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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

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