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Five Starters

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I get distracted watching Hiroki Kuroda pitch. It's not that he's really good, or that I'm shocked by his mastery of the strike zone—it's that the vague consensus on the internet is that he throws the shuuto, the other ill-defined, mystery-shrouded Japanese breaking pitch that follows, at beat-writer-distance, every pitching import from the moment they step foot in the states. The shuuto, famously misidentified as a gyroball a few years back, is supposed to be anything from a "reverse slider" to a two-seam fastball to a slider with less lateral movement. 

For what it's worth—and given how uncompetitive the game was, it's worth as much as anything else—I saw a few that seemed definitively shuuto-like to me, particularly the pitch Kuroda threw after sending one behind Victorino's head. But if there were ever a game to show the arbitrariness of pitch names, it was that one. Kuroda's pitch might as well have been called a splitter or a changeup, and Jamie Moyer seems to throw, at this point, one pitch at three velocities: slow, 75, less slow, 80, and change-up, 85. Or maybe not; post-Kuroda cleanup was left to Jonathan Broxton, who throws a 150 mph fastball and a slider that comes in around 120. It's just that a 7-2 game lends itself to making sweeping generalities. 

I've been thinking a lot about rotation construction, because I guess a 7-2 game lends itself to a lot of things. There's a ton of aces in this set of prospective league champions—five pitchers whose ERA was thirty percent above average among them, with guys like Scott Kazmir just off the pace—and it seems like every day there's some pitcher, a Billingsley or Matsuzaka, who makes his game appointment TV. But it's the Rays who offer the most hope for the near-future Cardinals. Here's their five man squad:

starter GS IP/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 W-L ERA+
Shields 33 6.52 6.69 1.67 1.00 14 -8 122
Kazmir 27 5.64 9.81 4.14 1.36 12-8 125
Sonn. 32 6.04 5.77 1.72 0.98 13-9 100
Garza 30 6.16 6.24 2.88 0.93 11-9 118
Jackson 31 5.91 5.30 3.78 1.13 14-11 99

Ladies and gentlemen, the Lake Wobegon Five. It reminds me, more than anything else, of the 2004 Cardinals. That team featured pre-ace Carp as its top starter; Jason Marquis, Woody Williams, and Jeff Suppan providing a ton of average innings; and post-fastball Matty Mo holding things down at the party end of the rotation. It got by without a truly dominating stopper because there were no rotation collapses to stop; when you've got a bunch of 30 start types in the rotation you don't have to worry about hitting the Parisi-Thompson-Boggs trifecta, or anything like that.

The Lohse contract makes me think the 2009 Cardinals are being built along these lines, because he is the Platonic #3-4 form in a system like this. He's neither fringe average, like Jackson or Morris, nor borderline ace, like Carp or Shields, and he's made a lot of starts without incident in the past.

So he's locked into that #3 role. If you can get yourself to buy into the rosiest scenarios for Wainwright and Wellemeyer—if you can imagine Pineiro splitting the difference between 2007 and 2008—well, you're still a pitcher short. And you realize that spending $10 million on the bulk-average part of your five-stalwarts rotation makes scrounging together five rotation stalwarts tough.

But looking at it this way I can almost rationalize the signing—can even see myself, eventually, rationalizing the signing. If an ace costs $20 million a year, and you have a guy who might be the ace, then maybe you spend $25 million on two pitchers and see if you can keep the replacement level starters off the lineup card as much as possible. We'll see if that's the way the offseason develops. 

Bonus baseball today: before going their separate ways once more the LCS schedules pass each other, tragically, like two ships in the night. Multi-game thread in the afternoon.