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Entries in St. Louis Cardinals (38)

Tuesday
Oct082013

Wainwright's Curveball Key to Bucs-Cards Game 5

The Pirates and Cardinals face off Wednesday night for the 24th and final time during the 2013 season, with a trip to the National League Championship Series on the line. The Dodgers' opponent in the fight for NL supremacy may be decided by whether the Bucs can accomplish something they failed to do in NLDS Game 1: Solve Adam Wainwright's curveball. Pittsburgh has struggled all year along against the curve, though a pair of trade pickups offer hope as the club tries to win its first postseason matchup since Willie Stargell and Dave Parker raked for the 1979 World Series champs.

Pirates batters are slugging a collective .268 against curveballs this season, which is 55 points below the MLB average (.323) and bests only the historically punchless Miami Marlins among all teams. In particular, Pedro Alvarez (.123 slugging percentage versus curveballs), Starling Marte (.237) and Russell Martin (.267) are flailing when pitchers snap off a curve.

For Alvarez, merely making contact against a curve is a coin flip. He's swinging and missing 49.1 percent of the time versus curveballs in 2013, the second-highest clip among qualified hitters (Dan Uggla whiffed 49.4 percent). Pitchers are well aware of his weakness, feeding him the seventh-highest rate of curveballs seen (12.6 percent) among MLB hitters. Unless pitchers hang a curve over the middle of the plate, Pedro's whiffing:

Alvarez's contact rate by pitch location versus curveballs, 2013

Marte, meanwhile, can't resist the urge to hack at curveballs thrown in the dirt. He's chasing curves at the fifth-highest rate (40.2 percent) in the National League. Like Alvarez, Marte's trouble with the curve is well-known: He has seen curveballs 11.8 percent of the time this season, the NL's eighth-highest rate. Marte expands his strike zone to go after low-and-away breakers:

Marte's swing rate by pitch location versus curveballs, 2013

Martin doesn't see as many curves as Alvarez or Marte (9.1 percent of total pitches), and he doesn't share their contact or plate discipline woes against the pitch. It's just that nothing happens when he puts curveballs in play. Martin is hitting a ground ball 62.5 percent of the time versus curves, the ninth-highest rate in the NL. Considering that Martin is a catcher with over 1,000 big leagues games to his name and his batting average on grounders (.228) is way below the big league average (.254), that's not a happy development.

Not all Bucs are scuffling against curveballs, however. Andrew McCutchen (.371 slugging percentage versus curves) and Neil Walker (.378) hold their own, while midseason trade acquisitions Marlon Byrd (.452) and Justin Morneau (.507) crush the pitch.

Wainwright, who throws the fourth-highest percentage of curveballs (27.3 percent) among starting pitchers and has limited hitters to a .230 slugging percentage (11th-best), schooled the Pirates with his signature offering in Game 1. He racked up six swinging strikeouts with his curveball, getting Alvarez, Byrd (twice), Marte, Martin and Morneau to chase out of the strike zone. Bucs batters went 0-for-11 against Wainwright's curve and didn't hit a single one out of the infield. If the Pirates are going to play for the pennant, that has to change in their Game 5 rematch.

Thursday
Oct032013

The Black & Gold in a Sea of Red

The Cardinals and Pirates are meeting for the first time ever in a postseason game and everybody is talking about the momentum of the Pirates and desire for revenge for the postseason-returning Cardinals.

Let me get one key stat out of the way

We know as long as the Cardinals can get runners on base, they are going to be very dangerous.
  • The NL batting average with runners on was .257 - The Pirates hit .248, the Cardinals hit .313.
  • The NL batting average w/RISP was .251 - The Pirates hit .229 (only the Cubs were worse), the Cardinals hit .330 (all of MLB was worse).
So let's put that discussion aside and talk about who has the home field advantage.

The Black & Gold is the New Black

It was stunning to see and hear the Pirates fans in their dismantling of the Reds in the Wild Card play-in, but that surprise factor is gone and the Redbirds are going to be ready and the Cardinals fans are going to be inspired.

Only the Atlanta Braves (56-25) were more effective at home then the Cards in the NL this season.
Rk Tm W L W-L% GB Home Road
1 STL 97 65 .599 --- 54-27 43-38
2 PIT 94 68 .580 3.0 50-31 44-37
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 10/2/2013.

Note that despite the fact that the Pirates took the season series, 10-9, the Cardinals were 6-3 at home versus the Bucs. So, even though the Pirates were 7-3 against Cards in Pittsburgh's House of Thunder, three-of-five games are being played in St. Louis, Louie.

In Game 1 and if there is a Game 5, the match-up will be Adam Wainwright against A.J. Burnett.

The difference in the numbers is significant:
2013 NLDS Cards vs Pirates Games 1 & 5 Match-up
G IP IP/G ERA WHIP AVG SLUG OBP HR K BB K/BB Grnd%
Adam Wainwright at Home 17 121.0 7.12 2.53 0.942 .217 .314 .254 7 114 20 5.70 50.2%
A. J. Burnett - Away 16 96.0 6.00 4.22 1.365 .257 .388 .329 6 96 35 2.74 57.3%
  Burnett is clearly not as effective on the road as he is on his home turf, but Wainwright is very effective in the shadow of the Arch and that can't be minimized.

Pirates batters in St. Louis

Russell Martin did great against the Reds and all season long he hit the Cards well on their home field. The Cards will happily live with more of the same from Andrew McCutchen and be thrilled with Pedro Alvarez if he continues his flailing against the Redbirds in their home colors. Justin Morneau was 0-for-10 in St. Louis.
2013 Pirates @ St. Louis (min. 10 PA)
G PA AVG OBP SLUG OPS AB H 2B 3B HR K BB
Jose Tabata (PIT) 7 25 .391 .440 .696 1.136 23 9 4 0 1 4 1
Russell Martin (PIT) 7 31 .346 .452 .885 1.336 26 9 2 0 4 7 5
Clint Barmes (PIT) 7 23 .316 .409 .474 .883 19 6 0 0 1 5 3
Garrett Jones (PIT) 8 29 .308 .379 .654 1.033 26 8 3 0 2 6 3
Andrew McCutchen (PIT) 8 35 .276 .400 .414 .814 29 8 1 0 1 7 6
Starling Marte (PIT) 6 33 .269 .387 .423 .810 26 7 2 1 0 8 2
Tony Sanchez (PIT) 5 10 .250 .400 .250 .650 8 2 0 0 0 3 1
Pedro Alvarez (PIT) 9 41 .237 .268 .342 .610 38 9 1 0 1 13 2
Jordy Mercer (PIT) 5 14 .214 .214 .500 .714 14 3 1 0 1 4 0
Andrew Lambo (PIT) 5 11 .200 .273 .400 .673 10 2 2 0 0 3 1
Neil Walker (PIT) 7 32 .172 .219 .241 .460 29 5 2 0 0 7 2
Marlon Byrd (PIT) 4 14 .231 .286 .538 .824 13 3 1 0 1 3 1
Gaby Sanchez (PIT) 8 16 .083 .188 .083 .271 12 1 0 0 0 2 0
Justin Morneau (PIT) 3 11 .000 .091 .000 .091 10 0 0 0 0 4 1

Cardinals batters in St. Louis versus the Pirates

Jon Jay LURVES hitting against the Bucs at home. Matt Carpenter is close to a .400 batter, and and Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran both are over .300 hitters. Carpenter had nine extra base hits against the Bucs at home and Beltran slugged three doubles and two homers. It doesn't appear as if the Cards will miss Allen Craig here.
2013 Pirates @ St. Louis (min. 10 PA)
GPAAVGOBPSLUGOPSABH2B3BHRKBB
Jon Jay (STL)934.517.576.6901.265291550032
Matt Carpenter (STL)944.395.477.7111.188381552155
Matt Holliday (STL)940.333.450.424.874331130067
Carlos Beltran (STL)937.323.405.6131.018311030245
Pete Kozma (STL)932.250.344.286.62928710064
Allen Craig (STL)629.240.345.280.62525610043
Daniel Descalso (STL)517.214.353.286.63914310013
Shane Robinson (STL)511.200.273.300.57310210021
Matt Adams (STL)516.188.188.188.37516300030
Yadier Molina (STL)728.185.214.407.62227530141
David Freese (STL)829.160.241.320.56125410153

It looks like home field advantage for the Cards in this series

The Cardinals are not the Reds, they are a confident team (even with all their rookies) that won't be as surprised or rattled by the fabulous Pirates fans.

This season, the Cardinals have played well against everyone, including the Pirates, at home and they have the great Wainwright and they have him, perhaps twice, at home.

That's why I'm taking the red over the black and gold.
Wednesday
Oct022013

Bucs, Cards Thrive Low in the Zone

The Pirates and Cardinals will square off in the National League Division Series, thanks in large part to pitching staffs boasting top-five ERAs during the regular season. Pittsburgh and St. Louis are mirror images on the mound, and that comparison extends beyond possessing a vets with wicked curveballs (Game 1 starters A.J. Burnett and Adam Wainwright), hot-shot rookies (Gerrit Cole, Shelby Miller, and Michael Wacha, among others) and where-did-he-come-from closers once again facing doubters (Jason Grilli and Edward Mujica). These clubs are equipped for deep October runs because their pitchers pound hitters at the knees, generate grounders and keep the ball in the park at historic levels. It doesn't hurt that their backstops skillfully steal strikes on borderline pitches, either.

Waging a Ground War

Collectively, the Pirates have thrown an MLB-high 47.6 percent of their pitches to the lower third of the strike zone. The Cardinals also live low in the zone, locating there at the eighth-highest clip (43.3 percent) in the majors. Pittsburgh and St. Louis' "keep it low" philosophy has produced ground balls by the bushel -- the Pirates have the highest single-season team ground ball rate (52.5 percent) in the majors over the past decade, while the Cardinals (48.5 percent) come in eighth.

Charlie Morton (64.6 percent) is the game's top worm-burner among starting pitchers, with Burnett (58.2 percent)  also ranking in the top 10. Francisco Liriano (52.4 percent), Joe Kelly (51.5 percent), Cole (51 percent) and Wainwright (50.1 percent) are among the grounder-centric starters who figure to make a difference in this series (sorry, Jeff Locke and Jake Westbrook).

Seth Maness (70.7 percent) is the most difficult reliever to loft this side of Brad Ziegler, and lefty hit man Randy Choate (68.4 percent) isn't far behind. Mark Melancon (62.2 percent), Carlos Martinez (56.5 percent) and Justin Wilson (53.5 percent) could also alter a game with a late-inning double play.

The Pirates complement their scorched-earth policy by frequently shifting their infielders, a strategy that has paid off in the form of the fifth-lowest opponent average on ground balls hit (.230) in 2013. The Cardinals (.248) are right around the MLB average (.248). 

Historic Homer Prevention

By waging a ground war, the Pirates (0.62 home runs allowed per nine innings) and Cardinals (0.69 HR/9) have surrendered the fewest homers among all MLB clubs. Once you adjust for year-to-year variations in league wide home run levels, the '13 Bucs and Cards are both enjoying one of the ten best homer prevention seasons in club history during the Live Ball Era (1920-present).

This year's Bucs team ranks fourth in franchise history during the Live Ball Era in HR+, or a team's home run rate as a percentage of the National League average during that season. They have surrendered 30 percent fewer homers than the NL average.

Lowest HR+ for Bucs during Live-Ball Era

St. Louis, meanwhile, has given up 22 percent fewer big flies than the NL average this year. That's tied for ninth-best in franchise history during the Live Ball Era.

Lowest HR+ for Cardinals during Live-Ball Era

Stealing Strikes

Aside from inducing ground balls and preventing home runs, there's another added benefit for Pirates and Cardinals pitchers who keep the ball down -- their catchers do a great job of framing low pitches. Yadier Molina and Russell Martin both get more called strikes on low pitches thrown in the strike zone (In-Zone ClStr%) than most catchers, with Molina ranking third among all backstops receiving at least 2,000 pitches and Martin ranking sixth. Molina also gets an above-average number of calls on low pitches that are located off the plate (Out-Zone ClStr%), placing sixth in the majors. Martin is around league average in that regard.

Molina and Martin's called strike rates on low pitches, 2013

With their pitchers getting so many grounders and Martin influencing calls on stuff located at the knees, the Pirates have limited batters to an MLB-low .248 slugging percentage on low pitches this season. The Cardinals' combo of ground ball pitchers and a strike-stealing catcher in Molina has yielded a .308 opponent slugging percentage on low stuff, tied for eighth-lowest in the game. Every pitching coach stresses the need to pound hitters are the knees. But the Bucs or Cards could just ride that platitude to postseason glory.

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