Cardinals at the 3/4 mark of the season

My previous post on the Cardinals delved into my discomfort with the strong, visible culture of conservative evangelical Christianity (and some of the attendant politics) on the Redbirds’ team. Tonight I just want to riff a bit on the Cards, who continue to have the #1 ESPN Power Ranking for the 13th consecutive week, and who continue to have the best record in the MLB by quite a wide margin. As of their victory tonight over the Diamondbacks, they’re 81-45, with a .643 winning percentage. To put that in perspective, if they finished the season with that winning percentage, their record would be 104 – 58.

So, the thing is, they’re a team without a superstar, and in many ways they look like a team that may just be over-performing, which certainly happens some years to every team. All season long, their hitting has been anywhere from anemic to average, and their pitching – both starting and relief – has been incredibly stingy with runs allowed. They’ve allowed 374 runs over 126 games, tops in MLB. The next best team, the Pirates, have allowed 453, and there are several contending teams bunched up in the 450s after the Buccos. That’s an unusually big gap between #1 and #2 on a team stat like that. Looking at Team ERA we see the same separation:

cards 1

What baffles me a bit, or at least leaves me less than confident in the pitching, is that the staff they’re trotting out there just doesn’t seem like it should be as good as it is. I don’t have the references in front of me, but I’ve been reading that the team ERA and runs allowed for this Cards team is at an elite level comparable with some of the great teams in the history of baseball. But how is that so? Wainwright, the one superstar, has been out for the season w/an injury. That leaves Lynn, Wacha, Lackey, Carlos Martinez, and Jaime Garcia. Don’t get me wrong – I think any MLB team would be happy to have any one of these 5 guys in their rotation. I just think most teams would assess each of them as somewhere between decent to good, not a staff of all-stars. None of these pitchers dominate, and all of them have weaknesses. There’s the reflief staff to consider, but I’m too tired to do that now.

I’m not an expert Sabermetrician, or even an amateur one, but I do enjoy the new stats, and the nerdy mathematical endless analysis on fan sites like http://www.vivaelbirdos.com. I’ll close this post with just one thought involving today’s brand of math and probability theories and MLB. After the All-Star Break, the Cards were at 56 – 33, for a winning % of .629. That’s a really good %. People were saying that they were good but probably not that good, and many predicted they’d start regressing to their presumed mean in the second half. That’s what I expected. But in the second half their record now is 25 – 12, which = a winning % of .676. They’ve outperformed their first half by a meaningful amount, and all but guaranteed themselves a post-season spot, yet their hitting continues to be average at best, and it’s still hard to believe that this pitching staff is really really really this good.

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Image: Fangraphs projections after tonight’s games, with Cards’ odds of making the playoffs now at 100%.

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