Of Relievers and Starters


When I read the news yesterday that Ryan Madson was out for the season due to an elbow injury, my initial thought was that it was a damaging blow to the Reds. Five seconds later, I reminded myself that a loss like this is far from crucial. At least on paper.

Just a few months ago when Walt Jocketty signed Madson to a 1 year $8.5M deal, I argued that it was an overpay. Relievers are inherently volatile quantities on year to year basis. They are arguably the least predictable sub-population within MLB. But more importantly, they aren't racking up many innings. We'll never know whether the Reds did their due diligence on the medical work -- this feels reminiscent of a late tenure Jocketty move though, right? -- but they are without Madson moving forward and, perhaps more importantly, without the $8.5M they signed him for.

If you were worried about the Reds as serious 2012 competitors for the Cardinals, you still should be.

  1. The Reds lost Ryan Madson but the Cardinals lost Chris Carpenter. It should be obvious that losing a starting pitcher with a 3.40 FIP projection heading into the year is a much more damaging blow than the loss of a closer. On paper, Carpenter is worth about 2 WAR over Madson.
  2. The Reds actually have a better player to be the closer. It's a marginal difference but ZiPS projects Sean Marshall to be better than Ryan Madson. The former Cubs pitcher is a dominant left handed reliever with a relatively minor platoon split.
  3. It's a reliever. This is perhaps the most critical point for me and one that feels like the most controversial. In order to be philosophically consistent, I can't argue that Ryan Madson was an overpay due to his inconsequential-ness and then gloat over the loss. On paper, this costs the Reds something like 1 WIN assuming that the replacement reliever is around replacement level -- which, by definition, they should be. Even if it's the closer, there simply isn't anyone this side of Mariano Rivera who has shown the ability to consistently alter the shape of a team out of the bullpen.

If there's one thing about the loss of Ryan Madson that Cardinals fans should delight in, it's the knee-jerk style way that the Reds are talking about moving Ardrolis Chapman back to the pen. For a player who has struggled with injuries of his own, the club is now going to alter his training close to the start of the season. While it may not impact him mechanically, Chapman -- really that whole Reds team -- seems to be enough of a headcase that this could impact him mentally. Regardless, I'm never a fan of situations where players are asked to radically rethink the start of their season so shortly before it starts.

*** *** *** *** ***

While the Reds are coping with their loss, the Cardinals have been dealing with a far more vague diagnosis of Chris Carpenter. Carpenter was projected to be worth something around 3-3.5 WAR this year per ZiPS. Lance Lynn is a touch harder to get a read on given the reliever aspect of 2011 and his initial projected role but is probably 1.5 WAR less than Carpenter on paper. It's a loss but it's not an epic downfall. The Cardinals are surprisingly well equipped to deal with the loss of Carpenter and, I've argued elsewhere this may have positive aspects to it for the Cardinals in 2013 and beyond.

I know the 2012 season hasn't started yet but you'll forgive me if I can't help but daydream just a touch about the 2013 rotation:

  1. Adam Wainwright
  2. Chris Carpenter
  3. Jaime Garcia
  4. Lance Lynn
  5. Shelby Miller

That's a pretty radical alteration from the last four years of Kyle Lohse and the inclusion of a declining Jake Westbrook. Slowly but surely, the Cardinals are undergoing the process of growing their own arms for the rotation. Moreover, they're doing it in impressive fashion. Behind Miller are players like Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal -- both of whom look like front of the rotation pitching prospects. Behind them is Tyrell Jenkins.

Whether all of these prospects can navigate the perils between the minors and the majors is questionable -- even doubtful -- but the Cardinals aren't invested in one prospect. They aren't necessarily invested in these three prospects. The farm system for starting pitching is suddenly deeper than it's ever been since I've watched the minors with players like Maikel Cleto (who looks like he may be headed to the pen), Jordan Swagerty, Joe Kelly, Scott Gorgen, Boone Whiting and others residing after the big four arms in the system. In previous years, those names would have been the best the system had to offer as far as pitching prospects.

Remember that Anthony Reyes' ascension to majors basically left Jaime Garcia as the only real starting pitching prospect left in 2005. Guys like Adam Ottavino, Chris Lambert and Mark McCormick never materialized -- the latter two never really got off of the ground floor.

Chris Carpenter has been an incredible pitcher for the Cardinals. And if this were 2007, I'd be terrified. But Mike Maroth isn't in baseball anymore and the Cardinals farm system is simply better than it was. It's fully capable of weathering the loss of a starting pitcher -- maybe even two -- without external assistance in 2012.

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