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Marco Gonzales and a Cardinals' rotation in flux

With Marco Gonzales' addition to the mix of starters for the Cardinals, the future and present of the Cardinals' rotation is difficult to tell, but it looks like Gonzales will get at least one more start.

He can hit, too
He can hit, too
Doug Pensinger

(Note: I was planning on doing an in-depth analysis of Marco Gonzales' first start here, but the initial Pitch f/x information is a bit shaky. If you followed along on Gameday you saw multiple low-80s changeups classified as two seam fastballs. The fine folks at take all of the Pitch f/x information and calibrate it for accuracy. However, at the time of writing this post, their excellent work had not been completed. To make sure that I am using the best information possible, I will wait and post the Gonzales analysis on Sunday.)

Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Jaime Garcia, Joe Kelly. That list would make a pretty good five-man rotation. In reality, it is a list of Cardinals' pitchers who are currently injured, have been injured recently, or in the case of Shelby Miller, might be injured. Just a week and a half ago, I profiled the Cardinals' rotation and indicated it would remain strong. When I wrote last week about the possibility of trading for David Price, the rotation consisted of Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, and Jaime Garcia with Carlos Martinez getting a brief audition while Wainwright and Wacha received breathers and Joe Kelly set to start a rehab assignment. Since that time, chaos reigns when it comes to the rotation.

On Sunday, just hours after temporary member of the rotation Carlos Martinez helped pitch the Cardinals to a win, Wacha and Garcia were both shut down with return dates unknown. Aaron Finkel did a good job on Monday morning parsing out the immediate possibilities in the wake of the surprising news. Since that time, more answers have been provided, but more questions remain. Adam Wainwright is fortunately still the anchor. After receiving a start off due to tendinitis, Wainwright came back with authority, striking out seven, walking none, and giving up just one run against Philadelphia. Despite missing a start, Wainwright ranks third in the National League in innings pitched with 108 1/3, second in ERA at 2.08 (Josh Beckett his opposing starter tonight, ranks third), first in FIP at 2.40, first in fWAR at 2.8, and second in rWAR at 3.3. In other words, he is still the ace.

Lance Lynn has remained the consistent pitcher he has been for the past few seasons, emerging as a decent number two pitcher behind Wainwright with Wacha shut down. Here is a comparison of Lynn from 2013 to this season.

Lance Lynn K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP BABIP ERA

2013 8.84 3.39 0.62 3.28 0.314 3.97

2014 8.06 3.17 0.54 3.23 0.286 2.90

I bolded the last two columns because that is the main difference between last season and this one. In both 2012 and 2013, Lynn had a BABIP fifteen to twenty points above .300 and and an ERA higher than his FIP. This season his BABIP has gone the opposite direction and his ERA has plummeted along with it. He has done slightly better this season against left-handers, with a 3.78 FIP. Going forward, it is fair to expect the same steady performance he has provided over the previous two seasons.

After Lynn, the rotation gets murky. Shelby Miller has shown signs of life in the past month, but has had two starts in a row where he was bothered by physical ailments. Shelved by back ailments in his recent, aborted start, Miller is expected to make his next start. Carlos Martinez has gone from getting a start because the Cardinals' owed him one to important piece of the rotation. El Gallo has moved from a 60-pitch limit to a 75-pitch limit to presumably full-starter status when he faces the Dodgers on Friday night. His talent is tantalizing and he could prove to be a dynamic force in the Cardinals' rotation going forward now that the Cardinals have limited his innings for the first three months of the season, saving them for the stretch run.

The current fifth starter slot is very much up in the air.

While Gonzales did not pitch as well as he would have liked, there were signs of encouragement, especially in those first three innings. The Cardinals were placed in a precarious position with the timing of this start. The Cardinals could send Gonzales back down to the minors and promote a bullpen arm, skip their fifth starter given Monday's off-day and then not need the fifth starter again until Saturday July 5th. However, they would not have been able to bring Gonzales back up until the sixth of July absent someone going on the disabled list because players are required to spend ten days in the minors once sent down. That would necessitate rushing Joe Kelly back from a minor league rehab he has yet to begin, bringing up Tyler Lyons who has been struggling in Triple-A, adding a player like Tim Cooney to the 40-man roster, or going with a bullpen game. None of those options are very attractive, leaving the Cardinals to start Gonzales again, hopefully gaining needed exposure to coaches and veterans like Adam Wainwright.

Assuming Joe Kelly needs more than one rehab start, it appears that Gonzales may get two more starts with the Cardinals before heading down to the minors to further refine his game. Mapping out the Cardinals rotation beyond a few days appears to be an exercise in futility given the changes that seem to occur on a semi-daily basis. Pair the injuries with trade rumors, and projecting the rotation becomes even more difficult. The Cardinals will continue to make plans and those plans will continue to evolve, but for right now, the rotation looks like it is Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, and Marco Gonzales/Joe Kelly. It is not what the Cardinals envisioned, but it still retains the potential to be one of the better rotations in baseball.

One more thing...