St. Louis Cardinals: Honorable Mention for Cardinals Rotation

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

After a disappointing 2016 campaign, the St. Louis Cardinals rotation failed to rank among Buster Olney’s Top Ten.

This morning, Buster Olney of ESPN ranked the top ten starting rotations in the MLB (ESPN Insider). After ranking third prior to 2016 (ESPN Insider), the St. Louis Cardinals failed to make the cut heading into 2017. However, Olney does list the Cardinals as the first of two honorable mentions.

Olney notes that the addition of Alex Reyes should help the St. Louis Cardinals rotation. However, the Cardinals are betting on Adam Wainwright to bounce back after a poor season returning from an Achilles injury. Were Wainwright’s struggles related to nagging discomfort from his prior injury, or is the issue age-related decline for the 35-year-old former ace?

Additionally, Lance Lynn is returning after missing the entire 2016 campaign following Tommy John surgery last offseason. Health and re-injury risk are obvious concerns for Lynn. However, by Spring Training Lynn will have had almost 16 months to recover from the procedure. While the St. Louis Cardinals should be cautious with his workload, this extended recovery period bodes well for his future health.

Next, Olney mentions that Mike Leake will be an X-factor for the St. Louis Cardinals rotation this upcoming year. He notes Leake’s career best peripherals in 2016, which indicate that his career-worst ERA was more indicative of the defense behind him than Leake’s performance. An improved defense will help Leake, as well as the rest of the rotation.

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However, Olney’s rankings fail to mention the depth the St. Louis Cardinals have behind their starting five. Michael Wacha has proven All-Star credentials and can be counted on to fill in if Lynn or Reyes struggle. Luke Weaver pitched well in most of his MLB starts last year, with fatigue likely playing a role in his late season collapse. Furthermore, Trevor Rosenthal will be stretched out in Spring Training and might fill in for spot starts in 2017.

Additionally, by FIP (which assumes a league average defense), the Cardinals rotation was already top ten last season. The rotation’s 3.92 FIP and 3.89 xFIP ranked 6th in the MLB. By fWAR, Cardinals starters ranked 9th. If the addition of Reyes and Lynn boosts this rotation, it is surprising to see them dropped from the top ten.

Next: Cardinals Outfield Recognized by ESPN

Most watching the St. Louis Cardinals have concluded that the team’s apparent pitching struggles were more attributable to team defense than to pitching talent. However, if evaluated independently of defense, the Cardinals rotation should rank just inside the top ten. Therefore, I believe Cardinals starters should feel slighted by this ranking, and this should motivate them heading into 2017.