Nearly one month and just over one-eighth of the 2011 games in the books, the FIRST PLACE St. Louis Cardinals travel to Houston to take on the Astros in an important three game series. Over the last 10 games, only the Boston Red Sox and Florida Marlins have won more often than St. Louis. A big part of the Cardinals success over that span is an offense that is now consistently putting runs on the scoreboard, many of them with two outs. This is what we had hoped to see when general manager John Mozeliak announced the signing of Lance Berkman and the trade for Ryan Theriot.
The resurgent offense and early season troubles by starter Jake Westbrook and former closer Ryan Franklin overshadow an even more impressive story – the pitching so far has been exceptional. How exceptional ? Maybe our friend, the ERA+ can tell us.
ERA+ is a relatively simple pitching metric which measures a pitchers park-adjusted ERA against the league average. A value of 100 indicates an average performance. Unlike ERA, a higher number is good. A value of 150 indicates a pitcher is performing significantly better than league average. For comparison, Bob Gibson’s record ERA in 1968 of 1.12 produced an ERA+ of 258.
If you want to see something absolutely eye-popping, take a peek at Jered Weaver’s 6-0 start where his ERA+ is a whopping 395. This is the same Jered Weaver that lost his arbitration case with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Perhaps they should shorten the team name and lock the young man into a long term contract before he throws another shutout.
Let’s take a quick look at the Cardinals pitchers ERA+ so far.
|Miguel Batista||1||1||7 2/3||1.17||341|
|Fernando Salas *||0||0||6||1.50||271|
|Mitchell Boggs||0||0||12 1/3||1.46||269|
|Jason Motte||0||0||9 2/3||1.86||213|
|Brian Tallet *||0||1||4 1/3||2.08||200|
|Kyle Lohse||3||1||31 1/3||2.01||192|
|Trever Miller *||0||0||4||2.25||186|
|Jake Westbrook||2||2||24 1/3||7.4||52|
|Bryan Augenstein *||0||1||5 2/3||9.53||43|
* has not pitched enough innings (6 2/3) to qualify for an ERA+.
We can learn several things from this early season data.
- Eduardo Sanchez is unbelievable. He came out of nowhere (unless you followed him at Springfield and Memphis) and in less than two weeks, has logged enough innings to qualify for an ERA+. Too bad he doesn’t have an ERA – that makes the divide by zero sort of hard to calculate.
- Chris Carpenter’s bad outing against Arizona, where he allowed 8 runs, is masking another good year from the veteran hurler. In spite of that one game, he’s hanging in around league average.
- Poor Jake Westbrook. Sinkerball pitchers are notoriously slow starting, and this can be clearly seen in Westbrook’s numbers so far. Manager Tony La Russa was smart, running Westbrook out on short rest for the series finale against Cincinnati. Perhaps a touch of arm fatigue helped him keep his pitches down in the strike zone, and the results were a much needed win. Like Carpenter, we don’t expect to see him floundering around in the middle of the bottom half at season’s end.
- Is there anything more we can say about Mitchell Boggs ? He’s logging a ton of innings, and is pitching brilliantly. I sure feel a lot better when I see him warming up late in the game.
- A small sample size is masquerading a very promising start for Bryan Augenstein. Half of his earned runs came on one pitch in Arizona – the same game that tarnished Chris Carpenter’s early season stats.
- Out of 14 pitchers, only 4 have an ERA+ less than 100 (league average). Those who have posted numbers above league average, are WAY WAY above league average.
- The sample size is still statistically small, but very encouraging.
The conclusion is simple: while Ryan Franklin and Jake Westbrook’s early season troubles have made the headlines, the real story is the rest of the Cardinals pitching staff. Top to bottom, they are doing what it takes to win the National League Central title. If the offense can keep producing, this might be a fun season to be a Cardinals fan after all.