On the eve of Valentine's Day and the first official workout for the St. Louis Cardinals pitchers and catchers, many players have already reported to the Roger Dean Stadium complex to begin Spring Training activities and gear up for the 2024 season.
This has felt like an unusually long offseason for the Cardinals. Normally, they are at least playing competitive baseball late into September, if not October, but this year, the season was all but over by the All-Star Break, at the very latest. It's basically been an eight-month offseason for the Cardinals, something that none of us want to see repeated in 2024.
While the Cardinals were busy at the trade deadline and in the offseason to retool the ballclub, as we saw with last year's club, they have to go out on the field and prove they are a team worthy of being taken seriously in 2024. Most people had the Cardinals as the clear-cut favorites in the National League Central in 2023, and yet, they had one of their worst seasons in franchise history. Fans and media alike rightfully have a lot of questions for the club as we start Spring Training.
Here are ten questions burning on my mind this week, and I think some up a lot of the questions fans have as well.
Will their starting rotation be meaningfully better in 2024?
Some people think the Cardinals' rotation enters 2024 with virtually the same questions and flaws as their group last season, others believe the rotation has taken meaningful steps forward, especially when it comes to production from the back end of that group, and many fall somewhere in-between. What almost everyone can agree on though is that it's the things we are keeping the closest eye on as the Cardinals hit the field in Jupiter.
It's hard to understate how much of a mess the rotation was in 2023. Outside of Jordan Montgomery (who was promptly traded for prospects at the deadline), no one was able to string together sustained success in the rotation. Every other starter on the staff finished with an ERA north of 4.00 on the season, and five different starters took the ball 8 or more times to begin games and had ERAs north of 5.00.
High-end talent in the rotation was sorely lacking, exacerbated by Adam Wainwright's 7.40 ERA in 21 starts. Getting 80 starts from the mix of Wainwright, Jake Woodford, Drew Rom, Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, and Matthew Liberatore was never going to be a recipe for success.
The other elephant in the room for the Cardinals was the lack of innings, and even more so quality outings, that they from their rotation. The aforementioned group, minus Flaherty, combined for just 10 quality starts in 60 outings, an atrocious number for any team trying to make a run at the postseason.
While the Cardinals did go out and acquire one starter that should bring a lot of high-end talent in Sonny Gray, they seemed to major in trying to address the innings deficit they felt in 2023 with the additions of Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn. The Cardinals starting rotation ranked 14th in baseball in innings, 26th in ERA, and tied for 22nd in quality starts for the entire season. The Cardinals are banking on more "stable" performances from their rotation this season, rather than going out and betting on upside.
While there are mixed opinions on how effective this strategy will be, it will become clear early on if the Cardinals' rotation bets paid off or not.