Comparing the St. Louis Cardinals preseason projections vs. reality

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The weakest spot on the team was pegged to be the rotation. Without a true "ace" and with plenty of injury history, the starters were not projected to carry the team in 2023.

ZiPS has seven primary starters listed: Miles Mikolas, Jordan Montgomery, Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty, Steven Matz, Matthew Liberatore, and Dakota Hudson. Montgomery was projected to lead the team in WAR at 3.4 while Hudson was bringing up the rear with 0.5 WAR. Mikolas, Montgomery, and Wainwright were all figured to pitch around 160 innings. Interestingly enough, Hudson and Liberatore were projected to pitch around 140 innings with Flaherty near 100. ZiPS must have really leaned on the injury history of players with these projections.

The starting rotation has actually been relatively close to its projected numbers. The starter ERA is higher than projected by about 0.7 points, but the other numbers (FIP, walks, Ks, etc.) are all within the margin of error when averaged across the whole staff. Jake Woodford has replaced Dakota Hudson as the last man in the rotation, while Matz has been moved to the bullpen after struggling mightily as a starter. Liberatore replaced Matz in the rotation.

Mikolas (1.6 WAR) and Montgomery (1.3 WAR) have led the staff thus far. While neither is pitching at an ace level, they are doing admirably in giving the team a chance to win. Montgomery has pitched into the 6th inning in 12 of his 14 starts so far with an ERA of 3.91 with a FIP of 3.62. Mikolas has also pitched into the 6th inning in 12 of his fourteen starts with an 8-inning appearance thrown in there. His ERA sits a smidge above 4.00 while his FIP is 3.85. While both have slightly elevated ERAs, their FIP numbers are below projections. Both pitchers are on track to exceed their innings projections for the season.

Wainwright has struggled mightily this year. Projected for a 3.96 ERA and 4.45 FIP spread across 154.7 innings, Wainwright instead has an ERA of 5.75(!!!) and a FIP of 4.43. He has had a very hard time limiting runs. Both lefties and righties are hammering him; however, his WHIP against lefties (2.22) is nearly a whole point higher than his WHIP against righties (1.32).

Flaherty has also struggled slightly as a starter. His walks are well documented. When looking at his game log, you will see a scattering of 7-inning appearances right next to some 4-inning and even 2-inning appearances. This volatility has made it hard to rely on Flaherty as an ace of the staff, let alone a solid starter. His season stats (4.64 ERA, 4.33 FIP, 1.588 WHIP, 93 ERA+) are drastically shy of his projections (3.47 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 1.157 WHIP, 113 ERA+). Flaherty, however, seems to have figured something out as his last six starts have been markedly better than his first eight.

While the rotation may not be as good as fans want, it is about as good as it was projected to be. A couple of players are playing at or above their projections while others are performing below them. It was not out of line, however, for the fanbase (and many pundits) to clamor for support in the rotation. While Mikolas and Monty are leading the way well, the team could use strong outings from Waino and Liberatore.