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Rigging the Deck: The Cards, 2004 v. 2005 (Part 3)

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We're quickly approaching the end of this series and we have to make a conclusion at some point. First, though, I'll talk about the bullpens.

The 2005 Version

J. Isringhausen
Ray King
J. Tavarez
Al Reyes
Randy Flores
Brad Thompson
Cal Eldred

The 2004 Version

J. Isringhausen
Kiko Calero
Ray King
J. Tavarez
Steve Kline
Cal Eldred
J. Simontacchi

To construct these lists, I just took anyone on an ESPN stat page who had pitched in several games out of the bullpen.

Before I go on, I want to leave a disclaimer. I have no idea what wins in the playoffs.

Intuitively, I think that having 4 reliable starters, one or two of whom is an "ace," would probably be a good formula. I also think that having a closer that can extend himself (Mariano Rivera, Brad Lidge) successfully past one inning could help.

I don't know how true any of that is, but it seems rational. I would love to see some sort of study on successful playoff teams. I'll briefly explore some of the more recent postseason teams in a future article, I think.

In terms of the playoffs, I'd say that a team's top 5 relievers will be getting some time, so they're really what's important. Call me crazy, but if a World Series berth comes down to the 25th man on the roster or the 12th arm in the bullpen, it's probably going to come down to luck anyway.

So, comparing the two bullpens (big league rank in parentheses):

2004 - 3.01 ERA (1), 2.83 ERC (1), 3.70 DIPS ERA (3)
2005 - 3.05 ERA (2), 3.78 ERC (8), 4.14 DIPS ERA (11)

Component ERA is a pretty good stat for relievers because it helps put relievers and starters on the same level. Plus, component ERAs tend to be more predictive of future ERA than actual ERA is (DIPS exceeds both of them).

Part of me would like to see a "Project Scoresheet" type thing, where WPAs were calculated across the league so we could assess value in that sense. I think it would help a lot for bullpen pitchers. But we don't have that right now, so the best we can do is just look at some adjusted stats.

The Cardinal bullpen is not quite as great as it was last year, it seems, but it's certainly not a weakness for this team.

Bringing it all around:

  • The Cardinal offense, minus Scott Rolen, is not quite the juggernaut that it was in 2004.
  • The Cardinal rotation is significantly better than it was last year (by 33 runs or so), and they now have a frontline starter to take into the playoffs (Carpenter. Anyone who says that Carpenter has no right to beat Clemens in this Cy race is guilty of ERA-inflation, much like anyone who says that Clemens has no right to beat Carpenter is guilty of Win inflation).
  • The Cardinal bullpen has taken a step back, but it's still very strong.
The Cards are on pace to win 102 games, three fewer than they won in 2004. Their Pythagorean projection is for 100 wins, which is pretty much on target. It's roughly the same caliber team this year as it was last year.

If I had to give one team the edge in the playoffs, though, I would still give the 2005 Cards a better chance of winning it all than the 2004 Cards. There are a few reasons for this, but I'll boil it down into four:

  • Lack of legitimate NL competition - The Astros of 2004 were a much better team than any of the current NL teams. The NL is so lacking in a comparable team for the Cards that it's not particularly funny. (This could still go haywire in the playoffs; a 5-game series is just 5 games).
  • Chris Carpenter - I don't know what value an "ace" has in the playoffs, but if Carpenter throws 7 games and they're all good, that's probably 5 or 6 out of the 11 wins you need to win the World Series.
  • Albert Pujols - Pujols is the game's best hitter today, no question about it. There's no one more scary to pitch to in the playoffs.
  • Lack of legitimate AL competition - The Red Sox aren't quite as good, the Yankees can't pitch, the A's have numerous holes, the Angels have a poor offense, the White Sox could still just be very lucky, the Indians are relatively unimpressive... is anyone stepping up in the American League as the real favorite?
Bottom line: I'd take the Cardinals IN 2005 over the Cardinals IN 2004, but that doesn't really mean I think that the teams are particularly different. I just like this landscape a bit more for the Cards. This could certainly be their year.

If you really want to make it interesting, you can throw the Cardinal postseason hopes on Mark Mulder. Which one shows up? The mediocre, middle of the rotation starter, or the one with a 2.25 ERA in the playoffs in 4 starts? Carpenter + Mulder from a couple of years ago is probably the best one-two you're going to see this side of Houston.