St. Louis Cardinals: Could Ryan Helsley be in the 2020 rotation?
The St. Louis Cardinals face an interesting dilemma with the back end of the rotation for 2020. Could flame-throwing pitcher Ryan Helsley start for the Redbirds?
Both Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha are set to be free agents in 2020. If Waino decides to return, that will leave the St. Louis Cardinals with only the fifth spot to fill. It is unlikely we will see Wacha wear the Birds on the Bat next season after his substandard performance this year.
It’s no secret that the Cardinals organization likes to promote from within, and there are other options available assuming Wacha and/or Wainwright depart, such as Daniel Ponce de Leon or Genesis Cabrera for example.
However, I want to take a look at Ryan Helsley’s chance to start next year.
In 36.2 IP, Helsley achieved a 7.85 K/9, 2.95 ERA, and a 5.11 xFIP. With a fastball that averages at 97.8 MPH, Helsley held his own against major league batters.
Now despite his small sample size this year in the majors, Helsley pitched 375 innings pitched in the minors. His overall minor league stats:
- A W-L record of 29-12
- 404 strikeouts
- 2.78 ERA
Very productive stuff.
With Ponce de Leon getting few opportunities at the major league value and Cabrera still a raw prospect, it makes sense for a prospect like Helsley to get the fifth spot.
However, there are three things that stand in the way.
The Free Agent Field
The following pitchers with more than 3.0 WAR are going to be free agents this offseason:
Stephen Strasburg will join this list if he opted out of his contract, as will Jose Quintana if the Cubs buy him out. These are very good options if the Cardinals’ front office wants to spend some money this offseason.
All options obviously would be an upgrade over Helsley. We saw at the trade deadline how hesitant Mozeliak and Girsch were at making a trade for a starting pitcher.
Perhaps the FA market?
Off-Speed Pitch Improvement
As I stated earlier, Helsley’s best pitch is his fastball. He uses it 56% of the time he is on the mound. No surprise there, you want to go with the best pitch.
To be a quality MLB starting pitcher, you cannot simply rely on one pitch.
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The scouting report on Helsley features a curveball, changeup, and a cut fastball in addition to his fastball.
On a typical 20-80 scouting report, the curveball is at a 50/55. That’s good, except Helsley only used the curveball 8.7% of the time.
The changeup? Only 40/45. Not surprisingly, he only used it 2.8% of the time.
Finally, the cut fastball was used 31.7% of the time and would be a nice off-speed compliment to the four-seamer. Scouts have it at 45/50, so there is still more room for improvement.
If Ryan Helsley can continue to work on the off-speed pitches under Mike Maddux, he will have more sustained success and will set himself up for a starting pitcher role.
Who replaces Helsley?
In replacing Helsley, the Cardinals will have to determine who will take his spot in the bullpen. Could we possibly see more out of Junior Fernandez or Genesis Cabrera in that roll? Perhaps Mike Shildt will utilize Ponce de Leon more in the bullpen than as a spot starter?
Remember Austin Gomber? He could be used, but that will depend on the strength of his shoulder.
The way I see it, I would have no problem having Ryan Helsley start over Michael Wacha (at least the 2019 version of him). The Cardinals are a conservative front-office and love to make their transactions in-house via AAA Memphis. With that, putting Helsley in the rotation should not be a surprise come 2020.