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

Cardinals offense not helping overcome blown saves

As previously documented here at The Cardinal Nation Blog, the St. Louis Cardinals have compiled a Major League-leading total of nine blown saves through the first quarter of the 2011 season. While they are concentrated on Ryan Franklin’s four, five other Cardinals relievers have contributed one each.

Six of these have been arguably the most damaging kind – a blown save in the ninth inning – leaving little or no time to respond. Franklin has four with Mitchell Boggs and Eduardo Sanchez each with one.

On the road, a ninth-inning blown save either means a walkoff win for the opponent or an extra-inning game. At home, the ninth-inning blown save still guarantees the offense a minimum of three at-bats to respond.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals in 2011, five of their six ninth-inning blown saves to date have occurred away from Busch Stadium. In three cases, the contest ended immediately and in the other two, the game became tied, only for St. Louis to fall in extras. Such was the occurrence in Cincinnati on Friday night when Sanchez absorbed the blown save in the ninth and Jason Motte took the loss in the tenth.

In other words, in three of the six ninth-inning blown save games, the Cardinals offense had an opportunity to step up and take back the lead, but did not. (They won one other extra-inning game, in Atlanta, for a 1-3 record in contests that went beyond nine innings this season.)

I will return to that point shortly.

St. Louis Cardinals blown saves, ninth inning, 2011 through May 15

Pitcher Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR IBB HBP BK WP
Eduardo Sanchez 5/13/2011 STL @CIN L 5-6 (10) 9-9 ,BS 1 2 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
Mitchell Boggs 4/26/2011 STL @HOU L 5-6 9-9f ,BL 0 4 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Ryan Franklin 4/17/2011 STL @LAD L 1-2 9-9f ,BL 0 1 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
Ryan Franklin 4/9/2011 STL @SFG L 2-3 9-9f ,BL 0 2 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ryan Franklin 4/8/2011 STL @SFG L 4-5 (12) 9-9 ,BS 1 2 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 1
Ryan Franklin 3/31/2011 STL SDP L 3-5 (11) 9-9 ,BS 1 1 1 1 0 0 1 0 1 0 0

Ninth-inning blown save factoids – the TLR years

Six ninth-inning blown saves so far puts the Cardinals on pace for 24 this season. That is almost double the worst previous year in the Tony La Russa years in St. Louis, 13 in 2008.

The most losses taken in one season in these games has been seven. That occurred in both 2006 and 2008.

Through La Russa’s first 15 seasons, the team had a total of 100 such blown saves, or an average of about seven per year. Obviously, just one more the entire rest of the way would meet that average.

In no prior year, had the Cardinals suffered more than four ninth-inning blown saves prior to May 16. That was also in 2008, a non-playoff season. (All were by Jason Isringhausen in his final campaign with St. Louis. More on that following.)

The most losses the Cardinals previously took in these games prior to May 16 was three in 2003 – half the 2011 count.

Prior to 2011, La Russa’s Cardinals averaged fewer than two ninth-inning blown saves prior to May 16 – a total of 25 in 15 years.

St. Louis Cardinals blown saves, ninth inning, annual win-loss totals since 1996

Year 2011 1996-2010 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 1997 1996
Season W-L 0-6 38-62 0-1 2-5 6-7 2-0 2-7 1-3 4-2 4-5 2-4 1-4 2-3 4-5 5-6 0-6 3-4
Percent wins 0% 38%
Year 2011 1996-2010 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 1997 1996
thru May 15 0-6 13-12 0-0 1-1 2-2 1-0 1-0 0-0 1-0 1-3 1-1 0-2 0-0 2-0 2-1 0-1 1-1
Percent wins 0% 52%

As already noted, in three of these six blown save situations in 2011, the Cardinals had a chance to answer, but did not. As such, their winning percentage in this subset of games is zero.

Though there is a dependency on the home-road distribution, note in the table above that in the past 15 years prior to 2011, the Cardinals came back to win 38 percent of all games in which ninth-inning save opportunities had been blown (38 of 100). Again, this includes all opponent walkoffs.

Further, in past years, the Cardinals had even greater success coming back from this hole early in the season, with a better-than-.500 pre-May 16 record at 13-12 from 1996-2010.

Granted, this year’s offense is just 0-for-3 in these situations so far, but nothing can pick up a struggling relief corps more than some clutch hits. Clearly the 2011 Cardinals are capable.

After all, much has been written about these Cardinals hitters leading the National League in runs scored. (However, do note that lead is perilous. They are just six runs ahead of the Reds with one more game played.)

With such a prolific offense, it seems like it is time for a few of those runs to be scored in the most crucial late-game situations to give their teammates a much-needed lift.

Bonus data – naming names

Following are the names of the 24 Cardinals relievers with ninth-inning blown saves during the La Russa years along with their share of the 106 games. The number of seasons in which the relievers blew a save are included in parens.

Note that these are just totals and do not indicate percentage of all save opportunities blown (and converted). Still, Franklin’s 15 in less than four years is not a markedly different rate from Isringhausen’s 32 over seven seasons. Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley added seven in two years.

Jeff Brantley (1998) and Ricky Botallico (1999) each had six in one season, but Izzy holds the TLR-years record of eight ninth-inning blown saves in 2006. He also had six in 2004. It seems most unlikely that Franklin will be given the opportunity to match that.

St. Louis Cardinals relievers, ninth-inning blown saves, 1996-current

# 9th inn BS Reliever (years)
32 Jason Isringhausen (7)
15 Ryan Franklin (4)
7 Dennis Eckersley (2)
6 Jeff Brantley (1) Ricky Botallico (1)
5 Dave Veres (2) Mike Timlin (3)
3 Braden Looper (2) Cal Eldred (1) Juan Acevedo (2) Rick Croushore (2) T.J. Mathews (1)
2 Chris Perez (1) Kyle McClellan (2) Tony Fossas (1)
1 Brad Thompson Eduardo Sanchez Jason Motte Jeff Fassero John Frascatore
Kiko Calero Mitchell Boggs Steve Kline Russ Springer

Thanks to researcher Tom Orf for pulling the raw data used to create this report.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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