Cardinals Rotation: One Month Checkup


Apr 17, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright (50) throws during the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Image Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

As the schedule goes the last day in April also marks six complete turns through the St. Louis Cardinals starting rotation. May 1 is an off day, and the Cardinals are going to skip Tyler Lyons‘ spot in the rotation, so on Friday we will see Adam Wainwright back on the mound, something no one will complain about. We did this analysis after two turns, and this post will largely be a continuation of those concepts.

Innings Pitched
Wainwright is so important to this staff that I do not know if it can be overstated. If you are looking for one stat that comes as close as possible to explaining just how important he is, and just how well he is pitching thus far innings pitched just might be that stat.

Over the course of six starts Wainwright has pitched 45 innings. Michael Wacha is next on the team with 36.1 innings. Four pitchers have six starts for the Cardinals, but Wainwright’s innings are the equivalent of having pitched a complete game more than anyone else. If nothing else the bullpen on this team should be making sure that Wainwright is well taken care of.

Walks/Hits per Inning Pitched (WHIP)
Baserunners are the lifeblood of baseball team’s offense. Conversely, they are deadly to a pitcher’s ability to do his job. If a pitcher wants to be successful, particularly over a long season he will have to keep the other team off the bases.

Do you want to see a snapshot of how the season is going for the starting pitchers? Well, here it is. Wainwright is pitching out of his mind at this point. Wacha is pitching well well. Lynn, Kelly, and Lyons are serviceable, but needing to make some improvements. Shelby Miller has got to make some strides, and walking at least three batters a game is not going to help.

Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP)
It really is amazing how the math on this stat works out. A league average of .300 is pretty standard. Anything too high and you can expect a regression, and anything too low and you can expect a bump.

There is a temptation to think that Wainwright’s good pitching has been responsible for a BABIP this low, but the numbers tell us different. His pitching is absolutely filthy right now, he has also had some incredible luck. What has not changed for  Miller is that his bumpy beginning to the season could have actually been worse. The rest of the staff is right about where they should be. Lance Lynn‘s early season bad luck has smoothed out, and Wacha’s good luck has normalized.

Strikeout To Walk Rate
If we thinking about this pitching staff as tiers we can see a clear distinction in their control.

Wainwright is the top tier, Wacha and Lynn are tier two, Tyler Lyons and Joe Kelly are a third tier, and for the moment Miller is bringing up the rear. Lynn specifically is helping himself tremendously by refusing to issue free passes to first base. When you do not walk guys, and you strike them out with regularity, it bodes well for success as a pitcher, and the team as a whole.

Home Runs Allowed Per 9 Innings Pitched
The way things have been going it is too bad for the Cardinals’ pitchers that they haven’t been able to face this offense. The bats will come around, but one of the biggest struggles the Cardinal batters have faced is a lack of power production. Home runs are not everything, but they do eliminate the need for more hits to score runs. Three singles will probably score a run, but it only takes one home run. As a pitcher if you are going to give up a hit a single is much better than a home run (Yes that is obvious, but follow the logic).

This chart is only for the starting pitching so the home run that Tyler Lyons allowed in relief the other night does not count against him. In 27.1 innings of work as starters neither Kelly or Lyons have given up a long ball. There are definite areas that each can grow as a pitcher, but when you have a number five starter who is at the very least making the other team work hard for everything it gets it is very helpful.

Looking at where the rotation is, and where it was after two starts, the team should feel positive about its starters. They are definitely the strength of this team right now. With the offense scuffling for much of the first month of the season Wainwright, Wacha, Lynn, Miller, Kelly, and Lyons have kept this team in games. Too many times their efforts were not backed by runs from the offense, but that will even out over the course of the season. What happens when Joe Kelly comes back? What happens when/if Jaime Garcia comes back? Will Shelby Miller continue to improve? Can Wainwright keep up his torrid pace? A couple more turns through the rotation will put us a lot closer to knowing the answers to these questions and a lot more.