Hey, remember that time when we were talking about the St. Louis offense and how itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not really all that great? WasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t that fun? Why donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t we all take a second to hold on to that feeling, because dissecting their pitching staff isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t going to be nearly as encouraging.
The CardinalsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ pitching staff is what got them to the playoffs last seasonÃ¢â‚¬â€their pitching staff had thirteen pitchers contribute positive WAR, with six pitching in 1.1 WAR or better. Adam Wainwright again led the charge with a 4.8 WAR season, pitching 227 innings to the tune of a 2.38 ERA. Behind him in the rotation, Lance Lynn blossomed into a bona fide number two, John Lackey turned in ten mediocre starts after leaving Boston and the AL East, and Michael Wacha turned in 15 good-to-decent before heading to the disabled list in June.
St. Louis actually lost their most effective reliever from last year, Pat Neshek, but the Cardinals filled that void by acquiring Jordan Walden from the Braves. Walden will join Matt Belisle, Carlos Villanueva and Seth Maness as the righties setting up Trevor Rosenthal, with Kevin Siegrist and Randy Choate providing the lefty arms for the bullpen. Rosenthal and Walden will provide a nice one-two punch in the late innings, but the rest of the relief corps is iffyÃ¢â‚¬â€Maness is a serious regression candidate, Siegrist was very hittable last year, and Randy Choate will turn 40 in September.
All things considered, the Cardinals pitching staff was right around the middle of the pack in terms of team ERA, FIP, and WHIP. Pitching in St. Louis helped them a bit, as Busch Stadium in well in the lower third of ballparks for home runs and doubles allowed over the last few seasons (and around the top five in foul outs recorded), but pitching as much as they do in Great American and Miller Park means the Cardinal pitchers have to throw in their fair share of hittersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ parks.
Most of their rotation is going to be the same this season, with the only change being Carlos Martinez officially taking over the fifth starter role. Wainwright and Lynn have both outperformed their expected FIP and lowered their homers per fly ball rate each of the last three yearsÃ¢â‚¬â€it wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be surprising if they were to put up similar numbers to 2014 this season, but Wainwright velocity is in decline and his average fastball speed is hovering below 91 nowadays. LackeyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s case was interesting, as his numbers went down almost entirely across the board (lower ground ball rate, higher WHIP, BABIP, and HR/FB rate), even after moving to a more pitcher-friendly home field. ZiPS and Steamer see Lackey return to something just above average this season, while PECOTA is projecting a full season only slightly better than his ten starts in a Cardinals uniform from last season.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not shocking, but this pitching staffÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s overall performance is going to be swung one way or the other by Wacha and MartinezÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s efforts (and Jaime Garcia, if his shoulder injury isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t something that nags him all season). The 23 year-olds both have a good track record of keeping the ball in the park in their limited MLB experience, but Wacha is returning from injury and developing his breaking pitches (though heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s looked sharp in Spring Training) and Martinez has a hellacious track record when pitching against left-handed hitters. The old adage TINSTAAPP (There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect) comes to mindÃ¢â‚¬â€you can never really know if young pitchers are going to be able to make the proper adjustments to be effective in the majors beyond their first couple of seasons.
St. Louis has a track record of good pitching in recent seasons, but the threat of overall regression looms, especially when a staff outperforms their peripherals as much as the CardinalsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ pitchers did last year. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s another case, much like their lineup, that hopes for significant enough improvements from the younger pitchers to offset or surpass regression experienced by the rest of the staff. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s likely Wainwright, Lynn, Wacha, and Martinez can carry this rotation, even if their ace slips a bit, and this isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even factoring the possible arrival of two more wunderkinds in Marco Gonzales and Tim Cooney. TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re going to be good this year, maybe even great again if their young depth plays a role, but a tumble from being good to being average is only a little extra regression away.