Response to Phil Rogers: The 2014 St. Louis Cardinals are NOT ‘Most Damaged’

Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

On December 31, 2013, MLB.com columnist, Phil Rogers, wrote one of the sloppiest sports articles I have ever read in my 23 years of life. In the post, Rogers took the time to review 15 teams’ offseasons–five as “Most improved,” five as “Most damaged,” and five as “Incomplete.” The link to his full MLB.com post can be found here if you are interested in checking it out yourself.

If you don’t have the time to read his full post or you simply don’t care to, then here is what he had to say about the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals–the fourth team he listed under “Most damaged” this offseason:

4. The Cardinals. Year in and year out, these guys are best judged over 12 months, not just the offseason. But Beltran leaves a hole in the middle of the order that the addition of Peter Bourjos won’t offset, and Peralta arrives with questions about whether he’ll be the same guy after his Biogenesis suspension. Chris Carpenter‘s innings can be easily replaced by the stable of young arms — Carlos Martinez for a full season in the rotation, yes! — but his presence will be missed in the way that the Rays’ pitching staff missed James Shields last season.”

Mr. Rogers, what does your first sentence even mean? Isn’t every team “best judged over 12 months, not just the offseason?” Last time I checked, the commissioner’s office doesn’t hand out World Series trophies in the winter. I would argue this opening statement more, but I honestly have no clue where to go from there.

Sure, Carlos Beltran has moved onto the New York Yankees, and his bat and leadership will definitely be missed. However, the purpose of the Bourjos trade was not to replace the hole left by Beltran. Bourjos was acquired to provide better range in center field and better speed on the base paths. Given his wrist returns to full health (and all signs from the organization point to this being the case), the Cardinals’ scouting department believe his bat will be just fine and hopefully provide more pop from the position–especially with regular plate appearances–something he did not receive while on the Angels.

Now that we have discussed Bourjos’ true role on the team, let’s revisit that “hole in the middle of the order” you speak about. If Beltran had re-signed with the Cardinals, you’re assuming Beltran would be hitting in the middle of the order? Well, 62% of his plate appearances in 2013 occurred from the 2-hole in the lineup–not the middle of the order. As long as Matt Carpenter remained the team’s lead-off hitter, this would have likely been the same in 2014.

Even if Beltran would have moved to middle of the order in 2014, how much better is the Allen Craig-Beltran combination than Craig-Matt Adams? At this point in Beltran’s career (37 years old next season) and his relative inability to replicate first-half stats after the All-Star break, I would tend to believe there is not much difference at all. Let’s take a look at Dan Szymborski2014 ZiPS projections just to make sure:

Cardinals ZiPS

Stats Credit: Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS and some simple math

As you can see by the totals (highlighted in green), there really isn’t that much of a difference between the two combinations if Adams gets 500 plate appearances next season. Single-digit differences in every single category, with the Craig-Adams combination actually having two more doubles. Thus, is the “middle of the lineup” really that much worse going into 2014? Sure, projections are just projections and many things could happen between now and opening day, but it’s the best we have right now. Frankly, it is irresponsible for an MLB.com writer to write such a comment about a team without at least first checking the data that’s very easily available to him.

Carpenter’s innings can be easily replaced by the stable of young arms.” Really? You’re still talking about this going into 2014. I think Carp’s innings have already been replaced, Mr. Rogers. He pitched ZERO innings in 2013 and was only able to grind his way through a mere 17 injury-ridden innings in 2012. You think Martinez will for sure take over in the starting rotation? I think Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly will have something to say about that. Is Martinez’s future in the rotation? I really do think so, but the start of 2014 may be a stretch. Does he have an opportunity? Of course he does, but he’s far from the shoe-in for the spot that you make him out to be.

Carp was one of the pitching staff and team leaders, arguably even more so than Shields was for the Rays, but what about Adam Wainwright? What about Yadier Molina? Did you watch any Cardinal games last year? Molina almost single-handedly guided a pitching staff full of rookies all the way to the World Series. Ask Shelby Miller his opinion of Molina. I promise you will hear nothing but utmost praise for the catcher. Wainwright watched many pitchers’ (especially the rookies) bullpen sessions and gave advice where he deemed necessary. Will they miss Carpenter’s presence? Of course they will, but last time I checked, they have fully capable leaders who have already taken over during the transition process.

Finally, let’s address your final point. To be honest, I really don’t care how far Peralta falls in production post-Biogenesis suspension–if he falls at all. Pete Kozma was one of the most frustrating hitters to watch last season, and I can assure you, PED-aided or not, Peralta can hit a baseball at a much more successful rate than ole Petey. Kozma had a .275 on-base percentage and hit one home run in 2013, and it occurred in the second game of the entire season. In Peralta’s 10-year career (a more than adequate sample size in my opinion), his lowest on-base percentage was .295, and this occurred in just 77 games during his rookie season. He averages just over 14 home runs a season–an amount that I doubt Kozma reaches in his career.

Let’s take a look at a point you did not look at as well–the improved defense compared to 2013. With Carpenter moving back to his natural position at third, Kolten Wong or Mark Ellis playing second, and Peralta making all the standard plays, the infield defense is much better than it was last season. A quick look at the UZR’s of these players at these positions makes this quite clear. What about the outfield? Holliday and Craig may be average to below-average defenders in the corners, but this is where Bourjos’ range in center helps immensely. I would provide concrete numbers to back up these defensive points, but this post is already much longer than I had expected.

Cardinal fans, instead of Phil Rogers, let’s see what Dan Szymborski, an informed (but quirky) baseball writer over at ESPN, had to say about the 2014 Cardinals in a previous interview with stlCupofJoe:

stlCupofJoe: In YOUR opinion, compare this year’s Cardinals (I realize some more deals may be made) going into the season to last year’s team. Which one is in a better position, projection-wise?
Dan Szymborski: I think they’re a better team, as frightening as that may be to the rest of the NL. Remember, they only got 9 starts from Michael Wacha during the regular season and a whole lot of starts from the Great Kozmandias (Look on his bat, ye Mighty, and despair). And they’re not even a million years old, there’s enough youth to cancel out possible age-related decline from Matt Holliday or a little regression from Yadi Molina.

In conclusion, I fully respect Phil Rogers for what he has done for the MLB. He has covered the game since before I was even born. However, if he is going to write a post about the Cardinals being “most damaged” after one of the most productive offseasons in recent memory, he better at least have numbers to back up his opinions.

You can find Phil Rogers on Twitter: @philgrogers

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe or Facebook: stlCupofJoe’s Sports Page

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Despite Game 3 Loss, Waino was “Bueno”

Photo Credit: David J. Phillip/Pool/Getty Images

Photo Credit: David J. Phillip/Pool/Getty Images

The Cardinals lost to the Dodgers 3-0 on Monday night–trimming their National League Championship Series lead to just two games to one. The bats remained silent, the defense (Jon Jay‘s in particular) had some glaring miscues, and there was a rally-killing mental lapse by Daniel Descalso on the base-paths in the 5th inning.

However, I will not harp on any of these because I have already read enough about them, and I am sure you have as well. Thus, I have decided to focus on the one major positive from Monday night–Adam Wainwright‘s fantastic outing on the mound. What goes down as a loss in the box score was actually an ace-like performance from Wainwright and the the third straight quality start by Cardinals in the NLCS.

The final line for Wainwright in Game 3 looks like this: 7.0 innings pitched, 6 hits allowed, 2 earned runs, and 5 strikeouts. Yet, Wainwright deserved much better than this–particularly in the “hits allowed” and “earned run” categories–and the reasoning for this was already mentioned in my opening paragraph.

Breaking It Down:

I had noticed a trend in his pitching style this season, so I decided to manually break down every single pitch that he threw in the game to see if the data backed up my theory. By my count, Wainwright threw 33 curveballs, 30 cutters, 27 fastballs, and only one changeup.

As most of you already know, I use BrooksBaseball.net for much of my pitching data, but this time, I wanted to chart his pitching manually to check the accuracy of the site since I have had people come to me with doubts in the past. Predictably, we only had one disparity–I had one less cutter than they did–a pitch I classified as a fastball. Upon further review, they were likely correct which gives me confidence to continue to use their data in the future.

Now, back to my theory. Before last night’s game I was convinced that Wainwright rarely threw pitches that ended up in the strike zone, and if they did, they were likely on the corners. Well, after charting his pitches and looking at the data, this theory was shown to be true based on last night’s start. Here are the numbers:

WainoStrikes

As you can see, much of Wainwright’s pitching (84.6%) last night occurred either on the corners or on pitches out of the strike zone completely. This is crazy to think about considering he has recorded only 36 walks in 37 starts (regular season and postseason) in 2013.

photo (52)

My absolute favorite pitch sequence by Wainwright was his strikeout of Mark Ellis in the first inning, and you can see it detailed here:

As you can see, Wainwright struck out a batter that strikes out in less than 14% of his plate appearances during his 11-year career on six pitches–with only one of them being in the zone and even this one was squarely on the inside corner.

This sequence, along with the numbers in my table above, are a testament to just how nasty Wainwright’s stuff actually is out there on the mound. His curveball was dropping on average 6.42 inches last night. His fastball (4-seamer and 2-seamer) averaged 4.45 inches of tailing action. Lastly, his cutter (his second favorite pitch) had a perfect amount of late movement–breaking 1.61 inches away from righties and inside to lefties.

Concluding Thoughts:

Wainwright is really fun to watch. He is a master craftsman when he is on the mound. Hitting is already difficult, yet Waino makes it even tougher on hitters with the location and movement of each one of his pitches. To the fans that were only able to check the box score from last night’s game, it may appear that Wainwright got roughed up a little bit–allowing six hits over seven innings and taking the loss. However, I hope that this post was able to clarify things a little bit. He was simply fantastic.

Finally, disregarding the poor defense and the base-running mistakes, if the Cardinals want to move past the Dodgers and compete for their 12th World Series title, the bats must wake up! I realize that the Dodgers have arguably 2-3 aces (Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu) on their staff, but averaging a mere 1.33 runs per game just does not get the job done–even with the fact that runs are scarce in the playoffs.

Let’s go Cards!

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Know Your Opponent: Game 5 Starter, Gerrit Cole

Elsa/Getty Images

Elsa/Getty Images

On Wednesday, October 9, 2013, at 7:07 PM CST, the St. Louis Cardinals will face off against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 5 of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium.

On the mound for the Redbirds? Staff ace, Adam Wainwright.

Taking the hill for the Pirates? Stud rookie righthander, Gerrit Cole.

We know enough about Wainwright by now, but what do we really know about the young Pittsburgh starter, Gerrit Cole? Other than his Game 2 start in St. Louis and the fact that he was chosen over A.J. Burnett to make this start, we really do not know that much.

In preparation of a possible Game 5, I broke down every single pitch thrown by Cole in Game 2 immediately after the game, and I delved deeper into his 2013 statistics to learn a little bit more about him.

Game 2 Breakdown:

Cole threw 86 pitches through 6 innings, allowed 2 hits, and gave up just one earned run–on a solo home run by Yadier Molina. He threw 47 fastballs, 32 breaking balls, and 7 changeups.

ColeGame2

As shown by the table above, Cole went to his fastball 55% of the time, his breaking ball 37% of the time, and his changeup just 8% of the time. Of his 86 pitches, 52 of them (60.5%) were “down in the zone,” and given his 6’4″ frame, this means that the majority of his pitches arrived to the plate in a tough-to-hit downward plane, just like that of Michael Wacha–and we all know how dominant he has been of late.

Well, Cardinal hitters simply did not work Cole very much in Game 2–until the 6th inning at least. He faced 21 hitters and 9 of them (43%) had at-bats of 3 pitches or less–allowing him to average an efficient 13 pitches per inning through 5. In those 9 at-bats of 3 pitches or less, Cardinal hitters had just 2 hits (.222 average)–a double by Carlos Beltran in the 1st and the homer by Yadi to lead off the 5th.

Thus, if the Cardinals want to get to Cole, especially early in the game to set the tempo, they need to bring a more patient approach to the plate–like they did in games 3 and 4 of the series. Plus, in my opinion, the only two hitters on the team that should be swinging early in the count are Molina (.347 BA on 1st pitch in 2013) and Beltran (.358 BA on 1st pitch in 2013)–the two who had the only hits against Cole in Game 2.

Overall Breakdown:

I sifted through the rest of Cole’s 2013 numbers to see if I could find any other weaknesses that could possibly be exploited by the Cardinals against Cole. This led me to the following table:

BAs

As you can see, Cole is most vulnerable early in the game–opponents are hitting .347 against him in his first 25 pitches of the game. He is dominant from pitches 26 to 50 (.194 batting average against), but then the opponent batting averages start to creep back up the longer he is in the game. Because of this information, it is in the Cardinals’ best interest to pounce on Cole early in the game, or else we will likely be watching another pitchers’ duel in Game 5.

Including his one start in the playoffs, Cole has allowed just 8 home runs in 123 and one-third innings pitched this season–an average of less than one home run every other start. However, after breaking down all eight of them, I spotted a trend. 7 of the 8 home runs came off his fastball or at least a deviation of his fastball (all 7 were pitches 97 MPH or greater). 6 of the 8 came against righthanded hitters and were on pitches left in the center of the plate. Lastly, 5 of the 8 were on pitches that he left up in the zone. Thus, if the Cardinals want to strike in one swing of the bat like Holliday did in Game 4 against Morton, they (especially their righthanded hitters) will need to take advantage of fastballs that Cole leaves up in the zone and in the center of the plate.

Concluding Thoughts:

As the ace of the staff who has been hot lately, I expect Wainwright to pitch well in Game 5, so the deciding factor for whether or not the Cardinals advance to the NLCS versus the Los Angeles Dodgers will be the offense. Will they score enough runs to advance? If they want to score against the young impressive righty, the numbers show that it is best to strike early in the game. Also, they need to be patient at the plate–unless it’s a fastball hanging up in the zone–because he was far too efficient in Game 2.

Go Cards! #12in13

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Cardinals Will Ride Michael Wacha’s Changeup Back to St. Louis

Photo Credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The St. Louis Cardinals enter Game 4 of the National League Division Series (NLDS) on the brink of elimination–down 2 games to 1 to the Pittsburgh Pirates. If the Cardinals win Game 4, both teams will return to St. Louis for Game 5, and Adam Wainwright will be primed and ready to go for the Cardinals.

However, before this can happen, the Cardinals must win Game 4 first.

Well, Mike Matheny has assigned this tall task to 22-year-old rookie right-hander, Michael Wacha, and this looks, at least on paper, to be an extremely wise decision.

As I wrote in my post on September 25th, Wacha’s “1-2 punch” of fastball-changeup is a devastating combination and when it is on, it is nearly unhittable. Though he is still just a rookie, I would argue that he has one of the best changeups in all of baseball.

According to BrooksBaseball’s PITCHf/x tool, Wacha has thrown 283 changeups in 2013, and the pitch is averaging 5.95 inches of horizontal movement (tailing action). This horizontal movement combined with the downward plane from his 6’6″ frame has led to the hitter swinging and missing on 22.61% of his changeups (aka whiff %). Also, batters are hitting line-drives off his changeup just 2.47% of the time (For perspective, both of these percentages are even better than changeup-specialist, Cliff Lee).

So, Wacha has a good changeup…so what?

Well, the Pirates simply are not good at hitting changeups, and I have the numbers to prove it. I broke down 10 Pirates that have the possibility of facing Wacha in Game 4 and compiled the following table:

PiratesVsChange

As you can see from the table, the team as a whole has had 517 at-bats end on a changeup in 2013. The team is hitting less than .200 against changeups–coming in at .198. Also, of the 517 at-bats, 130 of them (25%) have been strikeouts. Lastly, the team is not hitting for much power against changeups this season–hitting 15 home runs or just 2.9% of their at-bats.

Concluding Thought:

I realize that playoff baseball is not played “on paper,” and there will be numerous variables that play a part in the outcome of Game 4. However, in my opinion, one that is backed up by the data above, Wacha is the best candidate to get the Cardinals back to St. Louis for Game 5. His fastball-changeup combination gives him a huge physical advantage over the Pittsburgh hitters, but will he be ready mentally for the task at hand? This is something we will soon find out.

Go Cards! I am not ready for the 2013 season to be over yet…

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Related Article:

– Cards hope Wacha will change up outcome (stltoday.com, @dgoold)

Breaking Down Michael Wacha’s Fantastic Pitching Performance

Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Reds mauled the St. Louis Cardinals last night, 10-0. Adam Wainwright lacked his usual control and Reds’ hitters kept pulverizing his “get-me-over” fastballs early in the count. Was it because of his 128-pitch complete game last time out? In my opinion, the answer is no. Pitching is one of the hardest things to do in all of sports, and to be frank, it was just “one of those nights” for Wainwright. After all, he is human.

Moving on…

Despite the embarrassing loss, last night was not all bad for St. Louis. Michael Wacha had a brilliant pitching performance in relief of the struggling Wainwright. A performance that likely makes him the “leader in the clubhouse” for the 5th spot in the rotation the rest of the way.

Wacha pitched four scoreless innings and allowed just three hits. He was also able to rack up a career-high seven strikeouts while tallying just one walk. Lastly, he showed a pretty good efficiency that will help him in the starting role–averaging just over 16 pitches per inning.

Why was Wacha so successful last night? Let’s look at a few graphs from BrooksBaseball.net to find out…

speed

As you can see from the graph, Wacha changed speeds effectively throughout his entire outing–maxing out at 98 MPH on his fastball and dropping down to 75 MPH on his curveball. He maintained the speed on his fastball throughout his outing–touching 97 MPH on his strikeout of Jay Bruce in his last inning of work.

Another reason Wacha was so successful was his amazing “whiff rate.” Reds’ hitters whiffed on 14 of his 65 pitches (21.5%). His most successful “whiff” pitch last night was his changeup. He threw 17 of them and eight of them resulted in whiffs–an astounding 47.1%.

Why were Reds’ hitters whiffing so much against his changeup? It all has to do with his release point. Sure, it is a slower pitch, but if a major league hitter knows it is coming, he will be able to time it successfully. Thus, as most of you already know, the key to a successful changeup is having the same release point and arm speed as your fastball. Well, Wacha did this almost flawlessly last night, and I have the graphs to prove it…

release

release (1)

As you can see from the above graphs, Wacha was able to strike out two of the Reds’ best hitters (Shin-Soo Choo, Bruce) using merely a fastball-changeup combination. Sure, the curveball is a lot “sexier” and can lead to hitters looking foolish, but Wacha showed last night that his fastball-changeup combination can be devastating and will likely develop into his “go-to” sequence.

The fastball-changeup sequence was so successful for him because his vertical release point on both pitches were virtually the same all outing long. Sure, the graphs show that his horizontal release point changed a little bit, but that must be done in order to locate pitches on the inside and outside parts of the plate.

Wacha pitched like a crafty veteran last night, not a 22-year-old rookie with just over 33 major league innings under his belt. Because of this performance, I truly believe he has proven to the organization that he is deserving of the 5th rotation spot for the rest of the season.

I know I have been the one of the biggest supporters of Carlos Martinez getting a spot in the rotation all season–as you can see in some of my past blogs. However, with a performance like Wacha’s last night, it is hard to deny the fact that he deserves a chance in the rotation. It will help the Cardinals down the stretch, and it will give Wacha the experience he needs to be a successful starter next season as well.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Official member of the STLSportsMinute Network

Special thanks to @brooksbaseball and BrooksBaseball.net for all the graphs and their amazing work!

St. Louis Cardinals: Statistical Snippets for 2013

Photo Credit: Jeff Lewis Photography

Photo Credit: Jeff Lewis Photography

Struggling to find a quality topic for a full blog post, I decided to compose a post of 13 random statistical snippets regarding the 2013 St. Louis Cardinals. The snippets are numbered, but they are in no particular order.

Here we go…

1. As of today (August 25th), Pete Kozma has not had a hit in 23 at-bats. Yet, somehow, this is not his longest slump of the season. From June 26th through his first at-bat on July 14th, Kozma had a zero for 28 slump.

2. Kozma’s on-base percentage currently sits at .275. To put this in perspective, the Cardinals have seven players with batting averages higher than Kozma’s OBP.

3. According to Fangraphs.com, Matt Carpenter has the 4th highest WAR (wins above replacement) in the National League with 5.3. He is making just $504,000 this season. Like I stated on Twitter, he is putting value back in Most Valuable Player.

4. Also according to Fangraphs, the Cardinals have five players in the top 37 in National League WAR. Carpenter is 4th with 5.3, Yadier Molina is 7th with 5.1, Matt Holliday is 28th with 2.6, Allen Craig is 33rd with 2.5, and Carlos Beltran is 37th with 2.3.

5. Adam Wainwright has fewer walks than starts this season. In 27 starts, Wainwright has just 25 walks. With 182 strikeouts, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is an incredible 7.28. #BuenoWaino

6. Molina leads the National League in hitting with a .335 batting average. He has put the ball in play on the first pitch 78 times this season. In those 78 at-bats, he has 29 hits (.372 batting average) with two of them being home runs.

7. Jon Jay‘s current batting average is .270. Thus, in order to get to .300, he will need to catch fire. He is projected to get 108 more at-bats this season and will need 46 hits (.426 average) to reach the .300 mark. Not likely, but it would go a long way for the success of the team down the stretch.

8. Lance Lynn actually has some pretty decent numbers this season. Lynn has 15 quality starts–24th in the National League. He is also averaging 6+ innings pitched per start–second on the team behind Wainwright. He seems to always have one “blow-up” inning, but his overall performance has not been as bad as what people think.

9. Since the All-Star Break, Joe Kelly has the 4th lowest ERA in the National League at 1.80. Clayton Kershaw is first (1.02), Jose Fernandez is second (1.31), and Mat Latos is third (1.47). The highest ERA since the break is 7.55, and it belongs to Jake Westbrook. (these ERA’s were based off a minimum of 30 innings pitched)

10. The league average against left-handed pitchers is .250 this season. The Cardinals are 25th in the league in this category–hitting just .239 against left-handers this season. With the lineup set to be more left-handed next year (Kolten Wong, Matt Adams), look for the Cardinals to make some sort of move this off-season. As I have pointed out on numerous occasions, I would like to see the Cardinals deal Adams (and some pitching) for an upgrade at shortstop (Jonathan Schoop, anyone?) while his value is still high.

11. Next is an obvious and largely overstated one, but I will bring it up anyways. The Cardinals lead the MLB in batting average with runners in scoring position. The team leads the way at .328, and the next closest team is Detroit–43 points lower at .285.

12. The Cardinals are tied for second in the MLB in home runs over the last seven days with 11. The team had just 9 home runs in all of July, so obviously the ball is flying better in the warmer air.

13. For the “Tweeps” out there, the Cardinals have 11 players that are regularly active on Twitter. Not surprisingly, @Yadimolina04 has the most followers with 151,818. @carlosbeltran15 comes in second with 118,228, and @jonjayU is in third place with 102,233 followers. The player with the fewest followers is recent call-up, @Tsunamy27, with 5,881.

I hope you enjoyed my 13 snippets for 2013. If you have any of your own, feel free to share them in the comments section below!

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Official member of the STLSportsMinute Network

Joe Kelly Should Not Be Overlooked for 2014 Rotation

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images

Joe Kelly has been the best starting pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals since the All-Star break. Including a brief stint back in the bullpen, Kelly has been one of the top pitchers in baseball since mid-June.

The table below is a breakdown of his statistics since June 14th:

Date G ▴ GS Dec IP ER BB SO HR ERA BA
Jun 14 to Aug 17 12 7 4-0 53.1 11 21 34 3 1.86 0.222

Those statistics are absolutely incredible. He may not be pitching that deep into games, but he has pitched at least six innings in four of his last seven starts.  Sure, the relievers (Maness, Siegrist, Rosenthal, Mujica) cannot pitch every single day, but who can really complain if Kelly pitches six innings and allows only one or two earned runs?

If Kelly is truly the team’s best pitcher since June, then why is he not really being considered for the 2014 starting rotation?

Let’s take a look at the current state of the 2014 rotation:

2014 Rotation “Locks”:
1. Adam Wainwright
2. Shelby Miller
3. Lance Lynn
4. ??
5. ??

Thus, this effectively leaves five (maybe six) guys for the final two spots:

a. Kelly
b. Jaime Garcia
c. Michael Wacha
d. Carlos Martinez
e. Tyler Lyons
f. John Gast

Case for Kelly:

His performance thus far in 2013 as a starter has been impressive. His stuff is just nasty. His four-seam fastball can touch 98 MPH on the radar gun. His two-seam fastball comes in around 93-96 MPH and has tailing action that leaves left-handed hitters buckling at the knees. He is gaining confidence in his changeup and slurve which will only make him a better starter in the future.

I realize that we have only seen a small sample size of Kelly as a starter, but as I stated above, he has the stuff to get both righties and lefties out. His laid-back personality shows that he will be able to survive a long season of up’s and down’s. Let’s see how he does for the rest of the season before locking him into the 2014 rotation, but the purpose of this article was to bring him into that conversation in the first place.

Case for Garcia:

He is left-handed. He has proven to be a successful pitcher thus far in his career–39-25 in with a 3.45 ERA in three seasons as a starter. Also, he is under contract through 2015 with team options for 2016 and 2017.

However, there are also few knocks on Garcia. His health always seems to be in question–he has now injured both his elbow and his shoulder in his short MLB career.

Also, for whatever reason, he has not been able to bring the success he has had at home with him on the road. From 2010 through 2012, his home ERA is an impressive 2.33. However, during that same span, his road ERA is 4.46. I cannot put a finger on this issue, but given the fact that half of his starts will be on the road, this can be troubling.

Case for Wacha:

He has been a successful starter in Triple-A. Just a year after being drafted, he has shown flashes of being a dependable starter at the big league level. Against the Royals in late May, he pitched seven innings and allowed just one earned run. When was the last time a Cardinals starter had a performance like that?

His stuff is unbelievable. He is able to touch 97-98 MPH on the gun, and his 6’6″ frame allows him to throw his heaters on a downward plane–kind of like Wainwright. His curveball has been nasty when it’s on, and given time, it will only get more consistent. He also has a change that can be effective as well.

Having only thrown just over 110 innings (Memphis + St. Louis) this season, has he been groomed to pitch 175+ innings next year? Not really. However, as a polished college pitcher with solid mechanics, I really do not see this as that big a problem for him.

Case for Martinez:

He has electric stuff. In his one big league start, he touched 100 MPH multiple times, and he flashed a devastating curveball. He has proven to be a successful starter in Memphis so far this season. Yet, he needs to fine-tune his off-speed pitches and learn how to get deeper into games. Look for him to develop this more the rest of the season and into the off-season.

Case for Lyons:

He is left-handed. He has been extremely successful for Triple-A Memphis–going 7-2 with a 3.39 ERA in 16 starts. He has not been able to translate this success to the big leagues just yet, but he has only been given seven starts so it may still be too early to tell.

His last start was actually pretty good–going 6.0 innings and allowing only three earned runs. This could have been even better had Matt Holliday caught that flyball instead of having it bounce off his glove/hand into the stands for a home run.

Case for Gast:

He is left-handed. Yet, it is tough to even make a case for Gast to be honest. Though he was 2-0 in three starts in the big leagues, he had a 5.11 ERA and was unable to pitch deep into games. Also, he is recovering from shoulder surgery and may not even be ready to return to live action until July 2014. Thus, with all the question marks, he is very unlikely to get this, but I figured I would include him in the conversation since he saw time in the starting rotation this season.

Trade Possibilities?

The Cardinals have a surplus of pitchers for just two starting spots in 2014. The organization also has some promising prospects that will look to crack the rotation sometime soon as well–Zach Petrick, Marco Gonzales, etc.

As we all know, shortstop is a weakness for the Cardinals. Though Pete Kozma has been good defensively in his rookie season, his bat has just been ice cold–.223 batting average, .273 on-base percentage, and .281 slugging percentage. He has not hit a home run since the second game of the season. The Cardinals already had Brendan Ryan at shortstop and dealt him for Maikel Cleto (haha!). Thus, they don’t need another one and need to make a move to improve at the position during the off-season.

It is likely at least three to five years before any of the team’s recent draft picks at the position will make it to the big leagues. Thus, wouldn’t it be smart to trade part a surplus to improve a glaring weakness?

Well, in my humble opinion, I really do not want to trade Wacha or Martinez. Both project to be top-end of the rotation guys and have shown flashes of brilliance in brief appearances in the big leagues.

The only other player on the above list that could bring a solid return would be Garcia. I realize that potential trade partners will be worried about his health, but he claims that he is on track to be ready by October so hopefully that is not an issue. Also, compared to other starters in the league, he has a relatively cheap contract–$7.75 million in 2014 and $9.25 million in 2015.

I realize that most people believe that every rotation needs at least one left-handed pitcher. This makes a lot of sense, especially if you face an opponent that has a lot of left-handed hitters. However, Kelly has been more successful against lefties than he has against righties this season. Also, Wainwright and Lynn have shown to be successful against lefties as well. Thus, does it really matter if the pitcher throws left-handed or not? In my opinion, as long as the pitcher is able to get lefties and righties out, then that is all that matters.

My Picks for the 2014 Rotation:
4. Kelly
5. Wacha/Martinez

  • I think Wacha is better suited for the spot at this time, but it is still hard to rule out Martinez

Until next time…

Joe

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