Regression – The Silent Killer

by on June 1, 2012 · 2 comments

Ask a group of Cardinal fans about why the team sits 1.5 games behind the Reds in the NL Central division, and the 2 words most likely to appear in responses are “injuries” and “pitching”.  Certainly, injuries to key players have piled up and taken a toll on the team.  Losing both a pitching Carpenter and Big Puma to long term injuries hurts, but the Cardinals can cover for those 2 losses for a while longer.

Matt Adams (.386/.467/.615/1.082 vs RHP) seems like a lock to start most games at 1B, and it makes sense to keep him there even against some LHP as well.  Doing so frees Mike Matheny to use Allen Craig in a corner outfield position or even as a DH in a few interleague games.  When your team has enough depth to not greatly miss a Berkman in the lineup, you have been doing something right.  Maybe the clock got started a bit early on Adams, but grooming him as the 1B-in-waiting certainly has paid off.  With Berkman’s knee issues, it seems Adams could stay on the active roster for the duration.

Despite the injuries, this team can still score runs and a lot of them, but the scoring results from bulk opportunities as opposed to scoring efficiency.  Just check out how many runners the Cardinals have left on base this season, and you’ll notice that they are not shy about leaving ducks on the pond even in victories.  As a team, the Cardinals are hitting .264 with runners in scoring position.   Seems just a bit low for a team that ranks 2nd in the league with an overall batting average of .281.

This team’s proclivity for stranding runners has resulted in far too many close games, and the Cardinals are not currently built to win close games.  Need proof?  Start with the 3-9 record in 1-run games which ties St. Louis with Toronto for the worst record in 1-run games in all of baseball.  Need an explanation for the results?  Think in terms of regression…and a lot of it.

When everything goes according to plan, the Cardinals can expect to get 6-7 innings out of each starting pitcher.  When every one of the starting pitchers begins trending in the direction of their regressed selves simultaneously, the team goes on a losing streak.  These things happen.  Sure, they started hot, and Jake Westbrook, Kyle Lohse, and Lance Lynn looked like world beaters every 5th game.  Then regression took hold, and reality set in for a few weeks.  No problem.

Unless one becomes sidelined by an injury (ahem, Garcia), you may have seen the worst you will see from the starting 5 on an extended basis.  Getting these guys back to their normal range for ERA, BAbip, and WHIP came at the expense of a lot of fan angst, but the worst is over (probably).  If Jake Westbrook turns out to be a 4.00 ERA / 1.400 WHIP guy for the season and works basically as the #5 guy, then everything will be fine.  Actually, the whole starting staff could yield 4 runs every 9 innings, and everything would work out just fine, because the team puts up over 5 runs per game.  While that does not seem like a huge margin, that 1+ run per 9 innings difference represents a huge cushion in baseball reality.

As it stands, the Cardinals are behind Pythagorean pace by 5 games.  That’s another way of me saying that the Cardinals should be at least 5 games better than they are now.  That translates to the team being up on the Reds by 3.5 games instead of lagging behind.  In one sense, that 5 game gap stands for opportunities lost.  In another sense, it provides yet another indicator of how talented the team is.

As a matter of fact, the team’s talent level is so high that they don’t need to rush Shelby Miller.  He hasn’t pitched up to expectations quite yet in Memphis, and he stands to benefit greatly from finishing the season there.  The organization has carefully brought Miller along, and rushing him up to cover injuries or a depleted bullpen makes little sense now.  Once regression has completely restored balance to the Cardinal universe, the team should be just fine without any whacky personnel moves.

TIDBIT:  Questions abound about Sam Freeman.  All that you really need to know about Freeman right now is that he’s a left-handed pitcher, and he makes it “40” on the 40-man roster.  The “40” part may be more important than some realize.  The Cardinals may be purposely trying to keep the 40-man roster full without adding any minor league players to it.  That may explain why Chris Carpenter has been on the 15-day DL all season.  If the team wants to work the system, it makes sense to not put Carp on the 60-day DL as that would open a spot on the 40-man.

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Cardinals fan since I could hold a fishing pole steady. Accidental blogger. Opinionated. I could care less about what you think of me. Constantly confounded, bemused, and confuzzled (ie I'm a pc and a mac). I'm an IT infrastructure analyst with a penchant for breaking tech toys. I ate a sabermetric primer for breakfast. I love playing "All-powerful GM of MLB". The 2010 Cardinals represented a good, practical definition "cognitive dissonance". The 2011 version got by on duct tape and a prayer, and I'm fine with that. They just need new tape for #12 in 12.
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Matt June 3, 2012

I think the Cardinals should add Barret Browning to their 40 man, and drop someone else. Maybe to make room, the Cards could drop either Mark Hamilton, Adam Reifer, or possibly even the versatile Kozma to make room for him. Browning has been the only reliable left handed bullpen pitcher in Memphis, and has been pitching quite well. Maybe Browning could be the rookie lefty who pitches like a seasoned veteran. If that is the case, then maybe he could be a pleasant surprise.

As of June 3rd, Browning sports a 1.61 ERA, hasn’t allowed a homer, can strike people out, and has been pitching in AAA for the whole year this season. I know, he’s 27, and pesumably has limited upside, but I say the Cards should give him a chance to succeed as a second left handed specialist first. Freeman may be younger, could be a power lefty, and may have more upside, but he was rather average in his brief stint in Memphis and I’m unsure as to whether if he is ready for the big time.

I’d rather have Freeman prove if he can get people out consistently at Memphis first, as AA to 2 innings in AAA to the Majors is still a pretty big leap. But since Freeman is up, I hope he does well and wish him the best, as I hope that he becomes the second left hander. If not, Browning could serve as a decent alternative to see if he could pan out. Then if that doesn’t work, the Cards may have to make a trade or use the waiver wires to search for a veteran left hander.

Dennis June 4, 2012

I haven’t seen enough from anybody at AAA to convince me that anybody there is ready quite yet. As for moving someone up, I would expect some kind of trade to happen in order to make room on the 40-man. It doesn’t make much sense to just release someone at this point, especially someone who might be a throw-in on a deal to get something done.

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