Shelby Miller might go his entire baseball life without matching what he did Friday night. Facing the Rockies in St. Louis, the 22-year-old right-hander gave up a leadoff single to Eric Young Jr. and nothing else, mowing down 27 straight hitters en route to a one-hit shutout. He struck out 13 batters and walked none, hurling not only the best game of his young career and the best game in Cardinals history, but also one of the most dominant starts of all time, for anyone.
Miller's near-perfect game might've been the overwhelming choice for best pitching highlight of the Cardinals' season and a lasting memory for the rest of the year until Adam Wainwright came along and nearly topped it. The very next night. In Game 2 of the Rockies series, Wainwright fired 7⅓ no-hit innings before Nolan Arenado broke up the no-no bid on a clean single to center. Wainwright would close out the game with a two-hit shutout, striking out seven batters and walking just one. The two Cardinals starters combined to retire 49 straight Rockies hitters, basically one and a half perfect games.
That stretch of pitching might seem borderline impossible to pull off. Given recent events, maybe we shouldn't have been too surprised. Miller's start was one of four one–base runner shutouts last week, as many as we saw in five years (2003 through 2007) last decade and not even including Wainwright's three–base runner gem. Miller had already been pitching exceptionally well, going into Friday's start with a 1.79 ERA in 50⅓ major league innings, with 54 strikeouts and just 15 walks over his brief cup of coffee last season and his first six starts this year. Wainwright's seven-strikeout, one-walk night actually hurt his strikeout-to-walk rate, which sat at an unfathomable 48-to-3 before that Rockies game. None of this was all that new for the Cardinals rotation either, not for a starting five that leads the majors with a 2.29 ERA, 2.81 FIP (second-lowest in MLB), 3.29 xFIP (also second-lowest), and just 12 home runs allowed. The Cardinals own the best record in baseball as we near the season's quarter-pole, and their rotation is the biggest reason they're here.
In case you were busy asking, "yeah, but when is Spoiled Only-Child Day?" here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Tiger Woods won his second career Players Championship and his fourth PGA Tour event this year, finishing the tournament at 13-under. Woods benefited from Sergio Garcia's quadruple-bogey on TPC's iconic 17th hole. "I can't believe it," Tiger said after the tournament, "I thought for sure I was in trouble. You don't just stare down Sergio Garcia and live to tell the tale. I'm shocked that he made it easy for me. Shoooooocked." When told of Woods's comments, Garcia said, "Why? What's his problem, man? Guy has everything. He has a boat that holds other boats in it. He has a trophy case that is just all of the trophies he doesn't like melted down and turned into a trophy case. Why's he gotta come after me? What's he compensating for? What trouble has Tiger f-ing Woods ever had to deal with? Can we talk about that for a second? Can we talk about Tiger Woods's hypothetical personal troubles?" When told of Garcia's questions, Woods asked, "Wasn't he married to Greg Norman's daughter?" before winking provocatively at the press corps. When told of Tiger's wink, Sergio let out a frustrated scream. When told of Sergio's scream, Tiger let out a sarcastic chuckle. When told of Tiger's sarcastic chuckle, Sergio sighed. When told of Sergio's sigh, Tiger fist-pumped. When told of Tiger's fist pump, Sergio's lip began to quiver. When told of Sergio's lip quiver, Tiger didn't look up from his dinner of truffles and lobsters. When told of Tiger's feast, Sergio let one tear trickle down his cheek. When told of Sergio's tear, Tiger turned his laptop toward the reporter talking to him; the laptop had a really smug animated GIF playing on loop. When told of Tiger's GIF burn, Sergio asked, "Isn't that pronounced with a hard 'G,' like Garcia?" But it isn't, and when a reporter went to tell Tiger of Sergio's foolishness, he was too busy watching someone polishing his trophy case made of trophies to acknowledge the reporter's existence.
Even with Stephen Curry at less than full strength, the Golden State Warriors evened up their series with the San Antonio Spurs with a 97-87 overtime win. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was concerned after the game, saying, "Now that Curry is banged up, Mark Jackson discovered he's allowed to rest him. That sprained ankle cost us a massive competitive advantage in this series."
The Cardinals agreed to terms with Adam Wainwright this week on a five-year, $97.5 million deal, the latest reminder that baseball is swimming in cash, and that salaries will continue to soar.
Let's start with this: Wainwright is a very good pitcher. In 2009, the right-hander staged an impressive breakout, adding two more strikeouts per nine innings and bumping his ground ball rate to a career high, above 50 percent. In 2009, 2010, and 2012, Wainwright averaged 221 innings pitched, with a 2.97 ERA, a FIP just more than 3.00, and a 4.97 Wins Above Replacement per season. He's the best pitcher on the Cardinals’ staff by a wide margin, and one of the 10 best in the National League.
You'll notice that 2011 isn't included in the accounting of Wainwright's track record. That's because he missed that entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. His new contract doesn't kick in until 2014 — the year he turns 33.
In case you were busy recording your sophomore album, It's Hard Out There (On the Road), here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
The Chicago Bulls used their strength and rebounding advantage to beat Miami, 101-97, snapping the Heat's 27-game winning streak. After the game, LeBron James complained about the Bulls' physicality and hard fouls: "I believe and I know that a lot of my fouls are not basketball plays." Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau responded, saying, "I'm soooooo sorry. Reeeeeeallly. I would never tell my guys to be physical in a big game. Especially a brute like Kirk Hinrich. My deeeeeepest apologies."
Despite the absence of Metta World Peace, the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Minnesota Timberwolves for the 22nd straight time, 120-117. The game was not without controversy, however, as Ricky Rubio appeared to be fouled by Kobe Bryant on a game-tying 3-point attempt. After the game, Bryant was defiant when asked about the non-call, saying nothing as he pulled down a large map of the world from above his locker and blacked out Spain with a magic marker.
Fantasy baseball ain't what it used to be. Back in the day, you would have maybe one or two people in your league who did any research beyond glancing at last year's Triple Crown stats and buying a couple of magazines. Any knowledge above and beyond that level and you were a virtual lock to finish in the money and maybe get labeled a witch for your prognostication skills.
That's history now. Even the biggest Luddite in your league can fake his way through a conversation about new-age stats. The key is to wield those advanced numbers, then combine them with other factors — age, health, team, competition, park effects, and dozens of other considerations — to produce usable intel you can take to the draft table.
One of the easiest ways to find a gap between last year's fantasy stats and this year's expected results is to scrutinize a pitcher's Fielding Independent Pitching. FIP seeks to strip out events over which a pitcher has little to no control, and focus on his core skills, especially strikeout and walk rate. (You can read a longer-form primer on defense-independent stats here.)
Adam Wainwright became a Cardinals legend in his rookie season six years ago, clinching the National League pennant on a wicked curveball Carlos Beltran still sees in his nightmares. Converted (back) to full-time starting pitching duty the next season, Wainwright began a climb that would take him into baseball's elite ranks. In 2009 and 2010, he was among the league leaders in every conceivable pitching category … wins, strikeouts, ERA, FIP, WAR, and several others.
Then, the reckoning. The following offseason, Wainwright's elbow started barking. A month before his teammates headed north to start the 2011 season, he was on the operating table, undergoing Tommy John surgery. There's never a good time for a year-plus of recovery and rehab, but Wainwright's timing was especially rough: He watched from the bench as his team pulled off one of the most memorable World Series runs of all-time (though he took his cheerleader role very seriously, and very literally.) He made it back to the mound at the start of this season, and struggled at first. Things took a turn for the better in late May, starting with a four-hit shutout of the Padres on May 22. In his past 13 starts, he's been pitching like the Wainwright of old, striking out 83 batters, walking just 17 and yielding just four homers over 85T innings.
Before Thursday's game at Coors Field, Wainwright sat down to discuss his long and painful recovery from surgery, the challenge of losing your confidence when things don't go your way, and the turning point that finally got him back to pitching the way he wanted.
When Voros McCracken wrote his seminal piece on pitching and defense 11 years ago, he helped change the way people — fans, writers, even general managers — think about run prevention in baseball. Where once we used to throw most of the blame for a hit on the pitcher who gave it up, McCracken helped us realize that a slew of other factors go into whether a ball hit into play falls for a hit. For many people in the game and others who simply watch it, our ability to recognize the influence of defense, park effects, and dumb luck can be traced back to that one little article.
Today, we have multiple stats that can help us better understand a pitcher's influence on the game. Fair Run Average (FRA), Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), and Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) all attempt to parse the events a pitcher best controls from those over which he has the least control. The fantasy implications seem obvious. If a pitcher, say, posts a much higher ERA than xFIP for a few weeks or a few months, we might expect luck to start working in his favor in the future, and for his ERA (and other fantasy stats) to start improving. If he puts up a much lower ERA than xFIP, you could argue that his good fortune might be due to run out soon.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
The Miami Heat routed the Pacers 115-85, taking a 3-2 series edge and battering the self-proclaimed Pacer tough guys along the way. "It's always a tough moment when I remember that I'm a dork," said Tyler Hansbrough. "A huge, goggle-eyed, floppy-limbed dork who should, by all rights, be working in a cage at the circus."