Who Steps In For St. Louis?

They say adversity creates opportunity, whoever “they” are. But there’s likely no group that appreciates that quite as much as fantasy baseball mavens. With Chris Carpenter apparently headed for the disabled list, potentially aeternum, there’s an obvious trickle down effect on the St. Louis Cardinals rotation. The immediate beneficiaries are likely to be some combination of Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal, and/or Shelby Miller.

What we know is the Cardinals still have Adam Wainwright, Jake Westbrook, and Jaime Garcia. What we don’t know is how healthy Garcia is after having his ailing shoulder derail his ability to pitch in the playoffs this past season. But uncertainty about Garcia only further cements Lance Lynn in the rotation. Lynn, as you’ll recall, was bounced from rotation to bullpen after he started to get shelled in August. It wasn’t entirely clear if they wanted to use Lynn as a potent setup man for Jason Motte or if they planned for him to start games. With Carpenter down, they probably get their answer whether they wanted it or not.

Assuming Lynn is in the rotation, that leaves one spot left — and assuming John Mozeliak doesn’t bring back Kyle Lohse, then there will be some kind of battle between Kelly, Rosenthal, and Miller.

Kelly saw time with the big league club in 2012, posting a 3.53 ERA (4.00 FIP) and a 16.4% K rate over 107 innings pitched. He was far more stingy as a reliever, albeit in just 15 innings, but in breaking out his starts his ERA was 3.74 and his K rate dropped to just over 15%. His major flaw is against left handed batters. While Kelly holds right handed batters to just a .234/.290/.316 line, it balloons to .313/.389/.528 versus lefties. Over 200 lefties faced, Kelly struck out just 11% of them and walked 10%, giving up 56 hits over 42 innings pitched — 23 of them for extra bases.

Kelly hasn’t demonstrated eye-popping strikeout stuff in the minors, so it’s reasonable to expect his K/9 to sit somewhere in the 6.00 range, but he did manage to generate an impressive 52% ground ball rate. That ground ball rate might lead to an elevated BABIP which will probably hurt his WHIP, but in Kelly you can probably expect something in the 4.00 ERA range, a 15% K rate, and a WHIP likely over 1.30. But his limitations against LHB could send him to AAA to season or to the bullpen.

Rosenthal profiles as a much higher strikeout guy than Kelly and in his 22 innings of work in 2012, he did just that, striking out over 28% of batters faced using a 97mph+ four seamer almost exclusively. They were all relief innings, however, so all we have to go on are minor league figures relative to his starting career. In the minors in 2012 he threw 109 innings (94 of them at AA), posting a 2.97 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and an 8.6 K/9. He allowed only 78 hits over those 109 innings but he did walk 42 batters. What he seems to lack is a quality secondary pitch, which could keep him in the bullpen to throw 96-100 mile per hour fastballs for the foreseeable future, or potentially back to AAA to continue to develop his repertoire. ZiPS seems to like him marginally better than Kelly in terms of ERA/FIP and considerably better in the strikeout department (21.5% to 14.7% better).

Shelby Miller you all know well. The former first round draft pick has sat atop Cardinal top prospect lists for the past three seasons. He struck out 160 batters in 136 AAA innings in 2012, all as a starter. In his brief stint at the big league level, he dominated – holding batters to a .184 batting average, striking out 16 batters in 13.2 innings pitched. Based on the good work of Marc Hulet, scouts seem to believe that he has matured both in terms of character, but perhaps more importantly, as a pitcher — refining his secondary pitches and relying on them to a greater degree. As far as upside goes, Miller is probably the guy with the highest ceiling of the three. ZiPS is less bullish on Miller in 2013 than Kelly and Rosenthal, but the projections also have all of his innings as a starter whereas there is more of a mix for the latter two, which would have an impact on their outlook.

If I had to guess, I’d be a little surprised if it isn’t Miller that gets the nod. But I confess there’s a little bit of fan bias wrapped up in that statement, because I’m really interested to see what he can do. Regardless, if you’re the prospecting type, any three of these guys are worth a grab if available — chances are Miller isn’t in dynasty leagues. Monitor the situation in the Spring, and obviously keep an eye on whether the Cardinals decide to fill the void with a free agent signing.

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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

17 Responses to “Who Steps In For St. Louis?”

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  1. Ivan Grushenko says:

    Isn’t Pineiro on the Orioles?

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  2. Spank says:

    Roy Oswalt seems like a good fit there if they want another veteran.

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  3. MLB Rainmaker says:

    Lynn is underrated. He was the best SP in the NL through mid-June before going on the road against DET and KC and getting beat up by a red hot PIT team. He got back on track for another month before looking tired around mid-August, and finally getting bumped. Even then he came back in September for 4 solid starts to finish off the year.

    I think Lynn just got tired with the jump from 110 to 170 IP. Coming into this year, I think he’s a steal.

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    • Antonio bananas says:

      Look at who his opponents were. Mil, chc, pit, chc, pit, ari, atl, lad, sdp, atl, nym, hou. That’s 11 starts, mostly against weak offensive teams. He was striking out a batter an inning with a 2.85 k/bb. That’s not bad, but given the competition and the streakiness of baseball, I’d say he over performed. He’s going into his age 26 season, he’s not getting much better.

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  4. Jason says:

    Rosenthal was in the big leagues ahead of Miller and was used in higher leverage situations out of the bullpen. Right now Rosenthal is ahead if the Cardinals are indeed filling one spot. That could change in spring training, of course. They could add a veteran. Or Garcia’s shoulder could fall apart, opening two spots. Lots of variables here.

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  5. jdbolick says:

    I think Rosenthal’s success as a reliever may actually work against him since the Cards appear to have fewer options there than for the fifth starter. Meanwhile Shelby Miller’s last ten starts with Memphis were otherworldly. 70 Ks and 7 BBs in 59.1 innings? Yes please. But I agree with Jason that regardless of who wins initially, both will likely end the season as starters.

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  6. allan says:

    Rosenthal has a good breaking ball. It is just that he seldom needed it out of the bullpen except when he needed to embarrass Bryce Harper with it.

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  7. Yadi Molina says:

    Please not Rosie. He hurts my hand.

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  8. aj says:

    Although he is never mentioned, I’m sure wacha could step in second half and pitch at a high level.

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  9. Nick says:

    I’m worried that Wacha has been overhyped due to an incredibly small minor league sample. Trust me, I want the guy to be that good, I just think he needs a full year in the minors to prove it. If he keeps it up, the Cards will have some very interesting decisions next year.

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  10. chris says:

    For the reasons you meantioned, leave Kelly in the pen to face righties and eventually rosenthal should usurp motte as the closer. As I fan, I hope Shelby does slide into that last spot, but all 3 should be utilized at the big league level.

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  11. Anon says:

    Most likely to happen, but subject to spring training/injury whims:

    MLB rotation: Wainwright, Garcia, Westbrook, Lynn, Miller
    MLB bullpen/spot starter: Kelly
    AAA rotation: Rosenthal (to work on secondary pitches)

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  12. allan says:

    Re: Michael Wacha

    The same day that it was announced that Carpenter was injured, the Fangraphs profile on Wacha had an Oliver MLB projection posted to him. It had him at a 4.20 ERA, a 3.74 FIP in just over a 100 innings. I know that Wacha has a substantially small sample size but 40/4 K/BB in 21 innings in three levels? Hmmm. I wouldn’t be at all surprised that he starts at AAA out of ST. I understand that he throws at 97 besides. He even looks like Carpenter at 6’6″. If he gets bigger and stronger like Rosenthal, that velocity ought to tick up too. Rosenthal was clocked at 94 MPH by scouts in 2011. The next year,late, Rosenthal was reaching 100 MPH.

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  13. Yadi Molina says:

    My understanding is that Rosenthal was touching mid-90′s in 2009 when he was converted from shortstop to pitcher. I know that he was clocked at 97/98 late in a postseason start in 2011. So I believe his velocity increase has been relatively gradual — much like Motte’s after being switched from catcher several years back.

    Anyway, I agree with Anon; Miller to rotation, Kelly in the pen, and Rosie to AAA for seasoning.

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