Starters, home and away

I know I promised a lot of blogging last night, but I was undercaffeinated or something so it didn’t get done. This is one of the things I wanted to examine, though. All numbers are through last night, not including today’s game.

We all know how much better the Cards have been at home than on the road. Yet offensively there’s not a big difference. Where the difference shows up is in the starting pitching. With the exception of Adam Wainwright, who has very little home-road split, every Cards starter with any significant number of starts has been much better at home than on the road.

Seven starters have made at least five starts for the Redbirds this year: Wainwright, Looper, Pineiro, Wells, Reyes, Maroth and Thompson. All but Wainwright have ERAs at least .84 higher on the road than at home.

Here’s the breakdown by ERA, in starts only:
Wainwright — 3.86 home, 3.53 road (-0.33 difference)
Looper — 3.20, 6.33 (3.13 difference)
Pineiro — 2.70, 5.81 (3.11 difference)
Wells — 5.82, 6.66 (0.84 difference)
Reyes — 4.85, 6.58 (1.73 difference)
Maroth — 8.44, 9.74 (1.30 difference)
Thompson — 4.59, 5.52 (0.93 difference)

It doesn’t change much if you include all appearances for the guys who have both started and relieved. Wells’ overall numbers are 5.23 at home and 6.27 on the road, so the difference is actually a smidge more pronounced. Reyes has only two innings of relief, dropping his overall home ERA to 4.83. Maroth’s overall is 8.44 and 12.17, increasing the difference to 3.73. Thompson overall is at 4.78 and 5.26, dropping the difference to 0.48.

Here are the numbers overall, though. When those seven pitchers start at home, they have a 4.35 ERA and they average 0.98 HR allowed per nine innings. When they start on the road, they have a 5.87 ERA and allow 1.30 HR per nine innings.

So why would this be? My working theory is that new Busch is more forgiving of mistakes, as evidenced in the home run differential. A little further research, if someone had time, could break down K/BB rates and maybe even defensive efficiency — is new Busch a better place to play defense? Is the scoring more favorable, meaning that the ERA is misleading at home?

There’s plenty to work with in all of this. But when you’re 5 1/2 months into the season, and looking at a total of more than 700 innings, it looks less like a fluke and more like a trend. If the Cards could prevent runs on the road like they do at home, this season would look a lot different. Then again, if they struggled to prevent runs at home like they do on the road, it would look a lot different in another way.

-M.

11 Comments

Matt, sorry to ask an off-topic question, but is there any news on Encarnacion? I haven’t seen an update in a while, although I could have missed it.

Spurred by that observation, I got into some of the stats at baseball-reference.com and looked at some of the things you suggested. The results are interesting. Sorry this is long, but your question is important, so:

First, as regards scoring: the Cards have given up almost exactly as many unearned runs at home (32) as on the road (33). Given that they’ve allowed a lot more runs total on the road, this may suggest a slight home-team bias toward scoring things as errors, but it’s certainly not enough to explain your observation. (BTW, their unearned-run total is the third highest in the league; conclude from that what you will.)

Second, I wasn’t able to look at ERA home/road splits for just the starters, but for the whole staff, their split of 3.98/5.34 is the second largest in the league (#1 will surprise you, BTW — HOUSTON, despite playing home games in a notorious hitter’s park), far above the league average of 4.19/4.65. The only other team that’s close is San Diego, playing in a pitcher’s paradise. So the effect that you noticed is definitely real.

Third, I also wasn’t able to check whether opposing pitchers were subject to the same effect, but one can get some idea by looking at how the Cards do offensively on splits in certain stats, and comparing them to league average from a pitcher’s perspective for teams playing away. The Cards have a positive OPS split of +.028 between home and away, meaning that combined slugging average and on-base average are .028 higher at home than away. League pitchers have a negative OPS split overall of -.021, meaning they pitch less effectively on the road than at home by that amount. (Cards pitching OPS home/road split is -.087, for comparison.) These numbers are quite similar; many other teams have considerably larger offensive home/road splits. So it certainly isn’t like playing in Busch III grossly depresses offense.

What does this all mean? I don’t know, but it sure looks like the problem you identified is real. Could they be getting inadequate preparation when on the road? Is there something weird about the mound at Busch that they get used to, so that the mounds on the road feel wrong? Something in the clubhouse coffee (even if you take this seriously, it seems unlikely since the position players don’t benefit)? I have no idea, but before next year, it needs careful examination.

It’s Sunday afternoon, Mulder has just completed the 3rd inning. He certainly hasn’t shown any improvement pitching at home. I have nothing against Mulder, in fact praise for wanting to help his team, but still feel his comeback should have been delayed until 2008. I predicted a month ago that he would be ineffective in trying to come back this season and not the answer to the Cards pitching woes this year. Shoulder surgeries just don’t heal overnight.

Funny (in a bitter sort of way), I was about to make the same follow-up observation myself: Mulder seems to be trying to erase the dichotomy Matthew identified all by himself. I can understand the desire to see if he’s got anything this year, but he clearly doesn’t. Use him as a mop-up guy for the rest of the month, maybe?

We gambled, but it didn’t pay off. Even Dave Duncan couldn’t take a crew like this and make starters out of them. Guess it was all about dollars at the front office. I believe Suppan and Marquis
have helped their clubs be contenders. Hindsight? Danny Haren could have helped.

Please…go out and get some pitchers this winter! Now it’s football and hunting. Can hardly handle losing 10 of 11. I can imagine how most of the guys on the club feel. Goodbye for 2007, Cardinal fans. Wish the Cubs or Brewers all the luck, but it looks like a Met-Red Sox World Series this year!

Horrible year. Little positives aside from Wainwright, Ryan and Looper all year.

Thanks for the coverage all year, Dude. Please keep us informed throughout the winter, as I’ll continue reading the blog just as I did yesteryear.

Now that the pennant race dust is settling, I would like to see some of the young players get some time in. People like Cairo can sit. Put Shumaker, Ankiel and Ludwig in the outfield and let them play every game the rest of the season. Give Ryan a lot of playing time. Use the young pitchers a lot. Give Wainwright and Looper extra days off. Let Reyes and Kip pitch every 5th day now. There’s nothing much left to lose…

Matt…just wanted to say, I am so proud of our Cardinals this year. With all that’s gone on this year and yet they still have it in them to fight back against a team like Phillie like they just did…way to go, Cards.

Yes…I was one of the dummy Card fans that stayed up and followed the marathon game last night on the PC. Results would gag a maggot!
NOt that my opinion is that important, but after having coached high school sports for 37 years and following the Cards since 1946, I’m afraid that we will see changes at the top next year. I think Tony and Dunc are too proud of men to go through this stuff for another year. Somewhere else, but not in St. Louis. Don’t think Owners and Jock will bother them. Jock could get into trouble. Guys, we’ve begged for pitching since after we started losing the staff that we had last year which, by the way, just average adn a little better. Now it’s not much better than Memphis or Johnson City. Got to make some changes. Brewers may be the up and coming club in our division which is awful. The fan base at St. Louis, one of the best in the country, won’t change unless our “upstairs” boys decide to sit on their hands and place their money in CDs instead of pitching. Hard times at Bedrock are here.

okay…here’s my theory…I think it comes down to good ‘ol fashioned home field advantage intangibles. For one, our outfielders and players are much more used to the defensive dimensions of Busch stadium than they are other fields. Look at how Ankiel struggles with where the Right Field wall is nearly every game. As he gets used to the dimensions, it becomes much more natural. This allows them to make more plays in the field, thereby keeping the hit/run total down. Also, ballpark familiarity means you are more comfortable with where the sun will be, the temperature, etc. All of this affects how a defense can help out a pitcher.

Also, I think the mound you are pitching off of can make a big difference. The ‘dirt’ you step in – it’s consistency, ‘stick’ factor (thick clayish type or loose sand like), etc. – and especially the tilt of the mound. This, I would expect, would make a HUGE difference for Looper. Look how he almost always looks down at the mound as if it jumped up and bit him when he throws a bad pitch (especially one that gets up on him). A mound he’s uncomfortable with can make a huge difference. Naturally, his home mound will be more comfortable to him. I would even say a pitcher develops his stride and motion BASED off of the hometown mound configuration.

Keeping with the mound aspect, even the back drop behind home plate can be a factor. I would expect it would be much easier to focus on your target when pitching if you are familiar with the back ground and better able to tune it out…that includes the fans, who may be calm and paying special attention to NOT distracting a home pitcher.

Finally, I think the psychological effect on pitchers is important. Think about it – in an Away park, fans CHEER your every mistake. You have 42,000 fans rooting against you, and it can have its affect. At home, they are cheering with you. Mulder said adrenaline helped him pitch better early in the game…imagine the adrenaline effect of 42,000 fans supporting and cheering for you.

Well…that’s my two cents…

Was it this way last year (though obviously not to that extreme)? I remember a lot of talk about the new Busch being a hitter’s park the first month or so, but after that, I thought it got more of a pitcher’s park reputation.

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