Cardinals' pitching is staying grounded
By Derrick Goold
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
JUPITER, Fla. — Like any ballplayer or manager who has seen spring training in the Cactus League and had a taste of the Grapefruit League, Cardinals reliever Ryan Franklin knows spring stats should come with an atlas.
Florida is hard on hitters; Arizona can be prickly on pitchers.
"But I've never seen the wind blow this much in as it has all spring," Franklin said Thursday. Echoed manager Tony La Russa: "They always have more offense in Arizona. But the wind is blowing in more than I've ever seen in Florida in 10 years at this place."
The gusting wind has been cited as a chief reason for the Cardinals' low batting average this spring, an argument supported by the fact that the 17 clubs with the lowest spring batting averages are all training in Florida. (There are 18 Grapefruit League teams.) But the Cardinals' pitching, which has been lauded, has benefited from the same breeze.
As the Cardinals break camp in Jupiter and jet north for tonight's game against their Triple-A affiliate in Memphis, the skewed stats from Arizona and Florida make it difficult to discern the true state of a club's spring pitching.
Atlas aside, the numbers need an audit.
"You have to then compare them against each other," pitching coach Dave Duncan said. "Everybody is in the same boat."
Of the dozen teams that train in Arizona, 11 have the top batting averages in baseball this spring through Thursday's games. Ten have the top slugging percentages. The yin to that statistical yang is the Grapefruit League has the top 16 ERAs in the game. Led by starter Kip Wells' seven strikeouts and 6 1/3 innings, the Cardinals' tied Florida 4-4 Thursday in their final game in Florida this spring.
It was the seventh time playing the Marlins, who have the lowest offensive numbers spanning both states — .221 average, .321 slugging — and scored just 17 runs in those seven games vs. the Cardinals.
What supports the notion that the Cardinals' have had a sterling pitching spring and didn't just ride the Florida wind against the Marlins? The answer is deeper than the numbers and goes beyond the stats that tend to be as much pyrite as proof in March.The Cardinals' team ERA is 2.34 entering this weekend, the club's lowest spring ERA by exactly a run in 11 spring trainings and nearly a run better than any other team in baseball this spring. Baltimore is next closest at 3.28.
The Cards are the only team in the majors to hold opponents to an on-base percentage of less than .300. But in statistics that are geographically neutral, the Cardinals are revealed. They have walked fewer than any other staff (64) and, despite Wells' 13 strikeouts in his past two starts, have the fewest strikeouts of any staff (146). They get by in spring as they hope to do in September, by staying grounded. Only Detroit has coaxed more groundball outs this spring than the Cardinals' 359.
Those numbers translate from state to state, spring to summer.
"It's important for me to see that guys who need to throw groundballs get groundballs," Duncan said. "And if they're doing that, its important for me to see guys who need to get ahead in the count get ahead in the count. I'm confident if they do the things they need to do that their stuff is good enough that they'll be successful."
Said Wells: "The fact that we've played here for six weeks and the wind is blowing in pretty much steadily for the entire time, sure. But hard-hit balls that are line drives are still base hits. To the staff's credit, we've thrown pretty well. It's a matter of continuing the execution we've had whether it's hot or cold, or the wind is blowing or it's not."
In his final spring start, Wells allowed one earned run over 6 1/3 innings. Over 93 pitches, Wells allowed five hits and walked one. Fifteen of his 19 outs were either strikeouts or groundouts.
Starters Wells and Chris Carpenter and relievers Franklin and Brad Thompson have all had two groundouts for every one flyout. Even Anthony Reyes' numbers have veered more to the ground than in his career.
The location of their pitches is as important to that low ERA as the location of their spring training. As much as the wind is blowing in, so to is command, which is why Wells took the Cardinals starters' scoreless streak to 24 1/3 innings Thursday. It's the staff's second run of at least 20 innings without giving up a run this spring.
"I like what I've seen from the guys that we're going to have starting for us," Duncan said. "I think the key now is for us to get into the season, get established and go from there."
Said La Russa: "I would just note (the difference between spring leagues) and not make too many forecasts about the season. That all the Florida clubs are going to be poor offensive clubs and all the Arizona clubs are going to be hitting. It's just different training situations. Play the game; see what happens."mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org