St. Louis Cardinals 2020 Report Card: Grading the starting pitching
By Matt Graves
One of the St. Louis Cardinals’ strengths in 2020 was their starting pitching. What grade can we give the group after their 2020 season?
For the past decade, the St. Louis Cardinals have been a factory of starting pitching. Starting with the group led by Shelby Miller and Marco Gonzalez, the Cardinals have many starting pitchers that have been homegrown.
For a team like the Cardinals that don’t excel offensively, their pitching and defense must be a strength for them to win. As we begin our position group grades for the 2020 season, we are going to focus on those starting pitchers first.
2020 was a tough year for the Cardinals and was especially tough for the starters because of the difficult schedule they had to go through.
Playing 53 games in 44 days wore down the entire team, and with the frequent doubleheaders, the starters suffered. In the 58 games the team ended up playing, 10 different starters started games for the Cardinals. Before the season even got started, Miles Mikolas was ruled out for the year, beginning the adversity.
Leading the way for the staff in starts was none other than the 38-year-old Adam Wainwright. Waino had a more consistent year overall than 2020, with a 3.15 ERA in 65.2 innings. Behind Waino, Jack Flaherty took a step back this year with a surprisingly high 4.91 ERA in 40.1 innings. His 4.11 FIP suggests he was slightly unlucky, but it wasn’t a great year for Flaherty.
Dakota Hudson looked like he took a huge step forward this year, dropping his walk rate and putting up a 2.77 ERA over 39.0 innings but then suffered an elbow injury that led to Tommy John.
Korean import Kwang Hyun Kim showed up very well as a 31-year-old rookie pitching in the MLB for the first time. His 1.62 ERA over 39.0 innings was a huge stabilizing force for the rotation and he even got it done in the postseason as well.
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Carlos Martinez had another tumultuous year in 2020. He struggled in his first start of the year against the Twins, but this was right at the beginning of the team’s COVID-19 outbreak, and it’s pretty clear Carlos was not healthy during that start. From that point, even after the team resumed playing, it was clear that Carlos wasn’t healthy. He finished the ear with an awful 9.90 ERA in 20.0 innings.
After these starters who were planned to be in the rotation, the team had huge Austin Gomber, Johan Ovideo, and Daniel Ponce de Leon all step up and combine for 17 starts. All of these guys earned brownie points for next year as far as earning their way into a rotation role.
There is a glance around the group as a whole, but how did they rank around the league?
By total fWAR, the Cardinals ranked 20th in the MLB from their starting rotation. However, they were 9th in ERA and 17th in FIP.
The starting pitching ranked 2nd in the MLB in BABIP while ranking in the top half of the league in average exit velocity. What this means to me is that the Cardinals’ defense helped a ton, but the pitchers were also getting lucky. In a 60-game season, you’ll take what you can get.
Overall Grade: B+
Other than Kwang Hyun Kim and Adam Wainwright, the entire starting pitching staff had a down year. They had to face more adversity than any other team and at the end of the day, the team won more than they lost, but I don’t think the players themselves would call their 2020 a season to hang their hats on.
This is not an indictment of the pitching staff by any means. They stepped up in big games and often didn’t have the run support that many other staffs get. The team will miss Dakota Hudson greatly, but they have a lot of options to fill the rotation with next season.