Thursday, September 3, 2015

The St. Louis Cardinals: 2015 vs. 2004 vs. 1944

The St. Louis Cardinals are 86-46 and sit at a whopping 40 games over .500 for the first time since 2005, when they finished the season with a record of 100-62.  Not only are they 40 games over .500, but they are with 30 games still to play and according to The Elias Sports Bureau this is only the third time in the history of their franchise that this has occurred with the other two years being 1944 and 2004 (both years they won 105 games).

In 1944 the St. Louis Cardinals (105–49) won the World Series by defeating the St. Louis Browns four games ­to two.  Then in 2004 they once again made it to the World Series but this time were swept four games to none by the Boston Red Sox, but we can excuse that because they were busy ended the "Curse of the Bambino”.  So now here we are in 2015 and the Cardinals once again seemed poised to finish the season with the best record in baseball.

September 2, 1944 NL Standings:
St. Louis Cardinals: 91-32
Pittsburgh Pirates: 74-50
Cincinnati Reds: 68-52
New York Giants: 58-69
Chicago Cubs: 55-66
Boston Braves: 53-75
Brooklyn Dodgers: 50-77
Philadelphia Phillies: 48-76

September 2, 2004 NL Standings (top 8 to match 1944):
St. Louis Cardinals: 89-44
Atlanta Braves: 78-54
Los Angeles Dodgers: 78-55
Chicago Cubs: 73-60
San Francisco Giants: 73-63
San Diego Padres: 71-62
Florida Marlins: 70-62
Houston Astros: 70-63

September 2, 2015 NL Standings (top 8 to match 1944):
St. Louis Cardinals: 86-46
Pittsburgh Pirates: 79-51
Chicago Cubs: 75-56
Los Angeles Dodgers: 74-57
New York Mets: 73-59
San Francisco Giants: 69-63
Washington Nationals: 66-65
Arizona Diamondbacks: 65-68

So looking at these standings the first thing that sticks out is that the 2015 Cardinals are three wins behind where they were in 2004 and five wins behind where they were in 1944, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.  So let’s look at Pythagorean expectation, a formula created by Bill James to estimate how many games a team should have won based off runs scored and runs allowed. ­­­­­­­

Based off this, at this point in the season in 1944 the Cardinals should have had 93 wins instead of 91, in 2004 the Cardinals should of had 84 wins instead of 89, and the current 2015 Cardinals should have 84 instead of 86.  The first thing about this that sticks out is that the 2015 and 2004 Cardinals are on the same track in terms of Pythagorean Win.  In 2004, the Cardinals should have won 100 games according to Pythagorean win, for this to be the case now in 2015 the Cardinals would have to go 16-16 the rest of the way which is very unlikely considering they still have 14 games to play against the Cincinnati Reds (55-77) and the Milwaukee Brewers (57-75) who both rank in the bottom half of the league in terms of runs scored, team batting average (BA), team on base percentage (OBP), team slugging percentage (SLG) and weighted on base average (wOBA).  But that is just in terms of offense, in terms of pitching they both rank in the bottom half for fielding independent pitching (FIP), walks allowed per nine (BB/9), home runs allowed per nine (HR/9), left on base percentage (LOB%), team WHIP and runs allowed.  That opposes the Cardinals who already walk 8.1% of the time which ranks in the top ten and rank seven in terms of offensive WAR.  They also have the best team ERA by a significant margin, it currently sits at 2.67 with the next closest team being the Pittsburgh Pirates with a 3.21, if broken down as a split between starters and relievers they are rank first in both with a 2.83 by their starters and a 2.34 by their relievers.  Part of this tremendous pitching success has come from their extraordinary left on base percentage (LOB%) of 80.3% which is 4.7% higher than the Kansas City Royals’ 75.6%.  I do have some concerns though, one that their LOB% will regress to league average of about 70-72%.  My other concern is that despite ranking second in team FIP they lead all of baseball in the difference between team ERA and team FIP at negative 0.68 which could lead to regression during this last month and the playoffs, but I have gotten slightly off topic so let’s get back to the comparison.

At this point in the season the 2015 Cardinals’ WAR of 19.7 ranks well behind the 2004 Cardinals’ WAR of 27.6 in terms of WAR and even further behind the 1944 team which put up a team WAR of 29.5.  But that is not the only area where they are well behind.  This year they have a slash line of .256/.323/.395 with a wOBA of .312, a wRC+ of 97 and are striking out 20.2% of the time.  Compare that to 2004 when their slash line was .278/.344/.460 with a wOBA of .344, a wRC+ of 107 and struck out 17.2% of the time and to 1944 when their slash line to end the year was .275/.344/.402 with a wOBA of .352, a wRC+ of 108 and struck out a miniscule 7.6% of the time (less than their walk percentage of 8.8%).

So while they not be hitting at the same clip that they did in the previous two years their pitching has been better than both.  This starts with their strikeout per nine of 8.00 which is significantly higher than the 6.45 they had in 2004 and almost double the 4.02 they had back in 1944.  Then if you compare ERA, in 2015 they have the same exact 2.67 they had back in 1944 and only a slightly higher FIP: 3.35 (2015) vs. 3.16 (1944).

So while the 2015 Cardinals might not be the same offensive juggernaut they were in 2004 and 1944 their pitching more than balances it out and if history tells us anything it’s that the Cardinals should at least make it to the World Series if not win the whole thing.

*WAR taken from Fangraphs calculations

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