Cardinals Rotation: Depth Chart Discussions

The St. Louis Cardinals’ rotation is in great shape in spite of losing their second best starter to free-agency. Kyle Lohse may be gone, but the team boasts a bevy of qualified candidates for the rotation. While everything looks strong on paper, at least three of their pitchers are dealing with significant questions as the season approaches. Adam Wainwright is entering the last year of his contract, Jaime Garcia is coming off a shoulder injury and Shelby Miller has already been shut down with shoulder soreness. Two of those situations will drastically change the value of multiple players during the season.

The top spot in the rotation will once again be filled by Adam Wainwright. Coming off Tommy John surgery, Wainwright was hammered in his first month back, posting a 7.32 ERA and a 5.03 FIP during April. After that, he pitched as if he never missed a beat. By the end of the season, both his walk rate and strikeout rate were nearly identical to his last two healthy seasons. The two areas where he struggled, his increased 9.9% home run rate and his 3.91 ERA, can both be explained by his awful April. Wainwright gave up 5 home runs in just 19.2 innings. His 3.10 FIP and 3.23 xFIP show that he’s still an ace. He could be an undervalued top-tier pitcher on draft day.

Jaime Garcia is likely bound for the second spot in the rotation, but he’s a major question mark after he attempted to rehab from a strained rotator cuff this offseason. It was initially believed Garcia would have to undergo surgery for the injury, but a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews changed that. On top of that, Garcia has lost two mph off his fastball since 2010. That doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence. Still, if he’s healthy he could be in for some improvement. His .339 BABIP was slightly higher than normal, and there’s a chance he posts something close to his 3.39 xFIP from last season. But if he was getting hit harder because his stuff wasn’t as good, that’s a significant problem. Proceed cautiously.

Jake Westbrook may be the three-starter when the season opens, but he has the lowest fantasy value of nearly every Cardinals’ pitcher. He won’t walk a lot of guys, and he’ll get a lot of ground balls, but he’s not going to rack up enough strikeouts to be a useful asset. He might post a decent ERA, but won’t show enough other skills to put him on fantasy rosters in mixed leagues. A low-ceiling innings-eater if fine in real-life, but underwhelming in fantasy.

Lance Lynn churned out a fine season with the Cardinals, posting a 3.78 ERA and a 3.49 FIP in 176 innings. There was some thought that Lynn would wind up back in the bullpen based on the Cardinals’ young pitching talent, but Chris Carpenter‘s injury all but assures Lynn will reprise his role as a starter. As Jim Breen pointed out in Lynn’s FG+ capsule, Lynn had a really hard time against left-handers last season. Teams will take notice, and he might start to see some lefty-heavy lineups. That’s definitely something to watch moving forward. As it stands, Lynn is probably somewhat of a sleeper heading into drafts. He’ll lose that status if he pitches really well in spring training, though.

Shelby Miller was the favorite in the fifth spot heading into camp, but some shoulder soreness has already put him behind schedule. Miller is expected to make his debut this week, so he should still get a fair chance at winning that last spot in the rotation. Miller has been a member of Baseball America’s top-100 prospect list in each of the last four seasons, and has risen all the way to sixth this year. While his Triple-A numbers from last year don’t look great, he rebounded and had a strong second half. There’s a lot to like if the shoulder isn’t an issue.

Behind Miller is either Trevor Rosenthal or Joe Kelly. Rosenthal made a name for himself out of the team’s bullpen last season, throwing triple digits in big games down the stretch. Rosenthal has mainly been used as a starter throughout his minor-league career, and could excel if the team wants to continue using him in that role. He’s already started a game for the club this spring, and it seems like he’ll get a shot to claim a starting spot if he performs well.

Kelly has the most experience of the trio, but the lowest upside. He was solid in 107 innings with the major-league club last year, with a 3.53 ERA and a 4.00 FIP. His upside is Jake Westbrook, and that means he’s probably not worth owning if he gets the full-time job.

Early Depth Chart

Num Name IP K% BB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
1 Adam Wainwright 198.2 22.10% 6.30% 50.80% 9.90% 3.94 3.10 3.23 4.4
2 Jaime Garcia 121.2 19.00% 5.80% 53.70% 7.20% 3.92 2.97 3.39 2.9
3 Jake Westbrook 174.2 14.10% 6.90% 58.10% 10.00% 3.97 3.80 3.92 2.3
4 Lance Lynn 169.0 24.50% 8.70% 43.90% 10.30% 3.67 3.47 3.57 2.9
5 Shelby Miller (Triple-A) 136.2 26.70% 8.40% N/A N/A 4.74 4.48 N/A N/A
6 Trevor Rosenthal 22.2 28.10% 7.90% 53.70% 11.10% 2.78 3.09 3.11 0.2
7 Joe Kelly 91.1 15.10% 8.20% 53.10% 12.50% 3.74 4.20 4.08 0.8



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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

11 Responses to “Cardinals Rotation: Depth Chart Discussions”

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  1. jdbolick says:

    I have to think that the 5th spot is Miller’s to lose, and I expect him there unless injuries persist or he has an absolutely dreadful spring. Whether or not Rosenthal becomes a starter during the season probably depends on how the Cards use him initially. If he’s a one-inning, late-game leverage guy then he’ll probably stay there, but if they let him pitch multiple innings then it would be easier to transition him back into starting form.

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    • Anon says:

      Rosenthal is unlikely to pitch from the bullpen. The Cardinals have plently of bullpen options, and management seems committed to develop Rosenthal as a starter. If he doesn’t make the MLB rotation, expect him to start in AAA.

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      • jdbolick says:

        I’d be glad to see that happen as a $1 Rosenthal owner, but his stuff probably plays better in the pen and he was obviously effective in that role last season. We’ll see.

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      • chuckb says:

        I don’t think it’s a terrible idea to have Rosenthal pitch out of the bullpen this year. The plan is for him to be a starter long-term but getting a full year out of the pen would probably help him develop his repertoire against big league hitters.

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  2. thehotteststove says:

    I think both Miller and Rosenthal will be effective as starters, and both would be about league average this year if given the 5th spot. However, if Rosenthal pitches well at all in spring, I believe he gets the 5th starter role. Due to their differences in service time, the Cardinals cansqueeze an extra year of team control from Miller by using Rosenthal in the 5th spot to start the year… seemingly without losing all that much production. Lots of folks in the Cards organization seem to trust Rosenthol’s makeup and consistency at this stage nmoreso than Miller’s, so he may have the inside track anyway. Unless he gets knocked around over the next few weeks, I expect Rosenthal to be the 5th starter.

    Later in the year, Martinez and Wacha will also be scratching at Joe Kelly’s spot on the starter depth chart so I think Kelly ends up in the bullpen long term. His inability to get out lefties thus far seems to push him that direction anyway.

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    • Wobatus says:

      Wacha went 3 innings today. The Cards have quite a collection of young arms. Miller, Rosenthal, Wacha, Martinez, Jenkins.

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  3. murphym45 says:

    As a Cardinals fan I would like to see Miller start out the year in AAA so that the team can get an extra year of team control out of him, as he’s only entering his age 22 season. Rosenthal is actually in a similar position to Miller as far as service time, so I think the long-term best case scenario for the Cardinals might be if Kelly starts out the year in the rotation for the first couple months of the season then Miller or Rosenthal get called up from AAA (late enough so that it doesn’t cost a year of team control) and bump Kelly to a long-relief role.

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  4. MLB Rainmaker says:

    I’m going to go out on a limb and wager that Michael Wacha forces his way into this conversation by the end of the Spring Training.

    With a tiny sample size last season, he put up video game numbers, and has come back in Spring Training to lead all pitchers so far with 8Ks, 0 BBs, 2 hits, and 1 unearned run. This isn’t scrub time either, this is Wacha coming for 2 innings (3rd & 4th) after Rosenthal got lit up for 4 ER on 5 hits and 0/2 K/BB, and K-ing 3 vs. the Marlins; then coming in again for 2 IP after Lynn gave up 2 ER on 3 hits to the Mets to rack up 5Ks.

    I get the value of Spring Training stats, but Miller, Rosenthal and Kelly are pitching to win a rotation spot, and Wacha is splashing that party in a big way so far. If he keeps this up for another week or two, he’s a must have in dynasty leagues. If he doesn’t win a spot right out, he’ll certainly be on the radar if Garcia has health problems or Westbrook proves ineffective.

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    • byron says:

      It wasn’t just a tiny sample, he was a college starter working as a reliever in rookie ball for 5 innings, A+ for 8, and AA for only 8. That’s a REALLY tiny sample against competition he mostly should have been outclassing in an easier role.

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  5. 0294 says:

    Regarding Shelby Miller, I am somewhat uninformed of him in comparison with other prospects and as a result I am in need of help from people who know more than I do. In my minor league draft, I am up and I am currently trying to choose between Boagerts, Hamilton, Bauer, Skaggs, Taillon, and Miller. I really like Miller’s strikeouts but is he head and shoulders enough better than the other pitchers–or the hitters for that matter–to choose him over those guys? I am wary of choosing the pitcher over Boagerts. Thank you guys.

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