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Legitimately Mediocre

After the Matt Clement signing, Mozeliak declared that the starting rotation was "legitimate." That's a curious term to use considering two of the rotation's projected starting 5 are coming off surgeries and the 2 have thrown a combined 26 innings since the 2006 All-Star break! Another member of the rotation is coming off season-ending surgery and may not pitch at all in '08. Certainly the team can hardly count on Carp's contributions in '08 and the two leading contenders to fill in when a member of the rotation goes down combined for a 5.32 ERA in '07.

The rotation in '07 was hardly stellar either. Last season's numbers include the following:

IP/Start HR/9 BB/9 K/9
5.49 1.16 3.25 5.39

The IP/start were the 4th worst in the NL and the K/9 were the 2nd worst in the league. Only the BB/9 were respectable - finishing 9th in the NL - pretty much smack-dab in the middle of the league. Still, there's reason to think the Cards rotation might be slightly improved over last year. Wainwright and Looper will be entering their 2nd years as starters. The Cards will have Pineiro for the entire year. Yes, these are (or appear to be) actual improvements over last year's rotation that saw Kip Wells make 26 starts, Anthony Reyes - 20, Brad Thompson - 17, Todd Wellemeyer - 11, Mike Maroth - 7, and Randy Keisler - 3. That's 84 starts, folks. More than half of last year's starts were made by this distinguished group. Plus, Mark Mulder made 3 craptastic starts last August.

So, what can we expect from this year's group? Is it "legitimate?" Is it even better than last year's group?

I wanted to try to predict how this year's group might fare compared to last year's. Considering the fact that Mo is already lauding this year's group, and the fact that they've added their one veteran to the group, I'd be willing to bet that the '08 rotation is pretty well finalized. Sure, it's possible that a young-un such as Parisi, Boggs, Hawksworth, or Garcia might pitch his way onto the opening day roster, but I wouldn't bet on it. It's also possible that Mo may sign another veteran retread to a minor-league contract, but I doubt that as well. We won't be signing Kyle Lohse or Jeff Weaver (whew!) and we won't be trading for Joe Blanton, Johan Santana or Scott Kazmir. It's possible that Mo might find a taker for Anthony Reyes before the season starts but he's not going to play a prominent role in next year's rotation anyway. We're going to go w/ what we've got.

Since the peripherals of HR/9, BB/9 and K/9 are the best predictors of future performance, I decided to begin w/ those for the '08 starters. This was fairly easy to do w/ Wainwright and Looper as I simply used last year's. I considered using Wainwright's second half splits only since he was considerably better in all 3 stats in the 2nd half and it could portend his future numbers but I decided to be a little conservative. I don't expect this year's ERA to be 2.71 - `07's 2nd half ERA. He's a very good pitcher but I don't expect him to contend for the Cy Young - at least not so early in his career.

Pineiro was a little tougher. He pitched fairly well in his 11 start stint last summer but I hardly consider 63 2/3 innings a very good barometer of future performance, particularly when it contrasts so starkly with the previous 3 ½ years (593 IP). LB did some discussion of this, and Pineiro particularly here and came to the conclusion that, while pitching an entire season the way he did last year's 11 starts is probably unreasonable, there is some reason to think he might be better than his previous stint in the AL - due to switching leagues and some improvement under Dunc's watchful eye. In light of that, the stats I used for Pineiro are an average of last year's 63.2 IP in St. Louis and his previous 593 IP. It's a compromise, and one worthy of criticism, but it's probably closer to the truth than either of the two extremes, IMO.

Clement and Mulder are the most difficult to predict. For Mulder, I used his ZIPS projections, as LB did in the above post. They're not rosy, but I'm not especially sanguine on Mulder in '08 either. I just don't feel there's reason to be. As for Clement, his ZIPS projections aren't out yet so I went w/ the peripherals from his first full year in the league. The p-d article linked at the top acknowledges that Clement's control will likely not be there, at least to begin the season. It also questions his ability to throw 180 innings. Because he hasn't pitched in a year and a half, it seemed better to go w/ his K/9 from that year as opposed to one of his best or his career average and his HR/9 has always been pretty consistent. Considering that Busch seems to suppress homers and he's returning to the NL, I felt pretty good in going w/ his HR/9 from that year as well. It's not a perfect setup by any means, but I think we can all acknowledge that we have no idea what to expect from either pitcher this year. This is, of course, the main reason to question Mo's claim that the '08 rotation will be "legitimate."

We can't expect this group to take all 162 starts this year, particularly since the Cards have acknowledged that Mulder won't be able to go until May (at the earliest?). In any case, somebody(ies) will have to take some of the other starts. There is a large contingent available - as we might see some of the youngsters named at the top but the first crack will probably be given to either Brad Thompson or Anthony Reyes. Whoever it is, it's not going to be Johan Santana. It'll be some near-replacement-level pitcher. For the peripherals I've included below, I've named this pitcher Branthony Reympson. Very clever, huh? For this pitcher, I've combined Reyes' and Thompson's numbers as a starter from '07 to generate the peripherals.

HR/9 BB/9 K/9
Wainwright 0.58 3.12 6.06
Looper 1.13 2.62 4.47
Pineiro 1.39 2.29 5.60
Clement 0.92 4.28 6.75
Mulder 1.13 3.69 4.94
Reympson 1.25 3.16 4.83

I estimated that Wainwright, Looper, and Pineiro would make 32, 30, and 32 starts, respectively. That's the number that the first 2 made last year, and I just guessed w/ Pineiro. He's never had major arm surgery and the Cards don't have a lot of better options so I don't see any reason why he won't pitch the entire season. For Clement and Mulder, I estimated 25 starts each. I'll take some heat for that one, I'm sure. That leaves 18 starts for Reympson. I could take a few starts away from Mulder but the bottom line is that his numbers aren't that different from Reympson's so it really shouldn't matter that much. Clement's are a little better, despite the high BB/9, but I don't see a material difference here.

For IP, I went w/ Bill James' projections for the top 3. This gives a few extra IP to Wainwright and Looper over '07 to account for increased performance. This means 213 IP for Wainwright, 183 for Looper, and 173 for Pineiro. For Mulder, Clement and Reympson, I multiplied last year's average IP/start by the number of starts I expect them to make. As they'll all be around replacement level, they won't pitch deep into games. Clement will be a little better but his high BB/9 should mean short stints as well. This gives Mulder and Clement 137 IP each, and Reympson 99. Add `em up and it's 942 IP - an improvement of 53 IP over last year's rotation. Legitimate? It's above last year's NL average and would have ranked 6th in the NL. Perhaps the predictions for Wainwright and Looper are a little ambitious but I'd say the rest are pretty good. It certainly represents an improvement over the revolving door that was the '07 rotation.

As far as the peripherals go, there's improvement here as well.

IP/Start HR/9 BB/9 K/9
'07 numbers 5.49 1.16 3.25 5.39
'08 forecast 5.81 1.04 3.13 5.47

It's improved. I would argue that there's not tremendous improvement. In reality, we're probably talking about something on the order of 3 wins or so. That's better than a jab in the eye with a sharp stick but, when you consider that the Cards beat their Pythagorean record by 7 wins, it still leaves the Cards as a mediocre team at best.

Where's Carp, I hear people asking. What should we count Carp to produce in '08? If he does, indeed, return in August, we're looking at, what -- 10 starts at the most? He won't have pitched in almost 2 years. Do you expect him to be considerably better than Reympson? When Morris returned after major surgery he finished the year in the bullpen. Might we see Carp do that? Who knows? If he does return to the rotation and pitches better than Reympson, perhaps that's covered in the somewhat rosy projections (at least in terms of IP) for Wainwright and Looper? Whatever he pitches, I don't see him improving the rotation much in his few starts over what the others will produce in their 150.

Is it "legitimate?" There's only slight improvement among the other NL teams - moving the Cards up 1 spot in BB/9 and K/9 from where they were in '07. Mozeliak seems to think it's legitimate. Of course, he also thinks that Aaron Miles gives the Cardinals "added flexibility." Dammit! I tried so hard to get through this w/o an Aaron Miles crack. I'm a weak man!

I guess the bottom line is that the rotation should be improved, slightly, over '07. It's dubious at best to consider it competitive w/ the other playoff contenders in the league.