Daily Archives: May 2, 2011

Offense for Defense, good idea?

With April now successfully in the books for the St. Louis Cardinals, we can now try to determine whether our offseason moves were truly a success. Those moves, highly discussed and debated by all Cardinals’ fans as we tried to determine whether the team was better off with Ryan Theriot and Lance Berkman rather than Brendan Ryan and Ryan Ludwick.

The team made the moves during the offseason, saying that they intended to focus on improving the offense and were going to let the defense, more or less, take care of itself. Brendan Ryan was one of the top defensive short stops in the league and Ryan Ludwick was certainly no slouch, with or without the bat, during his time with St. Louis. Meanwhile the team brought in Ryan Theriot, who had been moved to second base by each of his previous two teams, and then Lance Berkman, the former division rival who hadn’t played outfield regularly in a few years.

Ultimately in an analysis of a few different metrics back in December, I ultimately came to the conclusion that based on 2010 performance, we were a draw.

So where do we stand after one month of play?

THE OFFENSE

At the end of April 2011, St. Louis was leading the major leagues in batting average (.295), on base percentage (.362), and runs scored (141). They were first in the national league in slugging percentage (.452) despite being just ninth in home runs (27).

At the end of April 2010, St. Louis was 17th in the majors in batting average (.255), 14th in on base percentage (.335), 13th in slugging percentage (.421), 16th in runs scored (105), and 5th in home runs (28).

We played 27 games in April 2011 (I’m including the one game we played in March) and we played 23 games in April 2010. That means St. Louis averaged 4.6 runs per game in April 2010 while they are now averaging 5.2 runs per game. That’s just over an extra run every two games from that switch. However, we are not hitting home runs at the same pace we had been, averaging just 1.0 HR per game so far this year while averaging 1.2 HR per game last April.

There is no doubt that the offense has been incredibly hot this April, especially on the road where they are currently averaging 6.8 runs per game, while just 3.4 runs per game at home. They’ve scored half as often at home. Certainly this can be attributed some to the stagnant offense during the first home stand of the season. But they were only at 4.3 on their second home stand. It will be interesting to see what the offense can produce during this next home stand that starts this evening against Florida.

After one month, it appears that the offense has improved. At this point, by 0.6 runs per game. However, can the team keep that up after they get a chance to cool down a bit? That remains to be seen.

THE DEFENSE

Defensive metrics are very difficult to interpret. To one scorer it might be an error, to another ruled a hit. It depends whether you’re the home team or the away team. So that does put a bit of a question, but obviously misplayed balls are traditionally errors and so that’s what we’ll go with.

At the end of April 2011, St. Louis had committed 23 errors in 27 games, that’s 0.9 errors per game. In April 2010, they committed just 12 errors in 23 games, that’s 0.5 errors per game.

So as we suspected, the defense has declined. However, there are more to errors than just simply errors. The real key is whether or not those errors led to runs being scored. For that, we need to look at pitching statistics.

At the end of April 2011, St. Louis had allowed 16 unearned runs in 27 games, for 0.6 unearned runs per game. Compare that to April 2010 where St. Louis allowed just 10 unearned runs in 23 games, for 0.4 unearned runs per game.

By looking at just runs as a result of errors, it appears that they are only allowing 0.2 extra unearned runs per game. But one must also note that we had a better pitching staff in April 2010 than we did in April 2011. So let’s dive a little deeper into that, shall we?

THE PITCHING

So the pitching staff. Obviously suffering a bit from the loss of Adam Wainwright to Tommy John surgery, the pitching staff is still a formidable one.

Last April, Wainwright and the rest of the Cardinals pitching staff led the major leagues with a 2.65 ERA despite only having the fifth best opponents batting average (.235). The team was allowing 3.2 runs per game against them.

This year, the Wainwright-less Cardinals staff is 7th in ERA at 3.28 while sporting only the 16th best opponents batting average (.250). When you factor unearned runs, they are allowed 3.9 runs per game against them.

Obviously not having Adam Wainwright hurts the Cardinals pitching staff in this situation. Might they be able to pitch out of more jams if they had him? Probably. Over the last two years, Wainwright was on the mound for just more than 10% of the Cardinals’ unearned runs (13 of 129). That compares to 12.4% for Carpenter and 11.6% for Lohse. Last year, Garcia was on the mound for 23% of the team’s unearned runs.

What does all that mean? I think the conclusion that you can draw from it is that typically, Adam Wainwright is one of the best at pitching around unearned runners on the Cardinals’ pitching staff. However, at just a couple unearned runs better than Carpenter, it’s safe to say that there would be very little effect on the number of unearned runners allowed to score.

THE RESULT

Well, we know that so far the offense has been better by 0.6 runs per game. The defensive errors are resulting in an extra 0.2 runs per game and that provides us a net gain of 0.4 runs per game.

But when you consider that the team is allowing 0.6 runs per game extra, that gives us a push.

It will be very difficult for this team to come out on the positive side of this sort of analysis. You cannot depend on the offense to continue to score over 5 runs a game and hit just under .300 all year long. However, hopefully you can also depend on the defense improving as the players get more comfortable and more into the routine of the season.

It should be very interesting to keep our eyes on as the season rolls along.