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A Mishmash of Cardinals Notes During the Stretch Run

I apologize for the delay between posts. I am a teacher. The beginning of every school year is always very stressful on the Cerutti household and I had to find something to drop for a while somewhere. That came in the form of not getting to write about the Cardinals, one of my favorite past times for a while, unfortunately. Another reason for the break of sorts is that I have found nothing incredibly good to write about in quite a while. Nothing that I could opine for 15,000 words that takes 10 minutes of your valuable time to read - thank you to those of you that do.

I do seem to have slightly more time on my hands at the moment, though, but still haven't found that huge what we have today is a mishmash of sorts. I will talk about what 4 of the Cardinals players have done of late: Ryan Helsley, Kolten Wong, Michael Wacha, and and Matt Carpenter. Let's get to it!


Ryan Helsley

Since Ryan Helsley was recalled in early August (I believe he has been sent back down and up again in the meantime) he has pitched in 8 games and thrown 17 1/3 innings. In those games, he has been stellar.

Helsley has pitched anywhere between 4 outs to 9 outs in those contests and has allowed just 20 base runners in 17 1/3 innings - half of those in two outings. His 15:6 (2.5) K:BB isn't incredible, but it's really good. If you take away the first 3 inning game with just 2 Ks and 4 BBs, it's down to a 13:2 K:BB in his last 14 1/3 innings.

Helsley's ERA over this time period is just 1.04 and his OPS against is a very low .555. Moreso, his wOBA allowed is just .248 in that time - a fantastic number. Even better than that? His wOBA matches up nicely with what should have happened by xwOBA (which is at .253). Out of 488 pitchers in the majors this year, only 20 of them have a .253 xwOBA or lower for the season and only 16 have an actual wOBA of .248 or better. His past 17 1/3 innings are in elite company in that regard.

Helsley has only allowed 51 balls in play over those 17 1/3 innings and he's allowed "poor contact" 33 times. That's 64.7% of his balls in play hit poorly. Why? Because he's throwing great pitches. His fastball (thrown 56.32% of the time) in that time frame has clocked in at an average of 98.05 mph. His slider (thrown 29.24% of the time) clocked in at 88.91 mph (~9 mph difference off fastball). His curve (thrown 11.55% of the time) clocked in at 81.04 mph (~17 mph difference off fastball and ~8 mph difference off slider).

Not only that, but his I believe his pitches all play well off of each other. There was one particular game in which he really had all three combinations of pitches going.

Here is an example of Helsley pitching to Daniel Murphy. He throws a first pitch 99 mph 4-seamer up out of the zone and gets a foul ball off of it. On the next pitch (0-1), he throws a high slider that plays perfectly off of his previous 4-seamer and gets a swinging strike. Murphy then thinks the third pitch is going to be a 4-seamer again, but Helsley gets him swinging again on a low-and-in slider.

A fastball by Ryan Helsley, followed by two sliders

In the very next inning, Ryan Helsley faced Yonder Alonso and had him absolutely fooled with a slider-curve combo. On a 0-0 count, Helsley drops a slider in on Alonso, middle-in, for a swinging strike. Helsley then threw two more sliders to Alonso (not shown, you'll have to believe me, or Baseball Savant). Alonso took one for a ball and there was one thrown for a strike. On a 1-2 count, Helsley gets a half-hearted swing through strikeout of Alonso on a curve ball that looks like it's going to be that first pitch - slider middle-in - but instead is a curve ball low and in, well out of the zone and nearly unhittable after three straight sliders.

A slider by Ryan Helsley, followed by an unhittable curveball

Earlier in the game, Helsley had already faced Yonder Alonso. He had already struck him out on a curve ball. In the prior at bat, however, Alonso saw no sliders. He saw only the 4-seamer and the curve. It was a 4-pitch at bat. The first pitch was a high and away 4-seamer taken for a strike. Alonso is absolutely on his next high 4-seamer and fouls it off. After Helsley throws a poor 0-2 curve ball in which I believe he just overthrew it and missed high, Helsley drops a dime of a curve on the outer-lower corner. It's a perfect play off of his first fastball in the at bat and gets Alonso swinging.

Ryan Helsley follows up two fastballs up in the zone with a curveball that catches the bottom corner

Thank you for @cardinalsgifs for all of the .gifs in this article and the cover art. He really does amazing work and none of us at Birds on the Black would be having this much fun writing articles or publishing work using other mediums without him!


Kolten Wong

The next entry in this mishmash is an example of research not looking anything like what the researcher thought it would when he embarks upon the research. I, of course, am talking about my research into Kolten Wong's recent hot streak.

I'm going to leave all of my research out on the table here for you to peruse, first.

way more info on Kolten Wong than you'd ever care for

I believed that Wong's red-hot two month stretch from the fourth of July to September 9th (I didn't even get Wong's walk, double, and homer from Thursday evening in that grouping) in which he hit .367/.440/.521/.961 would largely be due to him 1) making much harder contact and 2) hitting the ball the opposite way (especially) with more often and with more authority.

I was wrong on both accounts. If you look at the last two lines of the chart above, you can see his 2019 broken up into pre-4th of July and post-4th of July. His overall exit velocity (EV) has been fairly constant on pulled balls and slightly higher on balls hit to the opposite field, but has dropped by 7 miles per hour on balls up the middle. His expected wOBA, however, has jumped about 75 points on pulled balls and about 55 points on balls up the middle (while falling 13 points on balls hit to the opposite field) in that time. WAIT, WHAT?

I believe that is largely due to Wong hitting down on the ball slightly more to the right side and up the middle and him lofting the ball a bit too much, too often to the opposite field. He does have some big, key hits to the left side the last couple of months. I can think of one triple down the left field line in particular. Those have been too few and too far between, though. My memory was wrong. Wong has actually pulled more balls compared to earlier in the year while having his number of balls hit to center and to the opposite field drop.

The thing that surprised me the most (and maybe it shouldn't have with Wong having an OPS over .950 in that time and over 50% better than league average) is that Wong has been ridiculously lucky in that time. Wong's wOBA on pulled balls is over 115 points higher than expected. Wong's wOBA on balls hit up the middle is slightly higher than expected. His balls hit the other way, though? The wOBA on those is nearly 250 points higher than expected.

Lastly, while Wong was hurt on shifts prior to the Fourth of July, with a .244 wOBA (.265 expected) on balls hit with an infield shift by the defense, since then the xwOBA of .345 is dwarfed by his actual wOBA of .428 on infield shifts! Wow.


Michael Wacha

I really dislike being a Debbie Downer* in this mishmash, but nothing I have found about Michael Wacha's turnaround post-4th of July has been anything very tangible except for potentially velocity on his pitches.

*in fact, I held off on posting this during our first losing streak in nearly a month until after the win on Thursday the 12th of September on purpose.

way more info on Michael Wacha than you'd ever care for

Michael Wacha is mostly a 4 pitch pitcher, but the sinker usage has grown a bit in the past couple of months.

Wacha's change up usage has risen by over 6.4% in the past two months. His usage against left-handed hitters (LHH) has dropped by over 1%, but his usage against right-handed hitters (RHH) has risen by over 11%. His effectiveness (as measured by wOBA against) has improved greatly against both LHH and RHH on his change up. That's a big change. It might be the only one.

Wacha's cutter has been thrown a lot less often. That's good because it has not been effective all year - and has gotten even worse since he's used it less. It has been more effective against lefties, however - which is good because his 4-seamer has had the opposite effect despite throwing it more - as you'll see in a moment.

Wacha's curve ball usage has dropped against both LHH and RHH as well. That is likely good because it has been terrible all season long - his worst pitch.

Wacha's 4-seam fastball has seen a growth in usage of about 2.7% in the past two months. Nearly all of that has been to LHH - who have actually hit it harder than earlier in the year. That sounds like a bad change to me. It has been more effective against RHH, however, but that usage hasn't changed.


Matt Carpenter

The last player I will be discussing in this mishmash is Matt Carpenter because I want to end on a good note.

Matt Carpenter has had a really rough season and I wasn't sure he was ever going to pull out of it. I'm not going to come out and say that Carpenter is cured and will be 2012-2018 Carpenter against starting right now. I would be crazy to do so as Carpenter has already had a month earlier this year (May 18-June 17) in which he hit .280/.368/.512/.881 with 9 xbh in 21 starts.

I will just present these facts.

From August 4th (his first day back off of the DL) to the start of play on September 12th (in which he went 1-5 with a 2 run double; and he also flew out to the track for a sac fly last night), Carpenter has hit .262/.392/.405/.797. Prior to that he was hitting .215/.321/.372/.693. I'll take a 100 point jump of OPS with 70+ of those points jump in OBP (and a jump of nearly 50 points batting average at that).

Even better than that, though?

In his past 15 games prior to the 12th, only 8 starts, Carpenter hit .375/.487/.563/1.050 with 4 xbh in just 39 PA. Of course, he's had some rough games in there, as does everyone. But this hitting is coming at a time when everyone else with at least 20 PA besides Paul Goldschmidt has a wRC+ at 100 or under, an OBP at or under .306, and everyone else but Edman is under a .300 wOBA.

He's coming on at the best time possible, if you ask me. I just hope it lasts long enough to keep us in contention until someone like Ozuna (worst hitting regular in September, though the 11th) or DeJong steps it back up again.

Let's go Cardinals!


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