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Cardinals Starting Pitcher Injury Chances in 2016

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The Cardinals have a lot of injury concerns heading into the season with the rotation. What are the chances each pitcher gets injured?

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last few seasons, quality has not been a question mark for Cardinals starting pitching. When the Cardinals' top pitchers have pitched, they have delivered excellent results. Quantity has been the concern. In rotations filled with young players with innings limits or questions and veterans filled with injury histories, getting enough innings out of the starters was a big need. Heading into this season, the Cardinals will continue to have those questions, even with the signing of Mike Leake. Injuries can be random, but we can look at the Cardinals pitchers and determine the chances that any one of them will hit the disabled list this season.

Last year, before the season started, the Cardinals had multiple players they could count on for innings. Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, and John Lackey had consistently provided innings over the previous few seasons. Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez were likely on innings caps that could limit them as the season wore on, and Jaime Garcia could not be counted on for any innings given his complicated injury history.

Even after Wainwright went down, the Cardinals found both the quantity and quality of innings needed to make the playoffs. Unfortunately, Lance Lynn was pitching through an injury that would require Tommy John surgery, Carlos Martinez had a season-ending shoulder strain that would not have been season-ending had it occurred in June, Michael Wacha appeared to wear down near the end of the season, and the Cardinals' great regular season rotation was not the same in the playoffs.

Jeff Zimmerman at FanGraphs has done research to try and determine the chances of a pitcher going on the disabled list. He looked at pitchers who made 20 starts and pitched 120 innings the previous season, and came up with a formula to determine a player's chances of hitting the disabled list. I used Zimmerman's numbers last season to discuss the rotation's chance of injury. The main factors in Zimmerman's formula are:

The get the values, I used the same trustworthy formula I created a few years back which looks at three items:

  • Age: The older the pitcher, the more the injury risk (+1% point increase each year older)
  • Injury history: Nothing predicts future injury like past injuries (+10% points for each season of the past three on the DL).
  • Games Started: A pitcher needs to show they can throw for an entire season without breaking down (-3% points for each full season up to three).

Predicting injuries is a somewhat ridiculous task given how injury prone all pitchers are regardless of age, body-size, and mechanics, but we can acknowledge that the factors listed above do have an effect on a pitcher's chances for the disabled list given the study that Zimmerman has performed. As an example, this is what I wrote about Wainwright last season:

Wainwright is someone fans are incredibly worried about. He did not actually miss time last season, but very easily could have given his struggles. Offseason surgery does little to alleviate those concerns. Zimmerman also discussed a few other risk factors with injuries. In his chart, if a pitcher threw the curve more than 25%, the slider more than 30%, threw under 60% of pitches for strikes, or the Pitchf/x zone percentage was less than 47%, Zimmerman noted those possibilities as further risk factors. Wainwright had no problem pitching in the strike zone, but he does use his curve quite a bit. Wainwright throws his curve more than 25% and was at 25.6% last season per Brooks Baseball.

Wainwright did hit the disabled list, but it had nothing to do with his arm, as he hurt his Achilles running out of the batter's box. RIght around 40% of starting pitchers will hit the disabled list at some point in the season. In revisiting last year's numbers, the chart below shows the Cardinals' numbers at the beginning of the season and if they hit the disabled list last year.

DL% in 2015 DL in 2015
John Lackey 55.3 No
Jaime Garcia 53.1 Yes
Adam Wainwright 37.0 Yes
Michael Wacha 35.3 No
Lance Lynn 31.5 Yes
Carlos Martinez 30.2 Yes

The Cardinals had two players who were 50/50 and had one hit the disabled list while the other remained intact. They then had four pitchers with a one-in-three chance of getting hurt, but three out of four pitchers hit the disabled list, and Michael Wacha was not looking strong near the end of the season. The Cardinals were very lucky to get the performances they did last season, but were unlucky when it came to pitcher health.

As for this year, Jeff Zimmerman has again run the numbers on pitchers using his formula.

Age GS '13-'15 DL '13-'15 DL Chance Other Risks
Jaime Garcia 29 36 3 54.4% NA
Adam Wainwright 34 70 1 46.3% Curveball
Carlos Martinez 24 37 1 37.2% NA
Mike Leake 28 94 1 36.6% NA
Michael Wacha 25 58 1 36.4% NA

Garcia is not going to be able escape his multiple risk factors despite a solid 2015 season. Wainwright has age, his disabled list stint last season, and a lower number of starts elevating his risk while Martinez, Wacha, and Leak all remain fairly low despite concerns regarding the first two.

The Cardinals will likely have to use more than the five starters above. There is only a six percent chance that all of them stay healthy during the course of the 2016 season, and at this point they are all not a guarantee to make it through Spring Training. Pitchers get injured and the same will be true for the Cardinals. A little bit better luck on the injury front this season might make up for some of the production unlikely to repeat itself from last season.