Cardinals Rotation Checkup


Sep 1, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals pitchers Adam Wainwright (50) and Shelby Miller (40) and Lance Lynn (right) talk in the dugout during the sixth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. The St. Louis Cardinals won 7-2. Image Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals rotation has completed two full turns, and it is time to see just how everyone is doing. Consider this a 10-game check up on the relative success of the starting pitchers.

When you go to the doctor’s office you expect your physician to use actual tests rather than just some vague impressions. You don’t want your doctor to say, “Looking at you, your blood pressure looks like it could be high.” You want an actual test run that confirms this. Your doctor might have some ideas just eyeballing you, but you want more than the eye test. With that in mind we will look at some impressions, and then we will look at some hard facts. I wrote these impressions without looking at any hard evidence, so we will see how closely my fan’s take resembles reality.

When I watch the Cardinals I watch as a fan. As a fan I am incredibly biased, prone to exaggeration, and in general irrational about my team. With that disclaimer written, here are my expectations for each starter when they take the mound based on my having watched them perform.

  • Adam Wainwright – Every time he takes the mound I expect the Cardinals to win. I assume he will pitch seven strong innings, and he might give up a couple of runs, but if the offense is alive at all the Cards should win.
  • Michael Wacha – I have unnatural confidence in Wacha. He works quickly, tends to get ahead in counts, and doesn’t seem to get rattled very easily. I keep reminding myself that he is a rookie, and that he could implode at any moment, but I like the team’s chances with him on the mound.
  • Lance Lynn – Lynn, in my mind, pitches six innings a game, five of which are really great. I fully expect him to give up at least four runs in one inning when he pitches. In a couple of innings he will get into trouble, only to get out of it, but there always seems to be a big inning in there somewhere.
  • Shelby Miller – I continue to be flummoxed by Miller. He is a bit of anti-Wacha on the feelings test, even though I do not know that the facts back up that feeling. When he is on the mound it seems like the pitch count goes up rather quickly and as a fan I anticipate just trying to will him through six innings.
  • Joe Kelly – When Kelly gets the call it seems like he will give the team five, and hopefully six innings of work. There will be runners on the basepaths the entire game, but when all is said and done very few of them will cross the plate. His starts are like riding a roller coaster. In the middle you wonder why it ever seemed like a good idea, but when you look back on it you quickly convince yourself to do it again.

Now that we have gotten my feelings as a fan out of the way, let’s actually check in on some stats. Four our purposes we are going to ignore some of the more popular, but at times deceptive stats, such as ERA and Wins. I want to see what is going on with what the pitcher can control. There are a lot of things that a pitcher cannot control. It has become readily accepted that there are only truly three things that pitchers control: home runs, strikeouts, and walks. Everything else is dependent on a number of variables that are out of the pitcher’s control. Defense, positioning, luck, bloop hits, broken bats, the weather, Jon Jay’s depth perception, Matt Holliday’s weary legs, and a long list of other things come into play when the ball is hit between the foul lines. What we will try to do here is just to examine how our starters are doing, and in particular how they are doing with the things that they can control.

Innings Pitched
This concept is simple enough. What we need from the starters are innings. This bullpen is a work in progress, and so it becomes even more important for these pitchers to give the team quality innings with every start.

No surprise here, Wainwright is the leader, and the youngsters are still needing to do a little work. If he wants to stick in this rotation Kelly is going to have to improve here.

Walks/Hits per Inning Pitched (WHIP)
This is such a basic statistic I am surprised that no one really thought of it until the late 70s. It is the total the hits a pitcher gave up, plus the walks they issued, divided by innings pitched. Every year the league leaders in this stat will have a number somewhere around 1.00. In 2013 the top twenty pitchers in baseball were all between 0.92 and 1.14.

Wacha and Wainwright have performed extremely well here. According to most definitions the other three starters have ranged from below average to awful thus far.

Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP)
BABIP is one of those stats that at first seems unnecessary, but can actually be quite helpful. It eliminates the three outcomes that do not involve a ball hit in play: homeruns, walks, and strikeouts. It is then a calculation of the batting average against a pitcher on hits in the park. What research has shown is that a .300 BABIP is standard. It is not a perfect stat, but it does give us some indication of who has had some good luck, and who has had some bad luck.

What we seen in this chart is that Wainwright and Wacha have probably had some good luck to go along with their good pitching. Surprisingly Shelby Miller has had decent fortune on balls in play (remember his 4 home runs were not “in play”). Joe Kelly is essentially right around average. And Lance Lynn has experienced some misfortune in his first two starts. This tells me that I can probably expect things to get a little better for Lynn over the course of the season. It also makes me a bit fearful for Miller. His rough start includes some good luck.

Strikeout to Walk Ratio
You do not have to be a fireballer to be a successful pitcher in the major leagues, but it sure can be helpful. The one thing that you cannot do, particularly if you are not going to get a lot of strikeouts is to put guys on base with a walk.

I will be honest, this one surprised me. For all of his early season struggles Lance Lynn has only walked one batter (meanwhile striking out eleven), which has kept him afloat this season. Wainwright is walking more people than he did last year, but he can get away with it for a little while. Miller and Kelly have got to get better here.

Home Runs Allowed Per 9 Innings Pitched
These stats will be different after the third time through the rotation. I know this because in the time that it has taken me to write this Wainwright and Wacha have given up home runs. Nonetheless after two turns through here are the home runs allowed per nine innings.

Lynn needs to improve, but Miller has had a disastrous start in this area. For every nine innings three balls leave the yard right now for Miller.

Thankfully these stats are just for two starts. Everyone has time to get better. Of course they have time to get worse too, but we will leave that for another time.