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wainwright joins the rotation

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it's more or less official: wainwright's in the rotation. derrick goold has the scoop in this morning's post-dispatch:

"I think that Adam Wainwright could be as good as any pitcher who was in the free agent market," Jocketty said. "He has the capabilities of that. . . . As we see Izzy progressing more and more we feel more comfortable taking Adam out of that (closer) role. That's why you get Adam to condition to be a starter, and we get to spring training and see which way we go with it."
this is a smart, straightforward use of the organization's resources (though the wild-eyed izzy haters won't like it). it's also uncharacteristically smart, straightforward pr by the cardinals; eliminates some guesswork, quiets some speculation, mutes some hysteria, and facilitates the setting of realistic expectations. as danup put it not long ago, st louis acquired its fourth starter not from the free-agent market or via trade, but from the bullpen --- and (if the projections are to be trusted) he's a better bet than most of the free-agent "talent" available this off-season. that leaves the cards with just one hole to fill. for now, brad thompson projects as the guy to fill it; i'm not wild about him, but he still represents an improvement over jason marquis. let's put that rotation alongside last year's, with actual and projected era figures:
2006 2007
carp 3.09 ~3.25 carp
suppan 4.12 ~5.00 wells
mulder/weaver 5.60 ~4.50 wainwright
marquis 6.02 ~4.75 reyes
ponson/reyes 5.14 ~5.25 thompson

first of all, those are pretty conservative era estimates for 2007. for wells, i used his ZIPS projection; for wainwright, i'm assuming he's a run and a half worse than he was as a reliever last year; and for brad thompson, i'm allowing an increase of 2 full runs over his career big-league era. i'm even projecting that carpenter takes a step backward. nevertheless, if we rough out those estimates over a full season's worth of work, these five starters figure to be about 30 runs better than last year's group; if the two kids progress and keep their eras in the range of 4.00, and/or if wells clicks with duncan, we could be looking at a 50-run bump. so it's not at all unrealistic to project this rotation as 3 to 5 wins better than the one the cards fielded last year. to put it in era terms: last year's rotation compiled an aggregate 4.79 era. these 5 guys project to have an era in the 4.30 to 4.50 range. for comparison's sake, the 2004 starting rotation (which anchored a 105-win team) had an aggregate era of 4.08.

one thing to like about this projected rotation: it can strike people out. the top 4 guys all have career k rates north of 6.5 per 9 innings. the big concern is the workload --- we don't know whether the bottom 4 guys can handle 180 innings apiece. but reyes threw 170+ innings last year without incident; wainwright has topped 150 innings four times in the minors. additional replacement-level arms will undoubtedly be brought aboard for insurance (i would still like to see them take a shot at john thomson), and a jon lieber or kris benson might shake free in a trade either before or during the season. but if these are the five guys the cards end up with, i think they will still compete. a rotation built around those five starters should be good enough to get the team into the mid- to high 80s in wins.

is there room for improvement? you betcha --- tons of it. but the cards are wise to stay patient and wait until they can get a pitcher who would really improve the team, rather than make a panicky acquisition (eg, a badly overpriced suppan or weaver) that kinda sorta looks like an improvement on paper. the pitchers who truly might have made the cards better either are committed to the west coast (jason schmidt, randy wolf, greg maddux) or are just flat-out too expensive (barry zito). given those players' unavailability, the team has made the reasonable decision to improve from within. to repeat myself from one week ago:

for more than a year the cardinals have been saying, in word and deed, that they're going to make a greater commitment to player development in the future --- promote from within, trust the young players who come up through the ranks, win or lose with'm. might as well get started on that project right now.
last season, as the rotation disintegrated, a lot of us were frustrated by the organization's reluctance to turn to reyes and wainwright. well, the cards are turning to them now; i'm looking forward to finding out what they can do.