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That's some kind of rotation

Must be brief today (you can tell because I left out the personal pronoun); more graduation-related hijinks are set to ensue this morning. So: Stop, for a moment, and think about how the prospect of this 2009 rotation would have seemed to you at this moment last year:

  1. Adam Wainwright
  2. Chris Carpenter
  3. Todd Wellemeyer
  4. Kyle Lohse
  5. Joel Pineiro
You might, like me, have been a little too optimistic about Pineiro, but that optimism is mitigated by the continued presence of Todd Wellemeyer, a career almost-fireballer who had a few good months in 2007, and Kyle Lohse, who on February 20, 2008 was still in the process of not getting his big, absurd multi-year deal. It's not exactly a thrilling prospect today, but there's at least a capacity for optimism that I wouldn't have had last year. But here's what it's got me thinking about today: games started. 

This rotation has a comically long list of question marks set to follow it around. Among things ripe for speculation, going up the list: Pineiro's minor managerial squabbles and strikeout totals; Lohse's big, absurd multi-year deal; Wellemeyer's career; Carpenter's not-unhealth; and Wainwright's dangerous proximity to this rotation, which—health-wise, effectiveness-wise—looks like the glowing "before" picture on an episode of Captain Planet. At its worst, it makes me think I'll be seeing a lot of the Memphis Redbirds' rotation; in more optimistic moments It reminds me, in a not-at-all-predictive way, of the 2004 staff. 

Which is to say: stop, for a moment, and think about how the prospect of this 2004 rotation would have seemed to you at this moment in 2003: 
  1. Chris Carpenter
  2. Matt Morris
  3. Woody Williams
  4. Jeff Suppan
  5. Jason Marquis
You've got Marquis, who had a bunch of mixed half-seasons on his baseball card and had gotten knocked around in the last few; Suppan, who had pitched well for Kansas City and Pittsburgh but was not the type to light a fire in anybody's breast; Williams, whose inexplicable run as a great pitcher had come grinding to a halt in the last months of 2003; Morris, who had shown some worrying signs of wear and, in hindsight, had already pitched his last season as Matty Mo; and Chris Carpenter, who spent 2003 as, for the first of many times—Dan'n'Al, can you get this?

DAN: Well, you know, Al, this is like making that big Spring Training trade, only you don't have to trade anybody!

AL: You know, it really is. 

DAN: Except he didn't show up. Back to you, Dan.

Like I said before: I don't expect the current cast of characters to come anywhere near burning through 150 starts in 2009. Carpenter is, somehow, even more fragile than he was before, and when you go down the list only Wainwright has a genuine advantage on his 2004 analogue.

But the 2004 Cardinals provide an interesting way to think about starting pitching: You have 162 starts to hand out; make sure as many of them as possible go to people who are competent.

The 2004 Cardinals succeeded by somehow getting 154 of them out of their five best pitchers, which is probably an unreachable goal with this or any other group. The 2009 Cardinals need 30 from Wainwright—that seems, with all the necessary pitcher-projection concessions, doable. From Wellemeyer, Lohse, and Pineiro, that all-important sturdy middle, they need to dredge up enough starts to keep the replacement level at bay. And from Carpenter... well, they need to expect nothing, and hope for 20 starts, and wish, silently, as they blow out their birthday candles, for 30. Here's one configuration, presented less as a guess than an example:

  • 33 -- Lohse, ~100 ERA+
  • 32 -- Wainwright, ~120 
  • 28 -- Pineiro, ~90 
  • 25 -- Wellemeyer, ~105 
  • 15 -- Carpenter, ~115 
  • 14 -- Boggs, ~90
  • 9 -- Thompson, ~90
  • 3 -- Mortensen, ~90
  • 2 -- bullpen
  • 1 -- Hawksworth, INF
In this scenario Blake Hawksworth, longtime Get Up Baby prospect crush, comes out one important September evening throwing a fastball that can only be seen in HD. One, two, three—eventually fifteen consecutive Chicago Cubs go down on strikes, and Carlos Zambrano is breaking his teammates' bats over his knee one by one. On the sixteenth strikeout Hawksworth blows his arm out so thoroughly that Chris Carpenter winces. Just before play resumes Rick Ankiel holds a press conference in center field and announces that he's retiring as a pitcher again, for good measure. I'm never able to love another prospect or prospect's name again. 

If you have a scenario, plausible or optimistic or Hawksworthian, set it down here for posterity; it'll be interesting to come back to at this moment next year, if nothing else.