Your verification ID is: guDlT7MCuIOFFHSbB3jPFN5QLaQ Big Computing: St. Louis Cardinals have the formula to beat the Texas Rangers

Monday, October 24, 2011

St. Louis Cardinals have the formula to beat the Texas Rangers

In most cases pitching wins a series. That is especially true for the World Series. This year the St. Louis Cardinals are in the World Series against the Texas Rangers not because of their pitchers, but because of how they have managed their pitchers. However, in order to beat the bats of the Texas Rangers, the St. Louis Cardinals are going to have to take their approach to pitching to the next logical level. The problem is that tradition will be standing the way.

Baseball has a long tradition of honoring the starting pitcher. In fact the idea of relief pitching is a relatively new concept. These traditions are so deep in baseball that a starting pitcher only earns the win if he pitches five innings while that rule does not always hold true for a reliever. In some cases a starting pitcher's compensation is even tied to the number of wins he has. However, maximizing starting pitchers wins may reduce the overall wins for the team particularly in the St. Louis Cardinals' case.

It has long been known that relief pitchers have an average ERA about .5 better than starting pitching. Often the reasons given for this is that starting pitchers must pace themselves while relievers do not. If pacing themselves results in the better pitcher having worse numbers than the weaker pitcher why is this a good way to play the game? Over the course of the season this difference would account for roughly 80 additional runs being allowed or according to Bill James's Pythagorean expectation 9 fewer wins in a season. That is a significant impact.

Throughout this year's MLB playoff season the St. Louis Cardinals have been most successful when they have used a lot of pitchers for a few innings each in a game. Yes, there is the notable exception of Carpenter's  innings which was impressive but not the most likely path to victory.

Below is a quick breakout of the ERA of the Cardinals when their pitch 3 innings or less versus when pitchers ERA in the fourth inning or greater.

Series ERA <=3 Innings ERA >3 innings
STL V PHI 3.64 6.5
STL V MIL 3.66 10.5
STL V TEX 2.16 6.3

To me this analysis would indicate the best chance the Cardinals have of winning the World Series is to never pitch a pitcher more than 3 innings against the Texas Rangers.