Cardinals news from a Sabermetric point of view

Where have you gone, Will Clark?

July 4th, 2014 by Pip

After shutting out the Giants 2-0 on Wednesday, the good news is that the Cardinals have now held their opponents scoreless an amazing and league-leading 16 times this season. But after failing to tally on Tuesday (as well as on Sunday), the bad news is that the Cardinals themselves have been shut out a discouraging 10 times. Has the team suddenly become the 1906 White Sox?

With a team wOBA of .303 that ranks 10th in the 15-team National League, perhaps the Cardinals have. After spending the last three seasons among the elite offensive teams in the league, the Cardinals — with a little more than half of 2014 in the books — are officially inept.

The lineup isn’t without its performers: Matt Adams stands out with his team-leading .363 wOBA, chiefly on the strength of his .515 slugging percentage. And Matt Carpenter is again posting one of the highest on-base percentages in the league at .381. But with the exceptions of Adams and Jhonny Peralta, the team has a decided lack of power, with erstwhile boppers Matt Holliday (.523 career SLG) and Allen Craig (.466 career SLG) turning in slugging percentages well below .400. Craig is the biggest disappointment, struggling to stay afloat above a .300 OBP, the Mendoza Line of on-base rates.

But beyond the statistical evidence of their lethargy with the lumber, the Cardinals lack any real sense of animation or spiritedness at-bat. In the  recent post-Pujols years, lacking any real offensive persona, they’ve rented veteran faces to provide an identity for the lineup, including Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran. Neither was a rah-rah type, but they served as the personality for a rather faceless lineup. Let’s face it: Holliday, Craig and even Yadier Molina are bland characters who in the past have been able to prosper without pressure in relative anonymity behind leading-man-type stars.

Being in San Francisco this week pondering the Cardinals’ lack of luster and seeing the statue of Orlando Cepeda outside of AT&T Park, we were reminded of the thrill of another player who split his greatness between the two clubs: Will Clark. Clark, as many fans will recall, came to the Cardinals in the latter part of the 2000 campaign to provide a spark to the offense; Clark wound up providing a VP Fair fireworks show of offense, racking up a .426 OBP, .655 SLG and an uncanny career-best .310 ISO in the final 51 games of his career while waking up a dormant club with his legendary (and literal) game face and determination.

Of course, grit alone won’t produce runs, which is why the Cardinals need more than a Bo Hart or Rex Hudler. Clark’s “Nuschler” persona was gratifying rather than grating because he put up the home runs and on-base percentage to back it up. That much the Cardinals can expect people like Holliday and Craig to do the rest of the season, assuming neither is hiding an injury. As for the rah-rah, it’s too much to expect the current cast to offer.

Tony La Russa’s 1983 White Sox team was known for “winning ugly.” Unless John Mozeliak can find this year’s Will Clark, it may be that the Cardinals’ best hope this year is to “win blandly.” Of course, it’s better than losing blandly.

Graph: Cardinal Starting Pitchers by K-BB%

June 28th, 2014 by Pip

Adam Wainwright struck out seven and walked only one batter in the Cardinals’ 1-0 loss to the Dodgers Thursday night, for a 20.7 K-BB% (24.1 K%, 3.5 BB%). He now has an 18.6 K-BB% on the season, tied for 14th in MLB (sixth in NL).

The rest of the Cardinal rotation hasn’t been quite as dominant. The following graph shows each pitcher’s K-BB% by game.

Game 77 Recap: Cardinals 8, Rockies 0

June 24th, 2014 by Pip

Players of the Game

  1. Lance Lynn: At a time when the Cardinal rotation is decimated by injury, Lynn was nearly flawless in eight innings of work, striking out seven, walking none, finishing with a stellar 25.9% K-BB% and a 1.34 FIP in the toughest park to pitch in (park factor of 115).
  2. Matt Adams: His nine total bases on the strength of two home runs made for a game-high 1.026 wOBA; had a hand in six of the team’s eight runs.
  3. Matt Holliday: Rapped two hits in five appearances, tallying three total bases, including the biggest hit of the game.

Plays of the Game

  1. Matt Holliday doubled, scoring Mark Ellis and sending Matt Carpenter to 3B (+.146): Holliday wasted little time reminding Rockies’ fans of their erstwhile left fielder’s power, nearly missing an opposite-field home run.
  2. Matt Adams singled, scoring Matt Carpenter and Matt Holliday (+.096): Though Adams would later blast two round trippers, it was his single through a drawn-in infield that accounted for his most impactful plate appearance, giving the Cardinals a 3-0 lead in the third.
  3. Jhonny Peralta doubled, scoring Jon Jay (+.069): After Jay walked to lead off the fourth, Peralta smelled blood and went up swinging, fouling off the first pitch before smashing a two-bagger to plate Jay.

Notes

  • Another shutout by the team. In Colorado, no less. Against the Rockies (MLB-best .343 wOBA), no less.
  • We note “team,” since although Lance Lynn pitched one of his most dominant games, he had help. Notably, Mark Ellis made a superb barehanded charging play in the second to retire the speedy Drew Stubbs.
  • The Cardinals now have a major-league-leading 15 team shutouts. The Rangers are second with 13; the next teams have nine.
  • We’re not sure what the Rockies were doing playing the infield in on Adams in the third. That’s less a shift than a death sentence. Happily no one was hurt when Adams singled.
  • Adams’s nine total bases equalled the team high this season set by Allen Craig on 4/30.

Carlos Martinez Not Inspiring Confidence

June 17th, 2014 by Pip

On Broadway, upstaging the lead is generally considered poor form. In Monday’s game against the Mets, the Cardinals experienced a little upstaging on the field, as the unheralded, recently promoted Nick Greenwood did a much better job in relief of the man he took the ball from, the once and possibly still promising Carlos Martinez.

Making his first start since 2013, Martinez, self-styled as the Tsunami, nearly drowned in a storm of his own making, walking four of the 18 batters he faced, barely completing four innings. He struck out three and finished with a 4.59 FIP and 4.91 xFIP for the game, against a team that at 29th in MLB in wOBA, isn’t exactly Murderers’ Row. For Greenwood’s part, the soft-tossing lefty was more efficient and effective, facing 12 batters over 3 1/3 innings, with a 2.19 FIP/2.58 xFIP.

For the season, Martinez now has a 3.63 FIP and 3.90 xFIP. More concerning is his substandard 8.0 K-BB%, a measure of a pitcher’s dominance. To put that into perspective, Seth Maness (10.1%) and Randy Choate (11.7%) rank higher than Martinez. Martinez’s K-BB% has been steadily declining since he broke into professional baseball.

In particular, the problem for Martinez — and this is true regardless of whether he starts or relieves — is that he appears to be a different pitcher when he pitches from the stretch. Twice in the last week, we’ve heard from former players Rick Horton (on the radio broadcast) and Mike Matheny (in his postgame comments Monday night) that Martinez has “been jumpy” or “looked uncomfortable” pitching without the benefit of the windup. But looks can be deceiving, of course, so let’s check the splits:

Situational IP OBP SLG wOBA SO/9 BB/9 SO/BB
Bases Empty 36 .280 .224 .239 8.0 3.3 2.5
Men on Base 31 .405 .500 .378 6.7 4.1 1.6

That’s not a lot of data, but it’s probably enough to support those anecdotal observations that Martinez isn’t comfortable pitching from the stretch. He walks more batters and strikes out fewer, but the real eye-opener is that batters pound him more. That may indicate lost velocity and/or movement owing to mechanics — something we’re not sure how and probably not qualified to solve. Hopefully, Cardinal pitching coaches can help their righty overcome or compensate for his weakness. But short of never allowing base runners or pitching from the windup every batter, the team’s #2 prospect entering this season doesn’t have many options;  this may be a Damocles sword that hangs over him for the rest of his career. That sounds serious, and we hope we’re wrong; after all, the guy is still only 22 and remains technically a rookie. As for what we’re seeing now, Martinez isn’t inspiring confidence.

Anatomy of Shutouts

June 11th, 2014 by Pip