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John Lackey and Justin Masterson trade impact

The Cardinals made major changes to the rotation, bringing in John Lackey and Justin Masterson. With just two months to go, both players could have a large impact on the pennant race. Using rest of the season projections, we can estimate the difference the new Cardinals will have on the field.

high socks
high socks
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals rotation has been solid all year long. The 3.47 ERA, 3.58 FIP, and 7.9 fWAR generated by the Cardinals in starting roles all sit comfortably in the top half of the National League. The Cardinals' starters are averaging six innings per start. Despite the injuries to Michael Wacha, Jaime Garcia, Joe Kelly, and Tyler Lyons and the inconsistency of Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, and Marco Gonzalez, the Cardinals overall numbers are still solid.

Ignoring injuries and inconsistency and looking at an underperforming offense caused many to believe a hitter would have been a better option for the Cardinals at the trade deadline, but importance of upgrading the rotation and lack of an impact hitter available caused the Cardinals to go after pitching at the trading deadline. Forecasting the impact of the trades is difficult, but using ZiPS rest of the season projections, we can estimate how important the trades for John Lackey and Justin Masterson will be as the Cardinals chase the division title. Here are the estimates for John Lackey and Justin Masterson:

John Lackey 59 3.53 3.38 0.9
Justin Masterson 60 3.48 3.34 0.9
TOTAL 119 3.5 3.36 1.8

Comparing the projections to Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez is somewhat difficult because those projections include time in the bullpen and the innings do not come close to matching what Lackey and Masterson provide. ZiPS currently projects Kelly and Martinez to combine for 71 innings at slightly above replacement level. Even if extra innings are added to come close to Masterson and Lackey, the difference between the new rotation members and the old is roughly a win and a half over the last two months of the season. I am a big believer in Martinez and I do believe he would beat his projections if given an extended chance to start full-time, but on paper, the Cardinals' trades greatly improve the team. In a tight division race, those numbers could have a huge impact on the Cardinals' chances to play in October.

Moving past the immediate replacements, we can insert Lackey and Masterson into the current rotation and compare the starting five's projected stats to Cardinals' starters to this point in the season. (Lance Lynn's innings total was lowered by two as his projections call for two relief outings. His rate stats were kept the same.)

John Lackey 9 59 6.56 3.53 3.38
Justin Masterson 10 60 6.00 3.48 3.34
Adam Wainwright 10 68 6.80 3.18 2.89
Lance Lynn 9 56 6.22 3.56 3.37
Shelby Miller 10 56 5.60 3.82 3.99
TOTAL 48 299 6.23 3.5 3.37
2014 to Date 110 659 5.99 3.47 3.58

The Cardinals' starters' ERA is projected to remain the same, but there are two areas of noted improvement. First, is the number of innings the team is expected to receive from the starters. The Cardinals have gotten a decent six innings per start so far this season, but it has been no secret that the bullpen has had to cover more innings as the season has gone on. The current rotation is expected to get close to an out more per game for the rest of the season. Less than one out might not seem like much, but the earlier outs are usually covered by the less adept members of the bullpen or it could mean stretching the better relievers out through more appearances.

The second area where the Cardinals are set to improve is FIP. While moving down a good 0.21 in FIP might not seem like a big deal given the ERA stayed the same, it bodes well for the Cardinals. The Cardinals are currently beating their FIP. One reason could be luck, but another reason could be the Cardinals defense. If the Cardinals defense can continue to turn balls in play into outs at better than average clip, their ERA may stay in line with the FIP or actually improve upon it.

More injuries would change this analysis, although the Cardinals are better positioned for one with El Gallo down in Memphis than they were before adding and Masterson and Lackey. Michael Wacha's potential return could also add a positive dynamic to the rotation. Currently situated, the rotation is in very good shape the rest of the season. They are in position to get innings as well as above average performance going forward. Adding pitchers is hardly what anyone had in mind going into the season, but transforming the rotation with just two months to go helps the team and could be the difference in outlasting the Brewers and Pirates in the division.