 5.4 runs per game. We’ll lose some 1-0, but we won’t lose a lot of them.
It’s safe to say that our pitchers have been stellar this season. They’re tops in the league with a 2.58 ERA, an 88% quality start percentage, and have given up the fewest home runs with 13. It’s said that pitching wins games, and when we’re winning on the strengths of Adam Wainwright’s curveball, Jaime Garcia’s incredible poise for a rook, Chris Carpenter’s command of a general, Brad Penny’s flames and Kyle Lohse’s quality starts, it’s pretty easy to see why our starters are a combined 14-4. Ready for this? We’re also second in runs, earned runs, walks, and walks/hits per inning pitched.
Surprise! Those numbers include the bullpen guys. All the accolades I’ve heard for our pitchers have been aimed in the general direction of the starters, but the pen’s held their own rather admirably. Consider this – they’re tops in the league with a mere 18% of their inherited runners scoring. The league average is 35%, and they’re having fun out in Arizona where the pen’s allowed a whopping 53% of their inherited runners to touch home. The pen isn’t getting cheap luck either – they’ve got the highest leverage index in the league – meaning Tony isn’t afraid to go to them when the game is on the line.
Everyone knows we’ve got a fairly groundball-heavy staff, thanks to Dave Duncan’s pitch-to-contact/live and die by the sinker mentality. It’s pretty nice for Carpenter to be on the mound with 2 on and 1 out and know that he’s got a .989 fielding percentage running around behind him waiting to gobble up double play balls, isn’t it? 1 error for every 100 chances – that’s roughly what it breaks down to. That’s out of 1,082 total chances. That right there should be enough, but let’s look closer…
It doesn’t hurt to have a Gold Glove winner like Yadi behind the plate throwing out over 40% of would be base-stealers; Freese, Brendan, Skip, and Albert turning a stunning 32 double plays; and a mere 13 errors so far on the year. True, sometimes the errors become glaring, as they did for CDD favorite David Freese in Milwaukee back in April. However, I spend much more time marveling at the diving stops, flying catches, and catch/spin/throws than I do the rare errors. We’ve already got 3 Gold Glove-winning players on the team, and I know Erika, Chris, and I aren’t the only 3 that think Brendan could easily win one, plus Freese has been flashing the leather as of late as well.
Bottom line, to me anyway, is to send my vote the way of the defense. Our pitchers are scary beyond words, but throw them out there with Florida’s defense (a .974 fielding percentage, 14 double plays, and 25 errors) and some of our pitchers’ rougher innings suddenly look a lot more rough. You can’t keep a groundball staff going without a strong defense behind you waiting to snag every ball they can dive, jump or stab at. Yes, our offense is absolutely terrifying and our pitchers make hitters weak in the knees, but on the nights where the runners aren’t crossing the plate (see last night) or the pitchers are struggling to find location, the defense is there, doing their job and doing it amazingly well.
Agree? Disagree? Fell asleep with all the numbers? Debate in the comments!