The Cardinal Nation blog

Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Cardinals inherited runners in context


Over the last few days, the St. Louis Cardinals official media notes have called out an interesting stat regarding inherited runners scored. As a result, the broadcast and print media have echoed the statement in great celebration. In a few cases, it may have been extended beyond its original scope.

Here is the quote:

“The bullpen staff has been very stingy – a good thing when it comes to inherited runners…Cards relievers have allowed just nine IRs to score this year (out of 59), which ranks 1st in the Majors.”

While I am not disputing the data, which works out to 15%, there are a couple of limitations in it that may not be obvious at first blush.

First of all, this is not a complete reflection of how well the relievers pick up the starters. In other words, some percentage of the 59 inherited runners were inherited from another reliever, not the starter.

In addition, when multiple relievers pitch during an inning, they could each get credit for stranding the same inherited runner. With Tony La Russa’s frequent late-game pitcher-batter matchups, this might further skew the data.

Of course, it also says nothing about how many runs the relievers themselves are responsible for putting on base and allowing to cross home plate.

For me, it would make the most sense to compare Cardinals bullpens year-to-year using a variety of measures. Since La Russa’s behavior seems relatively consistent over that time, I looked up the similar stats for the relievers after 40 games in 2008, 2007 and 2006.

It does confirm that the club has seen a reduction in inherited runners scoring – in fact this mark has improved in each of the last three seasons. In 2009, the raw number of inherited runners is greatest while the fewest have scored – the apparent best possible conditions.

However…

The 2009 group has retired a lower percentage of first batters faced than either their 2008 or 2007 peers.

While the 2009 pen has improved their save percentage over the dreadful 2008 season, the current mark does not approach the success rate in either 2007 or 2006.

In terms of bullpen ERA, the runs for which they are most directly responsible, the 2009 relievers have the worst mark after 40 games in any of the last four years.

Unless the holds rule has changed in the last two seasons, the explosion in number of holds would signal to me that a higher number of Cardinals pitchers have been appearing in save situations in 2008 and 2009. Considering La Russa’s liberal substitution patterns, this is not a stretch.

I say this because my understanding of the hold rule is the same as the save rule – secure at least one out in a save situation and leave with the lead, but the difference is that the “hold” pitcher of course doesn’t finish the game.

Won-loss results are included for illustration, but I am not reading anything into the yearly fluctuations.

My conclusion: While inherited runners scored does look great, the 2009 Cardinals bullpen could improve in retiring first batters faced, save percentage and ERA compared to recent seasons.

Key Cardinals bullpen measures after 40 games (2006-2009)

Thru 40 G Inh runners scored Percent 1st batter retired Percent Saves/opps Percent Holds ERA Won-loss
2009 9-of-59 15% 96-of-133 72% 13-of-19 68% 35 4.02 6-5
2008 14-of-49 29% 83-of-107 78% 16-of-26 62% 36 3.86 6-8
2007 15-of-40 38% 98-of-133 74% 10-of-12 83% 13 3.33 6-2
2006 23-of-51 45% 70-of-104 67% 12-of-16 75% 24 2.85 6-5

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