One of the most popular themes amongst those who doubt the 2016 St. Louis Cardinals is the doubt that the pitching will be as effective as last season.
I got to admit, the naysayers are getting to me. The same chicken littles who wanted the St. Louis Cardinals to sign Yoenis Cespedes and Chris Davis, now believe that the Cardinals’ rotation won’t be what it was last season.
Now, I did write last week that the slotting of Wacha as the #2 has me worried slightly, but Wacha will likely still be mildly successful and will have a very good bullpen behind him.
So, what is the benchmark for these pitchers?
Last season, the rotation had an ERA of 2.94, FIP of 3.48, and an xFIP of 3.71. Those are some really good numbers. However, only one of these numbers were “league leading”, and that category was ERA, where they were .29 runs better than their NL Central rival Pittsburgh Pirates.
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This was one season after having a 3.50 ERA in the rotation, good for 11th best in the league. It was also two seasons after having a 3.43 ERA in the rotation, good for fifth best in the league. So, naturally one thinks that the Cardinals can’t possibly keep this up, as they didn’t have anything close to that the last two years, and they lost John Lackey (who will be awful in 2016).
However, when you examine this rotation piece by piece, there really is only one concern with the members of the rotation and that lies with Michael Wacha. Wacha has stated himself that he is searching for command, and this is also evident when one takes a look at both his Spring Training stats and his 2015 performance.
Adam Wainwright should have an ERA under 3.00, Jaime Garcia could do the same, as well as Carlos Martinez. Mike Leake should be fine with a mid 3.30-3.50 ERA. If Wacha can find his command and everyone stays relatively healthy, there’s no reason to suggest that this rotation would regress anywhere above a 3.20 ERA.
The one statistic that most point to is the team’s LOB%, which was at 79.4% last season, and was the league’s highest. How did the team get to this number? John Lackey. In 2015, Lackey left the highest percentage of runners on base of his career at 82.6%, which largely led to his career low ERA of 2.77.
There is no doubt about it that this number will go down, a 79.4 LOB% (percentage of runners left on base) is not sustainable. However, taking a look at two pitchers who were not featured in the rotation for most of last season in Adam Wainwright and Mike Leake, we see some reason to believe it won’t be a big drop.
In three out of the last five seasons, Leake has had an LOB% above 75%, and last season he posted a 74.8% number for the Reds and Giants. Wainwright (aside from his post Tommy John surgery anomaly year) has posted seasons of 78.0% (2014), 74.5% (2013), 79,1% (2010), and 80.4% (2009).
So, it is clear that these two will be a key to keeping this rotation near the top of the league in that number. So, a huge drop off shouldn’t be a concern there, especially considering that the teams that perform in this area generally stick near the top.
When you look at the data in front of us, there should not be a huge drop for this rotation. With three out of five starters returning to the rotation and adding two above average pitchers to the rotation in Wainwright and Leake, it looks to be another year with the Cardinals’ pitching leading them through the season.
While some may be concerned that the pitching won’t be able to shoulder the load of the offense potentially being below average in 2016, the offense may just surprise them eventually. If the offense improves ever so slightly, not only will the pitching be fine, but it will thrive. Couple that with the potential for the league’s best bullpen and you have a nice mix for this coming season.