The Cardinals Rotation

A couple weeks ago, Paul Swydan wrote about the Cardinals’ crowded rotation and rather than rehash that article here, let’s just agree that the Cardinals have an unfair quantity of potential starting pitchers. Paul actually undersold the system’s depth, as there are a couple prospects who talent evaluators believe will be ready sometime in 2014. With that said, let’s dive into fantasy value and expected roles.

Sure Things
Adam Wainwright
Michael Wacha
Shelby Miller

You know Wainwright. He’s the guy who terrifies his opponents with excellent control and a devastating curve ball. According to linear weights, his curve ball was worth 17 runs last season or 1.78 runs per 100 curve balls. The only thing lacking in Wainwright’s profile is an elite strikeout rate. Don’t get me wrong, 8.16 K/9 is good, but it’s also not that far above fantasy average for 12 team roto leagues. He pitches deep into games, gets good run support, and limits base runners, so he’s one of the safest bets in the wins category and does well with ERA and WHIP too. He’s currently being drafted as the fifth pitcher off the board, between Stephen Strasburg and Jose Fernandez. Reliable auction values aren’t available yet, but expect low to mid $20’s.

I wrote about Wacha earlier this offseason. While penning that article, I didn’t quite appreciate just how deep starting pitching is this season. I suggested that Wacha would be about the 18th pitcher off the board for $20. It looks like he should be more in the 20-25th pick range, with a cost closer to $12-16. However, Wacha is being drafted as the 17th pitcher in NFBC drafts, so maybe my original projection was spot on.

As for the salient points, he’s a three to four category fantasy contributor. Expect some regression on his strikeout rate from last season. Keep an eye on his velocity early, his postseason success was accompanied by reliever-like velocity. He was less effective during the regular season as a starter, when he threw with lesser velocity. Still good, but less effective all the same.

Somehow, Miller has wound up in Wacha’s shadow. I suspect it’s a bit of a recency thing, Wacha pitched very well in four of five postseason starts while Miller has mysteriously hidden in the darkest corner of the bullpen bench. Miller may be a safer bet than Wacha since he’s more established and there’s no confusion over his abilities as a starter. Last season, he began mixing in his cut fastball and change-up more frequently in place of curve balls and fastballs. His curve ball is merely adequate from a results perspective, but his fastball is his best pitch. He used it to record 126 out of 166 strikeouts last season.

My guess is that Miller is working on building a mature repertoire for when he begins to lose his 94 mph heat. That’s good for the long term, but it probably means that his 8.78 K/9 is here to stay. From a fantasy perspective, I prefer Miller to Wacha ever so slightly, but I’m seeing Miller slip through the cracks more often than Wacha. Therefore, he might end up being the better value of the pair.

Probable Things
Lance Lynn
Jaime Garcia

After winning 15 games last season, Lynn is seeing some fantasy attention. He’s currently being picked as the 45th pitcher off the board, between CC Sabathia and Marco Estrada. Lynn’s shown a platoon split throughout his career, although as the commenters pointed out, it may not be as extreme as it appears at first glance. I continue to maintain that he’s most safely used against heavily right-handed lineups. Personally, I don’t like rostering pitchers who I plan to bench for 5-10 starts. Keep an eye on his fastball velocity; he has a tendency to get stronger as the season progresses.

Garcia is probably somebody to avoid in fantasy drafts. He has a below average strikeout rate and a recent history of injuries to his elbow and shoulder. With the depth behind him, he may even lose out on a rotation job or be traded to a less favorable team. Garcia can pile up ground balls while his solid command and control make him a reasonable bet to provide fantasy average returns in ERA and WHIP. He’s averaged a hair over six innings a start in recent seasons, so he’s not winning extra games by pitching deep. Garcia isn’t on the fantasy radar, so he might be an early season stream starter. It’s uncertain if he’ll be recovered from last May’s shoulder surgery by the start of the season.

Reliever Mayhem
Joe Kelly
Carlos Martinez
Trevor Rosenthal

Kelly may get the opportunity to battle with Garcia this spring. Kelly features a big 95 mph fastball and a ground ball rate over 50 percent, but his strikeout and walk rates leave something to be desired. His 2.69 ERA stands out in stark contrast to his 4.01 FIP. Kelly has thrived in the bullpen whereas that’s not seen as an option for Garcia. As such, he’ll probably work as a multi-inning reliever for the club until they have need of a sixth starter. For what it’s worth, he’s currently going as the 74th starting pitcher off the board, further proof that the fantasy world has forgotten Garcia.

Martinez earned a promotion last season and worked his way into high leverage relief. The Cardinals used Martinez as a starter in the minors, although some scouts feel that he is a reliever long term. With the Cardinals pitching depth, it’s not clear that he’ll be given much of an opportunity to start. Martinez has used two hard fastballs at the major league level, with his four seam averaging 97 mph. He also features an infrequent curve ball and change-up.

Rosenthal is expected to close in 2014, but he reportedly wants to start. For the purposes of this season, Rosenthal is probably locked into his role. A future change could happen, especially if another closer candidate emerges and trades open up a spot in the rotation.

Tim Cooney
Marco Gonzales

Cooney is the closest top prospect to the majors. He’ll probably get a look at some point in 2014, whether that’s as a starter or a reliever probably depends on injuries. I don’t know much about Cooney, so I won’t pretend that I do. What I do know is that he’s walked almost nobody in the minors and posted a very strong strikeout rate in Double-A. He’s a lefty with a 90-93 mph fastball and good curve – at least according to Mr. Cistulli’s research.

Gonzales is another guy who I don’t know much about. Keith Law said that he’s nearing readiness, but I can’t reach that same conclusion from 23.1 minor league innings. He was a 2013 draft pick from Gonzaga, which accounts for that short professional track record. His fastball command and change-up are reportedly his best assets, while his velocity might be a bit soft (88-92 mph).

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How do you rank em’? Wacha, Gray, Miller, Cole.


Own all four on my (rebuilt and still rebuilding) dynasty team…

For dynasty purposes, I have Cole, Miller, Wacha, Gray, then Wheeler and Archer. (I’d throw Harvey at the top of the list, but he’s on the Damn Ligament list…)

Bundy and Appel a bit of an unknown to truly rank at the moment…