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NL Central: Redbirds On A Roll
On Tuesday night in Houston, Braden Looper tossed seven shutout innings and the Cardinals smothered the Astros 7-0. St. Louis is .500 for the first time since mid-April. It was the 14th time in 19 games that a St. Louis pitcher posted a quality start -- an astonishing run of success by a rag-tag staff that has miraculously propelled the Redbirds into the NL Central hunt.
Cardinals pitching guru Dave Duncan has done it again, having turned an injury-ravaged, inexperienced rotation into the NL's second-best staff in August. Duncan has found a way to resurrect Joel Pineiro (he of the 6.36 ERA in 2006) and turned two former relievers who have never logged more than 86 innings in a season -- Looper and Adam Wainwright -- into effective starters who have looked terrific down this crucial stretch.
"He doesn’t say much, so when he says something you listen," says Pineiro, who, at the suggestion of Duncan, relaxed his hands during his delivery and took tips on how to stop tipping his off-speed pitches, which Duncan believed he was doing. "He relies so much on charts and numbers, but he has a great eye for things, too. He’ll make the smallest suggestion, and he’ll turn out to be magic."
So exactly how effective is Duncan?
A few years ago J.C. Bradbury, author of The Baseball Economist (a fine read, by the way), did a study on Leo Mazzone that got a fair amount of press. Bradbury set out to prove that Mazzone's success in 15 years in Atlanta was merely anecdotal, so he ran a study of every pitcher who worked with Mazzone in a Brave uniform. He was stunned by his findings: Working with Mazzone shaved .60 points off a pitcher's projected ERA for that season.
Last week I asked Bradbury to do the same for Duncan. Bradbury, who used a similar model to the one used for Mazzone, found that Duncan's presence shaves 0.35 points off a pitcher's ERA. "That estimate is statistically significant," he notes. Bradbury, however, also adds this: "One problem with analyzing Duncan -- similar to the one I had with Mazzone when he was only with the Braves -- is that Duncan has almost always been with La Russa. It's possible that La Russa's in-game management could explain some of this."
Known for his stoic calm (in Three Nights in August author Buzz Bissinger calls him “the man who in the storm at sea would simply lash himself to the mast”) and exhaustive preparation (his scouting reports fill up a different thick three-ringed binder for each team), Duncan has of course long been regarded as one of the game's finest pitching coaches. If St. Louis is still playing in October because of its pitching, his 2007 could turn out to be his masterpiece.
Labels: NL Central
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