Past & Projected: A Look at Average Starts of the St. Louis Cardinals Rotation Members

Growing up in central Iowa during the Whiteyball and early Torre years, there was no Fox Sports Midwest because there was no cable. Back then we followed the Cardinals via Jack Buck on the radio and box scores in the morning paper. As a youngster, I wasn't often allowed to stay up late enough to listen to an entire game on the radio, so the box score was the way I followed the Cardinals in my formative years.

Every morning during the baseball season, I would eat my cereal, read the game story (or blurb, as the case may be) in the Des Moines Register, and peruse the box score. How did Ozzie hit? How many stolen bases did Vince have? What was the starting pitcher's line?

Game by game was how I digested the baseball season. Sure, the box score would give you bits of cumulative statistics. If a player hit a homer, the seasonal tally was found in parentheses. A player's cumulative batting average was also featured. For pitchers, only their "win" and "loss" totals for a season could be found in the box score. No seasonal strikeout total. No quality start total. No K/9 or BB/9. No WHIP. No FIP. Not even ERA. All we had was the pitcher's line from the game before.

Nowadays we have wonderful internet databases like Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference that make a pitcher's cumulative season stats readily available at a moment's notice. This makes it easier to keep perspective on a pitcher's performance in a season because the forest of cumulative season stats is but a click away online. Today I wanted to add a twist to these stats by looking at the Cardinals starters through the prism of their average start.

The following chart shows the cumulative 2011 lines for Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, and Jake Westbrook. Because Adam Wainwright missed 2011 due to Tommy John surgery, I've used his 2010 line for the chart.

LAST SEASON'S CUMULATIVE STATS

Pitcher

GS

IP

H

R

ER

HR

SO

BB

Carpenter

34

237.1

243

98

91

16

191

55

Garcia

32

194.2

207

100

77

15

156

50

Westbrook

33

183.1

208

103

95

16

104

73

Lohse

30

188.1

178

80

71

16

111

42

Wainwright*

33

230.1

186

68

62

15

213

56

I wanted to see what these stats meant for the Cardinals on a per start basis. So I took the counting stat totals and divided them by the total number of starts. This gives us each individual pitcher's average start for their last full season. The following chart shows what an average start in 2011 for Carpenter, Garcia, Westbrook, and Lohse looked like. It also shows what an average Wainwright start looked like in 2010.

LAST SEASON'S AVERAGE START

Pitcher

IP

Pitches

H

R

ER

HR

SO

BB

Carpenter

7.0

106

7.15

2.88

2.68

0.47

5.62

1.62

Garcia

6.1

93

6.47

3.13

2.41

0.47

4.88

1.56

Westbrook

5.6

93

6.30

3.12

2.88

0.48

3.15

2.21

Lohse

6.3

93

5.93

2.67

2.37

0.53

3.70

1.40

Wainwright*

7.0

102

5.64

2.06

1.88

0.45

6.45

1.70

What immediately jumps out to me is how good Carpenter was last season. He averaged seven innings per start and allowed less than three runs per start. Now look at Wainwright's 2010. Comparing Carpenter's 5.0-fWAR 2011 to Wainwright's 6.1-fWAR 2010 illustrates just how significant both Wainwright's injury in 2011 was and how important his return could be in 2012. If healthy, Wainwright's excellence places him in the top tier of big-league pitchers.

We shouldn't focus just on the co-aces, though. Last season, the Wainwright-less rotation was pretty solid. When broadcasters and pundits throw around tired clichés about a pitcher "giving his team a chance to win," it drives me up the wall. This type of nebulous statement is oft-applied to mediocre starters. That being said, the top three St. Louis starters in 2011 objectively did give the Cards a chance to win last season: Carpenter, Garcia, and Lohse all averaged approximately a quality start in 2011.

Since 2011 is in the books and 2012 is right around the corner, let's have a look at what we might expect from the Cardinals starting staff this season. With fantasy baseball draft season upon us, lots of pixelated ink has been spilt on the various projection systems. One truism has emerged: averaging the systems is the best practice. So, for the 2012 Cardinals starters, I have averaged together three of the projection systems available on Fangraphs: Marcel, Bill James, and ZiPS. The following graphs shows the average projected 2012 cumulative lines for the rotation members.

2012 AVERAGED PROJECTIONS (MARCEL, BILL JAMES & ZiPS)

Pitcher

GS

IP

H

R

ER

HR

SO

BB

Carpenter

30

206.1

197

83

77

15

158

51

Garcia

30

180

177

79

72

14

147

54

Westbrook

28

160.2

172

78

78

15

97

60

Lohse

26

152

161

74

70

15

94

42

Wainwright*

22

155

142

46

54

12

134

41

Using the same method described above, I calculated what the average of these three projection systems predicts will be an average start for each of Carpenter, Garcia, Westbrook, Lohse, and Wainwright in 2012. Rather than just showing the same chart as the one shown above for the 2012 projections, I want to compare the 2012 projected average start for each individual pitcher to his average start from his last season. The following graph contains the comparison for Carpenter.

Carpenter

IP

Pitches

H

R

ER

HR

SO

BB

2011 Season

7.0

106

7.15

2.88

2.68

0.47

5.62

1.62

2012 Projection

6.90

--

6.56

2.75

2.58

0.51

5.28

1.70

Comparison

-0.1

--

-0.59

-0.13

-0.10

+0.04

-0.34

+0.08

The projection systems foresee a slight downtick for Carpenter. Because it seems unlikely that Carpenter will throw over 237 innings in 2012, the downtick doesn't feel too far off--especially given the decrease in runs and earned runs allowed. With the club's infield defense no longer featuring Ryan Theriot or Skip Schumaker, it seems highly likely that not just Carpenter but all St. Louis pitchers will likely give up fewer runs due to better softer hands, better range, and improved arms behind them.

Garcia

IP

Pitches

H

R

ER

HR

SO

BB

2011 Season

6.1

93

6.47

3.13

2.41

0.47

4.88

1.56

2012 Projection

6.0

--

5.89

2.62

2.39

0.47

4.89

1.81

Comparison

-0.1

--

-0.58

-0.51

-0.02

+/- 0

+0.01

+0.25

It's important to keep in mind how projection systems work. The basic component is a weighted average of past performance. Because Garcia was shutdown by the club in 2010 after 163.1 IP in his first season coming off of Tommy John surgery, the systems don't project him to surpass his 2011 IP total, but at 180 IP to tally between his 2010 and 2011 totals. Garcia's 2010 season also featured a 3.53 BB/9, making him a less than efficient starter. It's not surprising that the averaged projection sees his starts being shorter in 2012 than in 2011, when he shaved 1.22 off his BB/9 rate.

With a 54.9% groundball rate in the majors, Garcia ought to benefit from the improved infield defense even more than Carpenter. Unsurprisingly, the projection systems see the disparity between Garcia's runs allowed total and earned runs allowed total shrinking. Because of Garcia's improved efficiency in 2011 and the club's improved infield defense in 2012, I'm more bullish on Garcia's walks and innings pitched per start than the projection systems.

Lohse

IP

Pitches

H

R

ER

HR

SO

BB

2011 Season

6.3

93

5.93

2.67

2.37

0.53

3.70

1.40

2012 Projection

5.85

--

6.21

2.85

2.71

0.59

3.62

1.60

Comparison

-0.18

--

+0.28

+0.18

+0.34

+0.06

-0.08

+0.25

The projection systems see Lohse striking out fewer, walking more, giving up more homers, and allowing more runs. With this bearish outlook, it makes sense that the 2012 projection average also foresees Lohse having a shorter average start than he did in 2011. Given Lohse's ERA-FIP gap of +0.28 last year, this projection does not feel that far off.

Westbrook

IP

Pitches

H

R

ER

HR

SO

BB

2011 Season

5.6

93

6.30

3.12

2.88

0.48

3.15

2.21

2012 Projection

5.71

--

6.14

2.79

2.79

0.54

3.46

2.14

Comparison

+0.11

--

-0.16

-0.23

-0.09

+0.06

+0.31

-0.07

Westbrook's deterioration in 2011 was due by and large to his increased walk rate. The projection systems see him reducing that walk rate and lasting deeper into games as a result. They also foresee a smaller runs allowed-earned runs allowed disparity. This feels correct due to Westbrook's extreme groundball tendencies. Hopefully it is.

Wainwright

IP

Pitches

H

R

ER

HR

SO

BB

2010 Season

7.0

102

5.64

2.06

1.88

0.45

6.45

1.70

2012 Projection

6.94

--

6.37

2.06

2.43

0.52

6.00

1.84

Comparison

-0.06

--

+0.73

+/- 0

+0.55

+0.07

-0.45

+0.14

The averaged projection tempers one's Wainwright enthusiasm a bit. The IP totals for the respective projections offer a window into the uncertainty facing the wagon-maker in 2012. Bill James (209 IP), Marcel (83), and ZiPS (173.1) seem to pretty well cover the three most likely potential outcomes for the returning ace. Averaged together, they foresee a pitcher still effective but not quite as elite as he was in 2010. Even to the most optimistic Cardinals fan, the averaged projection for Wainwright post-Tommy John surgery seems fair.

As the 2012 season unfolds it will be fun to look back at the projected average start for the members of the Cardinals rotation and see if they have given us a performance above- or below-average. If the fivesome performs at a level roughly on par with their 2012 projections, the Cardinals are going to be in a position to win a lot of ball games this season.

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