Welcome To The Redbird Review …
No Cardinals baseball today, but that’s OK. You need to rest up for the first Cubs-Cardinals series at Busch Stadium since the final weekend of the 2019 season. The Cubs and Cards open a three-game set Friday night, and it promises to be fun and festive. There will be a crowded house and a home team hungering to widen its lead on the second-place Cubs in the NL Central.
But let’s not peak too soon.
We have matters to discuss.
A Whimsical Overview: The Cardinals sprang to an early 5-0 lead, increased it to 8-2, and had to hang on for an 8-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. This was awfully sneaky of the Pirates, but all you have to do is look at the team nickname. In the actual pirate days, the raiding vessel would move close to the targeted merchant ship and stun the poor SOBs with a terrifying show of force to cause a surrender. For extra intimidation, the marauders often wore fancy coats, wigs, stripped naked and carried knives in their teeth.
I didn’t see any such wanton skullduggery last night — though these Pirates did make it a tad uncomfortable for the Cardinals and fans. The Cardinals claimed both parts of this two-game clash and are 5-0 against the Pirates this season.
Now get that bloody Jolly Roger outta here.
The State Of The NL Central: It was a good all-around night for the Cardinals. They won. Every other NLC team lost. Having won 15 of their last 23 games, the first-place Cards are 25-18 and lead the Cubs by 3 and ½, the Brewers by 4, the Reds by 5 and the Pirates by 7.5 … at the moment the Cardinals have the only winning record in the division. (The Cubs are .500.) … after losing their first two home series of the season, the Cardinals have won 12 of their last 16 home games and are 3-0-2 in their last five home sets … the Redbirds’ overall .581 winning percentage is sixth-best in the majors and third in the NL behind the Giants (.628) and Padres (.614.)
A Season Of Abundant Run Support For Jack Flaherty. The intense right-hander won his eighth consecutive start to go to 8-0 on the campaign. Flaherty has a 1.65 ERA during this stretch, and has turned in seven quality starts in his eight outings. Flaherty is tied for 6th in the majors in quality-start percentage (78%).
With a moderate innings-pitched total and unimposing strikeout-walk ratio (3.24), Flaherty ranks 24th in WAR (1.2) among the MLB starters that have thrown at least 40 innings. His 2.53 ERA is 23rd among the 85 starters in that group. His fielding-independent ERA (3.17) is 25th.
But Flaherty leads all MLB starting pitchers in two categories: most individual wins (8) and the most generous run support. The prosperity comes in the form of 8.3 runs of support per nine innings pitched. No other MLB starter has a RS/9 figure higher than 6.7.
(Source: Baseball Reference. To avoid confusion let me add this: we are talking about runs scored while the starter is in the game, and the runs are averaged out for a nine-inning rate. In other words, if Flaherty pitched nine innings each time out, how many runs, on average, would the Cardinals score?)
Here’s a breakdown of run support per nine innings for the primary St. Louis starters:
- Flaherty, 8.3 runs
- Kwang Hyun Kim, 5.0
- Carlos Martinez, 3.1
- John Gant, 2.4
- Adam Wainwright, 2.3
- Johan Oviedo, 2.3
As we can see, Jack has been working with a clear advantage. He also has a very good overall earned-run average, and his ERA over his last eight starts (1.65) is outstanding.
However, bountiful run support is an obvious factor in his individual won-loss record. It is a reason why he’s 8-0, and the other STL starters are a combined 10-15 in their individual records. It’s also true that those starters collectively have churned out a 4.14 ERA, and Flaherty is well under that with his 2.53.
Flaherty has been on the other side of this equation. In 2019, when he pitched well enough to finish fourth in the NL Cy Young voting, Flaherty was credited with 11 wins and 8 losses. The situation became truly absurd in his final 16 starts of the season. Flaherty had an impeccable 0.93 ERA over the 16 outings but was rewarded with only seven official wins. And the Cards went 10-6 in Jack’s 16 final starts.
And why do you think that is? Of course: A shortage of run support damaged Flaherty’s chances of having a glossy individual W-L record. Among 113 qualifying MLB starters in ‘19, Flaherty ranked 85th with 3.9 runs of support per nine innings.
Reviewing The Big Lineup Switch: Manager Mike Shildt reordered his lineup on April 23, moving Dylan Carlson to the No. 2 spot, putting Paul Goldschmidt at No. 3, and installing Nolan Arenado as the No. 4 hitter. Before that Goldy had batted second with Arenado hitting third.
A few things jumped out at me, so let’s go through it:
— Before the switch Goldschmidt and Arenado weren’t getting enough opportunities to drive in runs. That’s because the top two lineup spots had combined for a mediocre .313 onbase percentage. Yeah, Goldy was part of that — hitting second behind leadoff man Tommy Edman. But that isn’t the point. This 1-2 combo wasn’t working and that’s why Shildt put a high OBP guy (Carlson) in the No. 2 slot. When you must adjust, then do it. That’s the point.
— In the first 18 games, Goldschmidt had at least one man on base in 38 percent of his plate appearances. And only 22 percent of Goldy’s plate appearances came with runners in scoring position.
— Since transferring to the No. 3 hole, Goldschmidt has taken 55 percent of his plate appearances with a runner on base. That’s up 17% from where he batted before the lineup adjustment. And as the No. 3 hitter Goldschmidt has taken 30.3% of his plate appearances with runners in scoring position. That’s up 8% from where he was before.
— When Arenado batted third, he had a runner on base in 41% of his plate appearances. Batting fourth, that number is 51.4 percent. Big difference. And Arenado had 27% of his plate appearances with runners in scoring position as the No. 3 hitter; that’s up to 31.4% since he moved to the cleanup spot.
— Before the switch, Goldschmidt and Arenado combined for one RBI for every 8.4 at-bats. After the change, they’ve combined to average an RBI every 5.01 at-bats.
— That’s because of the increased volume of opportunities to drive in runs. With Carlson providing a .385 OBP as the No. 2 hitter, the Cardinals have combined for a .330 OBP in the two two lineup spots since Shildt made his moves. That’s a 17-point increase from the .313 OBP before the switch.
— Since the switch Goldy and Nado have batted a combined .336 with runners on. And they have a combined average of .327 with runners in scoring position. Curiously, the Cardinals have averaged slightly fewer runs per game since the big lineup change.
— Before: 4.7 runs per game. After: 4.3 runs per game. Ah, but here’s a reason for that. Since Shildt rearranged the lineup, the lineup spots other than No. 3 and No. 4 have hit a combined .211 with men on, and .169 with runners in scoring position. What does that mean? The lineup isn’t as deep as Shildt and the front office claims it is.
— Since the lineup card got the new look on April 23, Arenado is batting .330 with 6 homers, 21 RBIs and a 1.010 OPS. Goldy has hit .266 with 4 homers, 17 RBIs and a .781 OPS during that time. But in May, Goldschmidt is batting .317 with a .901 OPS.
We Need To Talk About The Bullpen: This season Alex Reyes, Giovanny Gallegos and LH Genesis Cabrera have worked a combined 70 and ⅓ innings, allowing 12 runs for a collective 1.53 ERA. That’s fantastic, and I think we can call them The Big Three. That’s because the other St. Louis relievers have combined for a 6.48 ERA this season. (Whoa!) And that includes two guys on the IL: Jordan Hicks and Andrew Miller, who between them gave up 13 earned runs in 17 and ⅓ innings.
Mostly because of the strong performances from Reyes, Gallegos and Cabrera the Cardinals’ bullpen ranks sixth in MLB with its Win Probability Added of 2.27. Which is swell until we tinker with some more numbers and see that Reyes, Gallegos and Cabrera have a combined 2.73 WPA. Which means that the other members of the bullpen, collectively, have had a negative impact on the Cards’ chances of winning. A few of the current bullpen members have done OK — at a sliver above average in WPA. I’m talking about Ryan Helsley, Kodi Whitley, Oviedo (in relief), Daniel Ponce de Leon (in relief) and … Matt Carpenter.
The overall bullpen ERA (3.98) ranks 16th among the 30 teams. But because of a terrible walk rate (14.7%) that’s the worst of any big-league bullpen, the Cards have a fielding independent bullpen ERA of 4.99. That’s 30th.
Another Bullpen Flaw: the relievers have allowed 44 percent of inherited runners to score; that’s tied for third-worst in the majors.
Quick & Positive Note On Alex Reyes: After Wednesday’s shutdown of the Pirates, Reyes is 13 for 13 in save opps. His ERA went down to 0.39. In his last seven appearances Reyes has struck out 43 percent of batters faced.
OK. Sigh. Now Onto Tyler Webb: I don’t want to pick on the man, but something’s gotta change with the Cardinals and their obsession with lefty Webb. Among 240 MLB relievers that have pitched at least 10 innings this season, Webb ranks 238th with an 11.25 ERA, and 239th with his horrendous 21.7% walk rate. (Only Jordan Hicks, at 22.7%, is worse.) And Webb has allowed 50 percent of his inherited runners to score. Webb had another bad night Wednesday against the Pirates. In his last eight appearances (5.2 innings) Webb has walked 10, given up eight hits, and has a 14.29 ERA.
Thanks for reading …
Please check out Bernie’s sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.