Well, here are the 2005 St. Louis Cardinals, ten games over .500 after their taking 3-out-of-4 from the Dodgers, 34 games into the season. The hitting is starting to come alive, and middle defense is doing better than a lot of folks expected, and even the bullpen is beginning to straighten itself out (and with Izzy coming back, so much the better).
But I wanted to take this time to pay homage to the primary reason the Cards are doing so well – the starting pitching.
Consider the following numbers for a pitcher – let’s call him “Louis Saint”.
Let’s say that this guy, in 34 starts, goes 20-7 with 7 no-decisions, with a 3.35 ERA. He’s pitched 223 innings in 34 starts, an average of 6.56 innings per start, allowing 210 hits. He’s struck out 161 batters and walked just 61. He’s thrown 3355 pitches, an average of 98.7 pitches per start and 15.0 pitches per inning. He’s got a WHIP of 1.22, a K rate of 6.50 K’s per 9 IP, and a K/BB ratio of 2.64 to 1. He’s allowed 17 homers, or about one home run every 13 innings of work. It helps, of course, that he’s getting 5.44 runs per game offensive support.
How would you like to have a pitcher like that? Sounds like an ace, doesn’t it?
Well, the Cards don’t have an individual pitcher – yet – posting a 20-7 record in 34 regular-season starts, but they have something perhaps even more remarkable – they have an entire starting rotation for which these are the composite numbers.
Yes, as you’ve probably guessed, the numbers above are the totals for the entire 5-man pitching rotation through the first 34 games of the 2005 regular season – Carpenter, Mulder, Marquis, Suppan, and Morris.
The first three – Carpenter, Mulder, and Marquis – have each won 5 games – Carpenter in 8 starts, Mulder and Marquis in 7 – for a total of 15 wins and just 4 losses (with 3 no-decisions). Suppan and Morris are a combined 5-3 in 11 starts.
Mulder’s got his WHIP down 1.06 and his ERA down to 2.70 after a shaky first two games this season. Marquis – whose 2004 WHIP of 1.42 belied his 15 wins and 3.71 ERA – has a WHIP of 1.09 and an ERA of 3.26. Morris is at 1.14 and 3.10. Carpenter is at 1.32 and 4.02 and Suppan is at 1.45 and 3.53 (and even with the high WHIP, he should have more than 3 wins, given his 3.17 runs of support in his first six starts before the Cards got those 9 runs for him on Thursday night).
They’ve gone deep into games, too, as the 6.56 innings per start figure implies – we’ve had only two games all season where our starting pitcher failed to go five innings, and only six more games in which our starter failed to go six full innings.
But, while they’re going deep, they’re not throwing a lot of pitches – the 118 pitches thrown by Carpenter when he shut out the Cubs a few weeks ago is the season high, and we’ve only had seven games out of 34 where the starter even threw 110 pitches. This implies a considerable amount of efficiency, and the implication is well backed up by the numbers – Carpenter is averaging 103 pitches per start and 15.4 pitches per innings. Marquis is at 106 and 15.8; Suppan is at 96.3 and 15.5.
Morris, while not yet consistently going deep into games (he’s averaging just 5.8 innings per start since coming off the disabled list), is pitching as efficiently as the others – 15.5 pitches per inning.
But the real boon has been the pitching of Mark Mulder.
Even with his poor first two games, Mulder is now averaging 7.14 innings and 94.7 pitches per start, which works out to a remarkable 13.3 pitches per inning. Despite throwing 50 innings in 7 starts, he’s only gone over 100 pitches twice this season – 104 is his peak, and the day he threw 101 pitches was the day he pitched his 10-inning shutout.
The numbers look even better if you discount Mulder’s first two starts – since he took the loss against the Reds on April 13, Mulder has made five starts, going 39 innings. In those 39 innings, he’s allowed 22 hits, walked just 7 (for a WHIP of 0.74!) and posted a Gibson-esque 1.15 ERA – and that’s despite allowing 5 runs to the Braves in the Hudson game!
Who knows how long this can last? At their current pace (20 wins from the starters in 34 games), the Cards are going to get 95 wins from their starting pitching – which is unheard of in this day and age. By contrast, last year’s starters had only 12 wins between them by the 34-game point, and won 74 games on the season – a respectable total, but well behind what could be a near-record setting effort by our Big Five in 2005.