The Cardinals continue to crank out quality starts at a franchise-record pace. Though he unfairly took the loss in Tuesday’s 2-1 close call at Wrigley Field, Lance Lynn allowed two earned runs in seven innings to turn in the rotation’s 24th quality start of the young season.
The Cardinals have received a quality start in 75 percent of their games. Since the pitching mound was lowered in 1969, no STL rotation has produced such a high rate of quality starts.
Atop the full-season leaderboard: the ‘69 Cardinals with 116 QS in 162 games, a rate of 71.6 percent. The second-best percentage (61.1 %) occurred last season, with the 2012 rotation putting up 99 quality starts in 162 games.
Can the Cardinals maintain this pace?
It’s doubtful, and a real longshot ... but not impossible.
1. Offense is down again in 2013, with pitchers continuing to assert a stronger control over the game. I did some research late Tuesday night and discovered a few nuggets:
In the 45 seasons covering the lower-mound era 1969-2013, the current MLB onbase percentage of .319 ranks 41st. Hitters are striking out once every 4.97 plate appearance, which is the highest (or worst) K rate over the 45-season period.
Stats crews have been charting swings and misses and the percentage of swings for the last 26 seasons. And so far in 2013, the swing-miss rate of 22.4 percent would be the worst of the 26-year stretch. The percentage of swings that put the ball in play (40.4 percent) would also be the worst rate over the last 26 seasons. It’s early, yes. But the April-May trend continues the pattern of increased pitching dominance over recent seasons.
Free-swinging hitters are walking a lot less and striking out with much greater frequency. When the aggressive hitters make contact, they’re driving the ball; so far we’re seeing the 10th highest home-run rate and the 20th-highest slugging percentage (.417) of the last 45 years. But the hitters simply aren’t getting on base or putting the ball in play the way they used to, and that largely explains why the 30 MLB teams are averaging only 4.29 runs per game. That 4.29 average would rank 29th in the accounting of the last 45 seasons.
The decrease in OBP and the dramatic increase in strikeouts is reinforcing the pitchers’ ability to prevent runs. And in this context — with offense down — the 2013 Cardinals’ rotation has a better opportunity to craft a low ERA and a higher volume of quality starts. The rotation’s MLB-best ERA of 2.21 will certainly rise — but it has a chance to remain lower than we’d anticipate given the industry-wide drop in run production.
2. The Cardinals’ style of pitching fits the run-prevention trend. The starters (and relievers) are getting plenty of swings and misses. They aren’t walking many people. They have three starters — Lynn, Adam Wainwright and Shelby Miller — that run up healthy strikeout totals. With Wainwright, Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook getting hitters to pound the ball on the ground, the Cardinals’ rotation also leads the majors in ground-ball percentage, and has the lowest HR rate. This effective formula, if maintained, leads to positive results.
Setting a new single-season franchise record for quality starts is a formidable challenge, but the 2013 Cardinals have a few key factors working in their favor. If nothing else, this longshot bid is intriguing.
Thanks for reading ...