Rigging the Deck: The Cards, 2004 v. 2005 (Part 2)

We're still working on that question - which team is better: the '04 version or the '05 version of the Cards?

Here's a list of the percentage of starts that the Cardinal pitchers had in 2004:

Jason Marquis - 19.75%
Matt Morris - 19.75%
Jeff Suppan - 19.14%
Woody Williams - 19.14%
Chris Carpenter - 17.28%
Danny Haren - 3.09%
Al Reyes - 1.23%
Randy Flores - 0.62%

and in 2005:

Chris Carpenter - 20.16%
Mark Mulder - 20.16%
Jeff Suppan - 20.16%
Jason Marquis - 20.16%
Matt Morris - 18.55%
Anthony Reyes - 0.81%

The major similarity is in how stable and healthy the rotations have been. 123 of 124 games have been started by 5 guys in St. Louis in 2005, and last year, 154 games were started by the Big 5.

I don't know how much of an impact that has, but it makes the analysis a bit easier.

The holdovers:

Matt Morris
Chris Carpenter
Jason Marquis
Jeff Suppan

The change: Mark Mulder, 2005 replaces Woody Williams, 2004.

Essentially, that's all there is to the St. Louis rotation. So the comps:

Chris Carpenter, 2004 v. Chris Carpenter, 2005 - This one is a no contest type affair.

  1. 28 G, 182 IP, 24 HR, 38 BB, .2038 K/BFP, 1.93 G/F, 18/28 QS, 41.6 VORP
  2. 25 G, 188.3 IP, 14 HR, 39 BB, .2393 K/BFP, 1.99 G/F, 23/25 QS, 65.8 VORP
Carpenter's become a strikeout pitcher who gets 66% groundballs.

If you voted for Chris Carpenter in the Cy Young race, you wouldn't necessarily be committing an injustice to Roger Clemens. Carpenter's been that good this year.

Carpenter's become a legitimate #1 starter this year. At this moment, if you were picking one pitcher to start a Game 7 for you in 2005, you'd have a pretty good case with Carpenter. I wouldn't pick him, but he'd be on my short list.

Matt Morris, 2004 v. Matt Morris, 2005 - Matt Morris, 2004, had a 4.72 ERA, which was a far cry from the consistent sub-4s he'd had for much of the past few years. Where did it come from?

Isolated Power allowed

  1. .107
  2. .109
  3. .156
  4. .191
  5. .133
An alarming trend was curbed this year for Morris, and it has resulted in better pitching performances. What did Matt Morris do? He curbed his HR allowed. That's the opponents' isolated power figures that he'd allowed in each of the past 4 seasons and this season. After 4 years of increase, he's finally seemed to stabilize it.

Here's another alarming trend that has been curbed:

K/BFP

  1. .204
  2. .192
  3. .171
  4. .154
  5. .157
His strikeout rate is still far less than ideal, but it stopped it's elevator-like descent that has been going on since 2001.

One thing that Morris has consistently had has been good control.

I'd venture to say that St. Louis' defense has helped him and the other Cardinal pitchers a bit (they lead the NL with a .705 DER), but Morris is pitching better this year than he did in 2004.

The same cannot be said for Jason Marquis.

Jason Marquis, 2004 v. Jason Marquis, 2005 - A long, long time ago (actually, just back in 2004), Jason Marquis, the product of Staten Island, NY, was considered a starter on the verge of entering the upper echelon of pitchers.

I don't know where that impression came from, but in 2005, Marquis has been just dreadful. His DIPS ERA of 5.21 ranks 48th out of 51 qualifiers in the NL, and he has been rescued by a .276 BABIP (I'd attribute that mainly to the Cardinal defense).

I like using quality starts as a rough indicator of how well a pitcher does, because, at the core of the argument, pitching is really a very incremental thing. If a pitcher strikes out 27 guys in one outing and 0 in the next, that should be accounted for, somehow. Very often, I think, the rate stats and the overall stats can be skewed by one or two anomalies. Quality starts is one way to see through that noise.

  1. 6.3 IP/G, 19/32 QS
  2. 6.3 IP/G, 13/25 QS
Marquis' numbers are starting to look a lot like those of a 5th starter.

Jeff Suppan, 2004 v. Jeff Suppan, 2005 - The first thing I noticed when I looked at Suppan was that the BABIP has regressed to the mean a bit.

  1. .283
  2. .303
And yet he has still managed to lower his ERA a bit. A lot of that from Jeff is from "situational pitching." Component ERA tries to filter that out.
  1. 4.39 ERC, 4.17 ERA
  2. 4.80 ERC, 3.94 ERA
So, if A=B and B=C...

Suppan, RISP, 2004: .218/.304/.345
Suppan, RISP, 2005: .235/.301/.302

Sometimes, simple numbers really CAN be elegant. Suppan has been better with runners in scoring position than in typical situations (I don't know if this is luck or some inborn talent). This is reflected in a comparsion between component-ERA and actual ERA. Suppan's not much worse than he was last year, nor is he that much better. His strikeout rate is down a bit, but his control's a bit better. Suppan's a #3 or a #4 starter, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Woody Williams, 2004, v. Mark Mulder, 2005 - When it's all said and done, Walt Jocketty had better hope that Mulder leads this team to a World Series victory. A championship is a championship, but the Cards dealt away a couple of guys who could have contributed to more of them in the Mulder deal:

Danny Haren - 4.00 ERA (AL), 6.6 K/9, 24 years old, still cheap
Mark Mulder - 3.77 ERA (NL), 4.7 K/9, 28 years old, free agent after season

Strikeouts aren't the tell-all stat that they're sometimes made out to be, but I think that if you switched the spots of Danny Haren and Mark Mulder, thus far, the A's and Cardinals would not be much better or worse than they are now.

Daric Barton has racked up 47 XBHs between A and AA (he's 20), and he's currently hitting .318/.438/.469 in AA. Oh, and he's 20. Barton's going to be in the Top 5 on some prospect lists next year, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him #1 on a couple of the more stat-focused ones.

Anyway, back to the strikeouts. If I'm a Cardinals fan, this trend scares me:

K/BFP

  1. .184
  2. .171
  3. .147
  4. .125
If that keeps up, he's going to be dangerously close to the "too low to function" level of strikeouts. Not everyone has to be Pedro Martinez to win games, but Mulder needs to get his rate back up to at least 2004 levels.

If I'm St. Louis, I'm letting Mulder walk after the season and I'm taking the pick.

For all of that, Mulder has his ERA under 4 and has been very good since the All-Star break. He's allowed only 2 homers in 46 innings since the break, and that's helped him have success. Mulder is one of the games most dramatic groundball pitchers, and that's never been more evident than in this season; he has a 2.72 G/F ratio (which means that roughly, 73.1% of his balls put in play are groundballs).

Actually, on that token, I would strongly prefer G/F ratio to be replaced by a simple percentage. It would be much easier to analyze that way.

I think that I'd be a bit less worried about Mulder if he were doing a bit better than he is. With his 2.72 G/F ratio, he's still given up 16 HR on the season. His ERA is still just under 4, and while that's good, it's not all that much better than average. And considering how good that defense is, that's really not much better than an average pitcher, if at all.

Finally, here's what VORP from Prospectus says about the Cardinal rotation, as a whole (VORP/start):

2004: .941 VORP/GS
2005: 1.143 VORP/GS

VORP agrees with me. The Cardinal rotation is substantially better in 2005 than it was in 2004. Over the course of 162 games, the new version of the rotation is on pace to save around 33 runs over the old version, pretty much exclusively because of Chris Carpenter (if you replace 2005's Carpenter with 2004's, the '04 version of the rotation is slightly better). It's just one way to look at a rotation. You could use a stat like RSAA and get similar results, I'm sure.

The third and final part of this series will compare the bullpens and then make a final determination.

[on edit]: I noted that around 73% of Mulder's balls in play were groundballs. That was an oversight on my part. I forgot to incorporate line drives into that equation. According to the Hardball Times, 19.1% of Mulder's BIP are line drives. That leaves 80.9% of the total balls in play to be either FB or GB. Assuming that pop flies are included in the FB category (I'm honestly not sure), the ratio looks more like this:

GB: 59.1%
FB: 21.8%
LD: 19.1%

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