Analyzing the Card's rotation woes

So, the Cardinals have finally hit a point where they’re struggling. While Starting Pitching has been carrying this team on it’s back for the whole season, lately it’s mostly been putting the team in a hole that the offense has to work out of every game. While Cardinals starters still hold on to the best ERA in the majors (3.23), and are second only to the Tigers in FIP (3.05), this month has been rough on everyone but Wainwright. Let’s look at some overall team stats on starters in the last 30 days, courtesy of

2013 83 515.2 7.71 2.39 0.56 .294 73% 3.23 3.05 10.4
Last 30 days 26 148.1 7.4 2.79 0.91 .306 63.9% 4.98 3.78 1.6

So, the easiest thing to notice is the high ERA, which is second worst in the majors in the last 30 days. But the FIP numbers are very encouraging, as tenth in the league. K/9 is down a bit and BB/9 is up a small amount and HR/9 is almost double the season average, and that leads to an FIP increase of .73 points. Not to bad of a drop for an off-month. LOB% saw a big increase and is a big reason why our ERA is 1.75 higher than average. Eyeballing the GS and IP numbers it seems like we're definitely getting less innings per start out of our rotation. Indeed, while the average IP/GS for the season was 6.18, the average start over the last 30 days was just 5.71.

Let's look at some individual stats for the last 30 days:

Adam Wainwright 5 36.2 7.36 1.47 0.49 .257 80.8% 1.96 2.62 0.9
Lance Lynn 5 30.2 8.8 3.82 0.59 .322 58.8% 6.16 3.51 0.5
Shelby Miller 6 30.1 10.38 2.08 1.48 .338 68.8% 5.04 3.58 0.4
Joe Kelly 1 5.2 3.18 1.59 0 .222 60% 1.59 2.88 0.1
Jake Westbrook 4 22 3.27 3.27 0.82 .289 57.7% 5.32 4.88 -0.1
Michael Wacha 2 10.2 6.75 3.38 1.69 .361 67.9% 6.75 5.12 -0.1
Tyler Lyons 3 12.1 6.57 5.11 1.46 .357 49.6% 10.22 5.65 -0.2

Again, a lot of ugly looking ERAs. Wainwright and Kelly are the only starters with an ERA under 5.00 in the last 30 days. Who I have mostly been concerned with are Lynn and Miller, two guys who have done well all year but have struggled in a lot of recent starts. Lynn didn’t pitch well down the stretch last year and Miller is a rookie so of course worries of being overworked are setting in.

However, Lynn’s K/9, BB/9, and HR/9 are largely the same. For the season his K/9 is 9.03 and his BB/9 is 3.32. The biggest difference lies in both his BABIP and LOB%. Basically, Lynn is giving up more hits on balls in play, and those are coming in bigger bunches so more runs are coming through, thus the high ERA. A great example is his last start against Anaheim. He had 8 Ks and just 1 BB in six innings and gave up no home runs. Looking at just his fielding independent numbers would make you think he threw a gem. But he gave up six singles (and an error) in one inning leading to five runs. He gave up just three hits in his other five innings of work. So, I wouldn’t worry about Lynn yet. He’s still striking a lot of people out and not walking too many, so he hasn’t lost his stuff. Hits are just getting through, which happens throughout a 162 game season.

Miller is in a similar situation. Despite having a high ERA, his FIP is almost two and half runs lower. In fact, he has a higher K/9 and lower BB/9 numbers in the last 30 days than he has the rest of the season, despite having a much higher ERA. His K/9 for the year is 9.66 with a BB/9 of 2.17. He has a higher HR rate in the last 30 days which is the blame for his higher FIP but that is over a small sample. He had a lower than average HR/FB over the season and now he’s experiencing some regression with a higher than average HR/FB. The important thing is, like Lynn, he’s performing badly on BABIP, which he has little control over and LOB% which is just a factor of if he’s giving up hits in bunches or spread out. The fact that Miller is missing more bats and showing better command in the last 30 days rather than worse is very encouraging. Miller feels frustrated and is working on his game and as a result will probably coming out it a better pitcher. But really he's just having fluky outings, his stuff is still there. Like Lynn, balls are just finding holes.

Now we move on to Westbrook. This one I am worried about. For the last 30 days Westbrook has down a little better than his ERA suggests, but not much. His FIP is 4.88. For the season Westbrook holds both the highest BB rate and the second lowest K rate (Kelly has the lowest K rate but makes up for it by having the second best BB rate) among Cardinal starters. As a sinker pitcher he’s at least done well on preventing home runs. While in the last 30 days Lynn and Miller are getting hurt by an irregularly high BABIP, Westbrook is doing better than league average at .289. He does however have a really low LOB%. But when you can’t miss bats and you walk people a lot you can be prone to big innings. Thus Westbrook’s performance since coming back makes me wonder if his elbow is hurting him. Elbow problems usually don’t just go away without surgery, and Westbrook is pitching like he’s still having them. Westbrook relies on movement to be successful and he hasn’t had that since returning. While this has been a fluky month for Miller and Lynn the same can not be said for Westbrook.

But if Westbrook go back on the DL, or simply gets taken out of the rotation, who fills the void? Carlos Martinez should probably be the leading candidate. Since being optioned to Triple-A to condition as a starter Martinez has made 7 starts, pitched 35.2 innings and struck out 34 while walking 12. In that time he’s had a 2.02 ERA backed up by a 2.56 FIP. He might not be ready for a call up now but those are certainly strong numbers, and if he continues his numbers and Westbrook continues his, we might finally see a start from the hard-throwing phenom. Wacha and Gast (when he returns from his own DL stint) are also candidates.

It’s probably for the best that Westbrook gets replaced anyway. After all, his option likely won’t be picked up next year, and we may as well start trying out someone in his spot. Kelly, Garcia, Martinez, Gast, Wacha, and Lyons will all already competing for the spots in the rotation in 2014 not taken by Wainwright, Miller, and Lynn so bringing Westbrook back at 36 for the $8.75 million over the $1 million buyout just doesn’t make sense. Our youngsters are becoming MLB-ready and will be making pennies on the dollar compared to Westbrook. Not to mention many of them have much more potential than Westbrook at his age.

Wainwright, as you can see, is doing fine, in fact he won an award for the month of June. His BB rate is up compared to the rest of the year, but it was microscopically low beforehand. Our numbers in the last 30 days are also influenced by some bad starts by Wacha and Lyons, two pitchers that were not MLB ready quite yet, as their K/9 and BB/9 rates show. But they're numbers too were highly influenced by large BABIP scores.

So, fellow Cards fans, don’t get too upset. Our rotation is in the middle of some negative variance, and the only starter who is really under performing is replaceable in-house. But we shouldn’t give up on Westbrook yet. He’s earned a few more starts to try to turn it around.

This was my first fan post so thanks for reading. Go Cards.

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