The Cardinals' pitching has been bad, but numbers say they've been very unlucky.
Would you believe me if I told you the Cardinals rank top 5 in one of the best stats to predict future pitching performance?
If you're familiar with the stat xFIP, it measures all outcomes that a pitcher has control over and then uses projected home-run rate rather than actual home runs allowed. They determine the projected home run rate by measuring the season's league average HR/FB rate.
Right now, the Cardinals rank 5th in baseball with a 3.87 xFIP. The other four teams ahead of them? The Twins, Giants, Cubs, and Yankees, with the Rays ranking right behind the Cardinals. Why is this important? Well based on this stat, it seems like the Cardinals are getting disproportionately impacted by home runs this year compared to other teams. Am I saying the Cardinals should be a top 5 staff in baseball? Definitely not. But they have the ability to be much better than they are right now.
Sure, you could say the 2023 performance has to do with bad stuff from the Cardinals' rotation and bullpen, but in all honestly, you can see the two reasons for the high ERA every game.
First, the Cardinals are not getting as many ground balls as you'd expect from a staff with so many ground ball pitchers. The amount of line drives, fly balls, and bloop hits the club has given up this season is much higher than you expect from a veteran staff that has, for the most part, pitched better for their careers than they have this season.
That doesn't mean there isn't any real regression happening here, but do we really believe Miles Mikolas is just one of the worst starters in baseball now? Sure, Steven Matz hasn't been good in his Cardinals' tenure yet, but he hasn't been this bad at any point in his career. The Cardinals' bullpen has also had some weird performances from guys who you'd expect to be better.
The second thing that backs up what this stat is saying is the random big innings this club gives up. Whether it's the other night when Jack Flaherty was great all game long, and then fell apart in his last inning of work and the bullpen couldn't save him. Or Miles Mikolas imploding again at the end of his start against Seattle after pitching well most of the game. It feels like every game, you can count on one inning where the pitching staff falls apart.
The club doesn't need the pitching staff to be great to win a lot of games in the regular season, but they do need them to be better. I think the club has the arms internally to right the ship for the next few months, but my third reason for optimism involves outside help.