Cardinals news from a Sabermetric point of view

Patience pays off for Carpenter

July 29th, 2014 by Pip

Since breaking in, Matt Carpenter has been the Cardinals’ most-patient hitter. He has led the club in pitches per plate appearance every year since becoming a regular. This year, he’s seeing pitches at a career-high rate; indeed, if he continues at this pace, he’ll finish the season with the team’s highest pitches-per-plate-appearance since the stat began being tracked in 1988. The rest of the top 10:

Rk Name Year PA Pit Pit/PA
1 Matt Carpenter 2014 464 2021 4.36
2 Ray Lankford 1993 471 2049 4.35
3 Ray Lankford 2000 472 2045 4.33
4 Ray Lankford 1997 548 2367 4.32
5 Fernando Tatis 2000 394 1698 4.31
6 Jim Edmonds 2000 649 2783 4.29
7 Ray Lankford 1998 628 2669 4.25
8 Ray Lankford 1999 477 2023 4.24
9 Jim Edmonds 2004 612 2587 4.23
10 Orlando Palmeiro 2003 366 1535 4.19

But it’s not merely seeing pitches for its own sake. Batters who take a lot of pitches also tend to walk a lot. Carpenter this season currently sports a 12.1% walk rate (MLB average is 7.8%). Moreover, the Cardinals in the list above averaged a walk rate of 14.0% in those high-pitch seasons.

Cobb shucks Cardinal bats; best opponent start of 2014

July 23rd, 2014 by Pip

Such pedigreed pitchers as Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner and Stephen Strasburg have shut down Cardinal bats this year. But on Wednesday, it was relative unknown Alex Cobb of the perennially overlooked (certainly in Tampa) Rays who quelled the Cardinals to an extent they hadn’t yet seen in 2014. Cobb struck out 10 and walked none to record a 76 Fielding Independent Game Score (FIGS), the highest score an opposing starter has posted against St. Louis this season.

The top 15 starts against the Cardinals in 2014:

Rk Player Date Tm BF IP HR BB SO FIGS
1 Alex Cobb 7/23/14 TBR 25 7 0 0 10 76
2 Madison Bumgarner 5/30/14 SFG 24 7 0 1 10 74
3 Clayton Kershaw 6/29/14 LAD 28 7 0 2 13 73
4 Bartolo Colon 4/24/14 NYM 26 7 0 0 8 71
5 Stephen Strasburg 4/20/14 WSN 23 6 0 1 9 70
6 Tony Cingrani 4/2/14 CIN 24 7 0 2 9 69
7 Aaron Harang 5/17/14 ATL 23 6 0 0 7 69
8 Ryan Vogelsong 7/2/14 SFG 26 7 0 1 8 68
9 Wily Peralta 7/13/14 MIL 24 7 0 0 5 67
10 Gio Gonzalez 4/18/14 WSN 26 7 0 1 7 66
11 Travis Wood 5/2/14 CHC 27 7 0 0 6 66
12 Danny Duffy 6/2/14 KCR 20 6 0 1 5 65
13 Jeff Samardzija 4/11/14 CHC 26 7 0 0 4 63
14 Zack Greinke 6/28/14 LAD 25 7 1 0 10 63
15 Jake Arrieta 5/3/14 CHC 22 5 1/3 0 2 7 62

Cardinal outfield’s offensive production rather shabby

July 21st, 2014 by Pip

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Progressive Game Blog: Cardinals 4, Dodgers 2 (5th inning)

July 20th, 2014 by Pip

The Cardinals took the field in the fifth inning cruising along with a 4-1 lead and an 85.4% win expectancy. After the Dodgers touched Joe Kelly for a run in the third, the Cardinal righty continued the groove he found in the fourth inning, making short work of the Dodgers’ 9-1-2 batters. Kelly finished the inning by retiring his seventh in a row, the last five of which were groundouts. Moreover, Kelly conserved some energy, using only 10 pitches in the frame, which allowed him to get through 26 batters on the day and seven full innings, only the second time in his career he has pitched that deep in a game. He would finish with a commendable 2.85 FIP/3.39 xFIP.

In the bottom half, Zack Greinke continued his every-other-inning struggles. After the Cardinals roughed him up for all four runs in the first and put two runners on via walks in the third, Greinke again seemed off-kilter. He dispatched of Kolten Wong easily enough. The Dodger All-Star got a favorable strike-one call on Wong, then dropped a beautiful curveball on the outside corner for strike two. But Wong worked the count 2-2, before getting jammed and foul popping to third base. The chinks in Greinke’s armor began to resurface, though. Peter Bourjos, pinch hitting for Matt Holliday, whom Mike Matheny removed for precautionary reasons due to Holliday’s collision in the first inning, wouldn’t chase any of Greinke’s pitches off the plate and finally chopped a base hit.

Greinke and catcher AJ Ellis clearly were following the book on Bourjos, who basically can’t hit anything other than middle-in:

To Bourjos’s credit, he made Greinke come to him and reached on an infield hit:

If not for Juan Uribe stabbing the ball along third-base line, Bourjos would’ve been on second. But it was no matter to Bourjos, who took matters into his own feet and stole on the second pitch. Throughout his career, Greinke has been better than average at holding runners on (54% SB rate; MLB average during his career is 72%). But this year, runners have pilfered with impunity four of five times.

Despite Greinke then being all over the strike zone with Matt Adams, who tried to pull an outside slider and grounded out weakly, and Jhonny Peralta, who walked, the Cardinals couldn’t pad their lead. Oscar Taveras, who had walked on four pitches in his previous plate appearance, chased Greinke’s second pitch — a ball out of the zone — and grounded a comebacker to Greinke. It was the beginning of the end for the Dodger starter, though, laboring through 26 pitches in the inning. After a scoreless inning, the Cardinals exited with an 87.9% win expectancy.

What’s the deal with Allen Craig?

July 14th, 2014 by Pip

Of the Cardinals’ multiple conundrums on offense, chief among them is Allen Craig’s sudden inability to hit. With the season more than halfway finished, Craig’s OBP is still below .300 and his SLG is below 400. The Cardinals haven’t had a corner outfielder who qualified for the batting title with those kind of numbers since 1941.

As frustrating to watch Craig perform has been, just as frustrating is trying to figure out why it’s happening. Craig set career highs in on-base percentage last year (.373) and plate appearances (563) and, his late-season left-foot sprain notwithstanding, looked poised to continue his trajectory of success in 2014. But he hasn’t been officially disabled this season, and he has been playing so regularly that he is on pace to set a new high in plate appearances. He has no clear peripheral stats that would indicate extreme bad luck: His batting average on balls in play is down, but that’s in large part because he’s hitting fewer line drives (19.6% LD%) and more ground balls (56.4%), rates for which are divergent from his career norms (22.9% and 46.5%, respectively). His strikeout rate is his highest in four years (though not way out of career rate), but then again he’s also making contact at the highest rate of his career. What’s going on?

Bill Dozier suggested on Twitter that Craig appears to have a slow bat. Bill must have better eyesight than we do, because our naked eye is ill equipped to make such anecdotal observations. Happily, however, we have some resources that can quantify Bill’s scout-like intuition, namely ESPN’s home-run tracker, which among other things displays bat speed for players’ home runs. Although it’s a much smaller sample than we’d like (Craig has seven home runs this year, accounting for only about 8% of his total hits), it’s something, and we can compare his bat speeds with his speeds in prior years. And to protect against league and park biases, we’ll also look at some of his teammates’ speeds.

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Indeed, Craig has had a precipitous decline this year in his bat speed, down nearly two miles per hour from his 2012-2013 average. That might not sound like much, but it may be enough to explain why Craig’s slugging percentage is 100 points below his career norm. It also fits with the seemingly strange combination of his increased contact rate and lower on-base percentage. And, as Roger Tobin has found, even modest changes in bat speed can have major effects on production.

If slower bat speed is the problem, whence does it come? Jeff Sullivan recently suggested an increase in inside fastballs. That itself may be the result of teams trying to exploit lingering issues from Craig’s foot injury. That’s a plausible explanation. But if injury were the case, surely by this point the Cardinals would’ve sat Craig for 15 days (or more) rather than endure this level of ineptness for so long. That leaves another, more uncomfortable option in the possibility of a change in training habits, namely performance-enhancing drugs. Surely, anyone taking an objective look at Craig’s situation would have to consider the possibility. (The weekend series with the Brewers and Ryan Braun serves as a reminder that PEDs are far from eradicated in the game.)

Perhaps if the problem is related to Craig’s foot, the coming All-Star break will provide some healing time. If not, however, or if the problem is elsewhere, the Cardinals may have more than simply Yadier Molina’s bat to replace for the rest of the season.