The eighth time through the pitching rotation is essentially the quarter point of the season. Every few games we have been checking in on the rotation, but we have been doing so by look at the key stats, and pointing out which pitchers are excelling or struggling in those categories. Today we will break everything down report card style by looking at the starting pitchers individually and giving them a letter grade at the 25% mark of the season. Four our purposes we will only grade the top four members of the rotation individually before lumping the other pitchers who have seen, or soon will see the mound as starters.
Adam Wainwright/Grade A+
Wainwright is in the top six in the National League in Innings, WHIP, and OBP allowed. He is the backbone of this staff, a bonafide contender for the NL Cy Young, and he is pitching like it. One of the things that I have pointed out a couple of times is that while Wainwright has been pitching as well as anyone in the majors, he has a decent amount of good fortune thus far as well. His Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) has remained consistently lower than is usual even for an excellent pitcher. His BABIP for this year compares favorably to the numbers put up by Bob Gibson over his career. BABIP also lets us know that while Johnny Cueto is currently ahead of Wainwright in several categories, I would not expect that trend to continue.
Michael Wacha/Grade B+
The phenom still has learning and growing to do, but at this point you have to give him good marks. His WHIP and OBP numbers have him somewhere in the twenty to thirtieth best pitcher in the National League. His Strikeout to Walk Ration of better than four has him pushing the top ten pitchers in that category. As a matter of fact, if you take into account the five walks that he allowed in New York on a night that was so windy that I kept expecting Helen Hunt to drive across the field in a truck chasing a cow he would easily be in the top five in the league. At this point one of the biggest things that Wacha needs to improve is his innings pitched. He seems to have come into the majors able to get out of innings well, but this team is going to need more innings from everyone not named Wainwright.
Lance Lynn/Grade C
Lynn has recovered from a rough start to the season pretty well. His home run rate and his OBP have been dropping steadily. Unfortunately for Lynn his strikeout to walk ratio has been climbing. By and large teams are not knocking him around after the first two against Cincinnati (last game against Pittsburgh being an exception), but he is helping their cause by putting runners on with walks. Lynn and Wacha have almost identical innings pitched numbers, so the same could be said for him that it was for Wacha. The rest of the season the team will need Lynn to stay in games, and in order to do that he will need to keep opposing batters off the basepaths.
Shelby Miller/Grade D-
Miller’s struggles this season have been well chronicled. A recent article by Rick Hummel, the Post-Dispatch scribe said of Miller detailed much of the frustration that the team has experienced as of late with its young fireballer. He is leading the NL in walks with 27, and he is in the bottom five amongst starters with a gaudy WHIP of 1.48. There is reason to believe that the team is becoming less than enchanted with Miller, both for his pitching and his demeanor. Is he about to take the Memphis shuttle down to Triple A? Not right now, but if he does not show marked improvement over the next couple of starts he may very well find himself working on his mechanics and attitude in Blues City.
Kelly pitched well, then he got injured. Lyons pitched well before getting injured and giving us one of the worst pitching performances this team has seen in a while turning the downtrodden Cubs offense into a new version of the 1927 Yankees. Sunday Jaime Garcia returns to the mound for the Cardinals for the first time in a year and a day. The best case scenario for the team is for an effective Garcia to return to form and take over this spot in the rotation so that Kelly can go to the bullpen. There is also the ever-increasing chance that Kelly could return to the rotation and Miller could go to Memphis to get himself right. Whenever Lyons is back from injury he could supply depth either at Memphis, or in the bullpen.
All in all in the starters have pitched well. Statistically speaking this rotation is one of the top five in the NL, and there is reason for optimism. As usual, however, there is also reason for concern, and there is still a lot of work to be done.