Why quality starts will make a huge difference for the Cardinals in 2024

It's not flashy, and it doesn't make them a World Series contender, but getting more quality starts in 2024 will help the Cardinals get back to the playoffs.

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I've repeatedly said this offseason that the St. Louis Cardinals need a second top-end starter for their rotation. At the same time, I think too many people have been dismissive of the moves the Cardinals have made so far, specifically the way they have solved their massive innings issue from 2023.

Last season, the Cardinals relied on a five-man rotation of Jordan Montgomery, Miles Mikolas, Steven Matz, Jack Flaherty, and Adam Wainwright. Outside of Montgomery, the other four starters had very disappointing years. Due to injuries and selling at the deadline, the Cardinals got a ton of terrible starts from the back end of their rotation in 2024, and Brandon Kiley of 101 ESPN presented two really interesting tweets regarding the quality of starts the Cardinals got from their staff in 2023 and what Lynn and Gibson could provide in their place.

Let's start with this first tweet. It's actually wild that the Cardinals only got 30 starts that went deeper five innings or deeper from those five starters in 2023, and even worse that they could only get 16 starts that went six or more innings. Having your starters consistently not go deep into games sets you up to lose those games consistently, taxes the bullpen, and puts even more pressure on the offense to have a slugfest to make a game of it.

I've also heard people say "Who cares that they eat innings, the Cardinals need quality innings". True, they do need another top-end starter to give them great starts consistently, but I think you'll be surprised about how successful the Cardinals were when they just got six innings of four or fewer runs even in a terrible year like 2023.

Let's do a quick exercise just to illustrate how this could have a major impact on the Cardinals' floor as a club in 2024. Gibson and Lynn combined for 65 starts last year while Wainwright, Rom, Liberatore, Hudson, and Woodford combined for 60 starts. The expectation is that Lynn and Gibson will fill those 60 starts that they got from those five pitchers in 2023.

Last year, the Cardinals went 71-91. If they won .641% of their starts that went 6+ IP with 4 or fewer ER, then that means they won 10 of the 16 starts they got from Wainwright, Rom, Liberatore, Hudson, and Woodford combined.

If we look at their new starters, Gibson allowed 4 or fewer runs in 18 of his 19 starts that went 6 or more innings in 2023, while Lynn had 15 of those starts himself. If the Cardinals maintained that winning percentage in those kinds of starts in 2024, then they would have won 21 of those 33 starts from Gibson and Lynn. That is already an 11-game improvement from 2023. Yes, we can't just say the Cardinals are adding an automatic 11 wins to their win total in 2023, but we aren't even breaking down the last of five-inning starts from that group in 2023 (something that Lynn/Gibson provided in 85% of their starts), so I could make the argument that there's room for even more improvement there.

Mix into this equation the addition of Sonny Gray to this staff, and with an improved bullpen, and it's not hard to see how they are already a mid-80s win team now. If the Cardinals want to be more than a fringe playoff team though, they still have to go out and add that second front-line starter and have continued improvement from their young bats.

If all the Cardinals do is add a few bullpen arms the rest of the offseason, they'll have raised their floor in a much-needed way, but it will leave a sour taste in our mouths knowing they could have raised their ceiling as well. Give them credit where credit is due for getting back into playoff contention, but I'm not going to stop calling them to a higher standard as well. It's possible to see and support the philosophy of their moves so far while also believing they can and should do more.

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