Cardinals Staff Getting WHIPped

Things have gone from bad to worse for St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff since the All-Star break. Wednesday night's meltdown against the Pittsburgh Pirates illustrates the problem.

Here we sit, the day after another disappointing blowout loss absorbed by the St. Louis Cardinals, this time a 15-1 drubbing at the hands of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Buccos are the worst team in the National League; their 43-62 (.410) record places them 13.5 games out of first place. Across all of MLB, only the woeful Tampa Bay Devil Rays have a poorer record.

 

Yet, unless the Cardinals can salvage a win behind Anthony Reyes on Thursday afternoon, the Pirates will take another series from St. Louis at a time the defending world champs can simply not afford it.

 

The club is still treading water just six games out of first place in the National League Central, but needs to pull to .500 or better during the current road trip against poorer teams like the Pirates and the Washington Nationals this coming weekend. The three series following are against first-place or contenting teams – San Diego, Los Angeles and Milwaukee – and the surging Cubs have moved alongside the slumping Brewers and risk pulling away from the pack.

 

At the All-Star break, the 40-45 Cardinals had posted a 4.71 ERA as a team. Since then, the team's ERA has been considerably worse – in fact, one run per game worse at 5.69.  As a result, one has to seriously question if even the modest 10-9 (.526) winning pace established since the break can possibly be maintained.

 

And, even if the Cardinals play .526 ball the rest of the way, their final record would be a symmetrical, but non-playoff qualifying 81-81.

 

Making matters worse is the fact that the Cardinals have allowed another 11 unearned runs (not included in ERA calculations) since the break. That over a half-run per game rate is highest in the league.

 

Not surprisingly, the Cards' second-half 5.69 ERA is the second-worst in the NL, even behind the Pirates, whose Wednesday starter, Tony Armas, had been rumored to be on the verge of being released. Yet against the Cards, Armas allowed just one run over 6 1/3 innings, picking up his first victory of the season in the process.

 

In the other dugout, Wednesday night's game featured a pair of Cardinals pitching meltdowns, as starter Braden Looper and new reliever Mike Maroth each yielded a "lucky" seven runs. Looper put the Cardinals in an immediate hole by serving up a grand slam to the Bucs' number seven hitter, Ronny Paulino, in the first. He hung around for three more innings, allowing two more runs.

 

Ostensibly the number two starter on the Cardinals' NL-trailing staff, Looper has actually been the worst of them all in recent months. After starting out the season on fire, with a 2.29 ERA through mid-May, in the two-and-a-half months since, Looper's 7.55 ERA is dead last in the NL among hurlers with at least 40 innings pitched. He has yet to string even a pair of consecutive wins together since early May.

 

Maroth actually got through his first inning on Wednesday night, the seventh, unscathed, before falling apart in the eighth, a frame during which the Bucs tacked on their final touchdown and were successful on the conversion of the extra point. As a result of this small, but brutal sample, Maroth the Cardinals reliever now sports an ERA of 37.80. That makes his Cards starter's ERA of 9.20 pale in comparison.

 

With more bullpen innings, Maroth will surely have to do better than he did on Wednesday night. But, how long should the team continue to find out? With Tyler Johnson on the mend, one would have to think that Maroth's days on the 25-man roster are nearing their end.

 

In between Looper and Maroth, Brad Thompson pitched two innings in game two against the Pirates. Perhaps most known for his near-record scoreless innings pitched streak as a Minor League starter, Thompson is working on a streak of a different kind this season in St. Louis.

 

Just as Looper had given up two before him, Brad predictably yielded a long ball of his own. It was the seventh straight appearance during which he allowed an enemy home run.

 

During that stretch, Thompson has yielded nine long balls. Overall, he has given up 18 in 101 2/3 innings this season. Projecting that out to 200 innings, he would serve up 36. As a point of comparison, the National League's home run allowed leader last season was then-Cardinal Jason Marquis with 35.

 

As I have debated with others about Thompson, some think he is going to improve due to age and experience, despite the trend clearly heading south. The reality is that like many of his mates, Thompson simply allows too many baserunners to be an effective Major League starter.

 

Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched, or WHIP, is a very commonly used statistic, especially in sabermetric circles. In fact, it is almost always a scoring category in fantasy baseball, a game played by millions of Americans in varying forms. While not the most exacting, it does provide a point of comparison as to runners allowed.

 

Here is a rough WHIP scale to consider:

 

1.20 – excellent

1.30 – good

1.40 – average

1.50 – poor

 

The 22 men who have pitched for the 2007 Cardinals stack up like this. Also added are the Cardinals and NL averages, along with the Boston WHIP of new acquisition Joel Pineiro.

 

WHIP

Ryan Franklin 0.83
Jason Isringhausen 0.90
Troy Percival 1.00
Scott Spiezio 1.00
Russ Springer 1.12
Tyler Johnson 1.16
Brian Falkenborg 1.23
Anthony Reyes 1.34
National League average 1.38
Cardinals team 1.43
Braden Looper 1.43
Randy Flores 1.43
Randy Keisler 1.50
Josh Hancock 1.50
Adam Wainwright 1.51
Todd Wellemeyer (STL) 1.53
Brad Thompson 1.58
Kip Wells 1.59
Andy Cavazos 1.60
Joel Pineiro (BOS) 1.62
Chris Carpenter 1.67
Troy Cate 1.69
Kelvin Jimenez 1.81
Dennis Dove 2.00
Mike Maroth (STL) 2.13

 

Not surprisingly, a majority of the 2007 Cardinals staff, past and present, are not only below average, but fall into the "poor" category when looking at WHIP.

Sadly, the formula is easy to understand, but seems unlikely for the 2007 Cardinals to break. Too many opposing baserunners lead to too many runs allowed lead to too many losses.

 

 

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

 

© 2007 stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed.

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