No, not the rotation. I mean the bullpen.
Sure, the five starters have struggled in recent days, but with Anthony Reyes' arrival, there is hope – for the remainder of 2006 and the future.
On the other hand, I frankly don't see a Reyes-like impact player anywhere on the near-term horizon for the ‘pen. Note: I will be happy to eat my words if guys like journeyman Brian Falkenborg or Josh Kinney get a chance and excel.
Back on May 31, I wrote a story entitled, "Cards Bullpen: Are They Pulling Their Weight?". In it, I noted that the overall pen numbers - ERA, save percentage, etc. - stacked right up there with the team leaders in the National League.
However, a further look showed several key members of the pen were having trouble in either retiring their first runner faced or were letting large numbers of inherited runners to score or both. This can inflate starters ERAs and more importantly, allow close games to get away.
What is the cause and what is the effect? Well, here are the ERA rankings of the overall staff, the starters and the relievers on May 26 and on Monday, June 26.
|ERA||NL Rank||ERA||NL Rank||
You'll note that the ERAs of both the starters and relievers grew at just about the same rate over the last month, though the starters fell much further in comparison to the remainder of the 16-team National League.
Difficult to point any fingers there.
But, let's look at the pen's ability to come in and get out that first batter they face. While the current mark of 66% is not terrible, it represents a three-year downward slide and worst since the bullpen debacle of 2003 – a group that included such memorable luminaries as Estaban Yan and Pedro Borbon, Jr.
1st Batter Faced
1st Batter Retired
2006 to date
Certain individuals have had more to do with the 2006 failing than others. In fact, the guys upon whom you would think you need to depend are the most inefficient in retiring first hitters.
|2006||1st Batter||1st Batter||2005||YTY|
Brad Thompson, Jason Isringhausen, Randy Flores and Braden Looper are all below the team average. In fact, each three of the holdovers from last season, Thompson, Isringhausen and Flores, have seen their first batter retired numbers drop from year to year. In Thompson's case, the decline is huge.
But, putting runners on base doesn't necessarily mean scoring is involved, right?
Well, the data shows that the problem is much worse than just putting the first batter on base. You see, in 2006, these bullpenners have been hurting the starters by allowing their inherited runners to cross the plate at an abnormally-high rate.
Specifically, the members of the Cardinals' pen have allowed 44.2% of their inherited runners to score this season.
• Worst in the National League this season.
• 10.2% worse than the current NL average of 34%.
• 18.2% worse than the 2005 Cardinals pen.
• Worst in Tony La Russa's 11-year tenure as Cardinals manager.
On the latter point, it isn't even close. The 2006 rate is 7.6% higher than the lousiest previous La Russa pen – those infamous 2003 Cardinals.
|2006 FY pace||208||92||44.2%|
|06 @ 05 pace||208||54||26.0%|
Also, the Cardinals actual number of inherited runners to score, 42, is tied for the most in the NL. The actual difference in runs allowed between the 2005 actuals and the current 2006 pace is a whopping 38 runs. That could mean a number of losses.
Worse is that there are five teams in the League under 30%, including poorer teams like Pittsburgh and Washington. So, even bad teams can strand inherited runners. And finally, other than the Cardinals and Reds, every other team in the League with a higher than average rate also carries a losing record.
Who from the Cardinals pen is at the bottom of this?
|NL pen avg.||97||33||34.0%|
Sadly, the two expected to be the most dependable set-up men out of the pen, Braden Looper and Brad Thompson, are the worst at protecting their teammates.
But, this is truly a team effort. Every one of the six relievers who regularly come on with runners in place is below the National League average. That is pretty bad.
As above, the three holdovers, Isringhausen, Flores and Thompson, each are allowing more inherited runners to score - by an ugly double digit percent margin this year compared to last.
(Note that Adam Wainwright is excluded from this, as he generally starts innings, having had only two inherited runners all season.)
So, it seems reasonable to conclude that some part of the Cardinals starters ERA problems have been aggravated by a bullpen that is allowing a higher percentage of their inherited runners to score than other teams in 2006 and past Cardinals squads, too.
Knowing this won't make the losses any more palatable, but it might affect some of the questions and concerns being raised across the Cardinal Nation.
For example, would you now be as anxious to move Adam Wainwright from the pen to the rotation and expose the pen even further? If you were to add a pitcher, would you add a quality starter or a lights-out reliever? Would you make a pitching fix a higher priority than an impact bat?
If nothing else, this analysis affirms there is no one clear answer as to what pieces would contribute most to putting the 2006 Cardinals over the top.
But, for starters, a majority of the current members of the bullpen need to do a lot better job keeping inherited runners from crossing the plate.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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