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Feast or famine: The 2010 Cardinals increased run-scoring

Looking at when the 2010 St. Louis Cardinals’ offense scored their runs indicates an increased number of blowouts compared to 2009.

Mark McGwire (Getty Images)During a Monday in which Mark McGwire’s return as hitting coach of the St. Louis Cardinals for 2011 was announced, there was a Twitter-driven backlash against those critical of the coach and his inconsistent 2010 offense.

Cited was the truth that the Cardinals scored more runs than in 2009 in a year during which offense was down across the game. The reality for the Cardinals was a meager increase of six runs scored over 162 games, or up 0.8 percent. However, it was more impressive when put up against the backdrop of a 2.4 percent decline in scoring across the National League. (details here)

Still, after having watched most of St. Louis’ games this past season, it felt to me like the offense often didn’t score when needed. Given the small increase in total runs scored, this might imply they crossed the plate more often when those runs were less valuable.

To test that thought, I calculated the average runs scored by the Cardinals over the last four years, broken out between games the Cardinals won versus the ones they lost. Even though the hitters don’t have any impact on the pitching or runs scored by the opposition, I also looked at the average run differential, again separated between wins and losses.

Cards Wins Avg R/G Avg R Diff Losses Avg R/G Avg R Diff
2010 86 6.21 3.90 76 2.66 3.16
2009 91 5.95 3.62 71 2.66 3.37
2008 86 6.67 3.55 76 2.70 3.30
2007 78 6.67 3.85 84 2.44 4.81

Though the Cards won five fewer games this season than last, they averaged one-quarter of a run more in each win. They also increased their margin of victory in those contests by just a bit more, .28 runs per game, to the highest winning edge in at least the last four years.

Looking at their losses, the Cardinals scored the exact same average amount of runs per defeat in both 2009 and 2010, while closing the gap in the average loss by .21 runs per game this past season compared to last.

The average run differential in losses of 3.16 runs was the club’s tightest margin in at least the last four years. That should be attributed to better Cardinals pitching, not an improved offense, since again, run-scoring in the losses was flat year-to-year.

In other words, one might conclude that on the average, the 2010 Cardinals improvement in run scoring was “wasted”, as they increased their bulge in games they were likely en route to have won anyway.

More blowout wins in 2010

The analysis above was still based on averages across the 86 wins and 76 losses. I wanted to try to get more granular in my review. So, to take this one step further, I looked at the run differential in each of the Cardinals wins over the last two seasons. They break out as follows.

Win margin 1-R 2-R 3-R 4-R 5-R 6-R 7-R 8-R 9-R 10-R 13-R Total games won
2010 20 13 9 11 9 10 4 7 1 2 0 86
2009 24 13 16 9 12 3 7 0 5 1 1 91

win-margin-chart-2Grouping the numbers really tells the story. Here is the same data, split between the quantity of games in which the Cardinals won by five or fewer runs compared to the ones they won by six or more scores.

Cardinals 1-5 run wins % total wins 6+ run wins % total wins
2010 62 72.1% 24 27.9%
2009 64 79.0% 17 21.0%

As the data clearly indicates, the Cardinals increased their number of blowout victories in 2010 over 2009, both in terms of absolute wins (up from 17 to 24) and especially in percentage of wins (from 21 percent up to 28 percent), while taking fewer close contests.

This reinforces my earlier point that more of St. Louis’ runs in 2010 seemed to be “wasted” in comparison to the year before.

Fewer blowout losses

For completeness, let’s take one more cut at the data, this time looking at runs scored in Cardinals losses over the last two seasons.

Loss margin 1-R 2-R 3-R 4-R 5-R 6-R 7-R 8-R 9-R 10-R 11-R 14-R Total games lost
2010 22 12 15 9 11 1 3 1 1 0 0 1 76
2009 21 12 12 6 7 4 4 1 2 1 1 0 71

loss-margins-chart-1When we roll up the data into the same categories as above, losses of five or fewer runs compared to defeats of six or more runs, the Cardinals had fewer blowout losses in 2010 compared to 2009.

Cardinals 1-5 run losses % total losses 6+ run losses % total losses
2010 69 90.8% 7 9.2%
2009 58 81.7% 13 18.3%

In summary

Bottom line, it isn’t necessarily all that valuable just to score more often. It is better to do so in games where the additional runs might truly alter the outcome.

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