St. Louis Cardinals: Pitching Staff gearing up for April

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Feb 18, 2016; Jupiter, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright (50) talks with starting pitcher Mike Leake (8) before warm ups at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 18, 2016; Jupiter, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright (50) talks with starting pitcher Mike Leake (8) before warm ups at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /
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The St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff has quite the challenge ahead, as the group looks to follow up on an historic 2015 campaign.

Well, just as I was sitting down to start writing this up, the Jordan Walden news broke. That stinks. That really stinks.

I’m trying to remain optimistic on the Walden situation, but it’s getting pretty tough to do so.

It’s a real shame, because it is so easy to see how talented of a pitcher Jordan Walden is. The fact that he couldn’t make it out of spring, immediately after missing basically all of 2015 to the same issue, calls into question what kind of future Walden might have in baseball.

Tests are forthcoming, and there’s nothing to say that there is damage in Walden’s shoulder, other than the discomfort and missed time, I guess.

I’m going to remain hopeful for Walden. I’m going to hope that he finds some sort of solution to whatever he’s got going on in that shoulder.

Even if he misses some level of significant time to start the year, if he gets right he could be a big boost from the mid-summer months on.

With that said, I’ll get going with how I originally planned to start this piece… by gushing over the 2015 Cardinals staff.

The greatest pitching staff ever?

2.94.

That’s how many earned runs the Cardinals staff gave up on a per game basis last year. Strangely, that 2.94 is the same number that the 1969 staff (led by Bob Gibson) posted. Only the 1968 version of that staff, at 2.49, has posted a lower team ERA in the past 70 years.

Sure, that’s an awesome stat. But best staff ever? C’mon, who’s really saying that?

Well, folks over at the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective (HSAC) actually are.

At the end of the regular season last year, Adam Gilfix of the HSAC dove into some pretty crazy numbers to make a case for why the 2015 Cardinals staff was the greatest of all time.

To summarize, in part of Gilfix’s analysis, he seeked to find the staff that was the best at preventing runs, compared against the league average for a given year.

"“I thereby obtained a z-score for each team’s RA/G, a metric I labeled Z-RA/G.  A team’s run-preventing prowess, relative to the League, is thus given by its z-scored RA/G, such that a lower value signifies a greater number standard deviations better than the league average.”-Gilfix in his HSAC piece"

What Gilfix found was that the 2015 Cardinals had a -2.46 Z-RA/G, beating out the likes of the ’81 Astros and ’93 Braves, who had Z-RA/G values of -2.39 and -2.37 respectively.

In essence, that means that the 2015 Cardinals staff was the most dominant, compared to the league it played in, of any staff in baseball history.

More to come in 2016?

After a middling first three or so weeks to start the spring, the Cardinal staff looks to be turning it on in the final tune-ups before the opener in Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Mar 13, 2016; Melbourne, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Michael Wacha (52) throws a pitch in the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Space Coast Stadium. The Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals tied 4-4. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 13, 2016; Melbourne, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Michael Wacha (52) throws a pitch in the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Space Coast Stadium. The Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals tied 4-4. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports /

Michael Wacha had his best start of the spring today, blanking the Marlins over five innings while striking out two. Prior to today, opponents were hitting better than .400 off of Wacha, as the right hander was battling command issues.

Two days ago, Carlos Martinez capped off his impressive spring with six strong innings against the Mets.

Outside of a clunker against the Nationals last weekend, Mike Leake has dazzled with his command and ability to mix speeds this spring. He’ll have his last tune-up in the Cardinals’ final spring game tomorrow against the Yankees.

Jaime Garcia was solid in his final start of the spring, allowing two earned over five innings this past Easter Sunday against the Marlins.

In the bullpen, Trevor Rosenthal had his first 1-2-3 inning of the spring this afternoon. Outside of back-to-back appearances at the beginning of March in which Rosenthal surrendered two runs a piece, he’s been scored upon just once in seven other appearances.

Sueng-Hwan Oh looks very comfortable in a Cardinal uniform. Kevin Siegrist and Jonathan Broxton have both been sharp this spring.

We know what to expect from Seth Maness, and I expect Tyler Lyons and (now) Matt Bowman to be solid out of the pen as well. Having three guys that could potentially log three, four innings at a time should take a load off of the starters and the rest of the pen.

The return of Adam Wainwright

If there’s anything that I’m immediately concerned about, it would be the fact that thanks to yesterday’s rain-shortened affair, Waino hasn’t gone past 4 2/3 innings in any game this spring.

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I’m sure the Cardinals wanted to see him go five or six yesterday, just to get his arm strength fully built up for April.

As our opening day starter, it will be curious to see how Wainwright responds in the sixth and seventh innings (of course, assuming he gets there) on Sunday.

Still, though, Waino has made it known that he expects this unit to be better than last year’s bunch.

To be fair to him and the rest of the staff, that’s going to be pretty difficult to do, at least from a pure numbers standpoint.

It isn’t inconceivable that it could happen, but somebody is going to have to put up a John Lackey type year, and of course everybody has to stay healthy and produce as they did a season ago.

Either way, I like the challenge from Waino for his staff. With run prevention being as important as it is for the Cardinals, they can’t afford to take much of a step back from 2015.

Next: Jordan Walden likely headed to the DL

With Waino back, I would say that the talent is on par with last year’s group. Soon, it will be time to show that they can be just as stingy.

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