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N.L. Wild Card preview: Part 2

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A look at the pitchers on the teams that could figure into the N.L. Wild Card

Wild Card Game - San Francisco Giants v New York Mets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

On Thursday we began to preview the N.L. Wild Card picture, of which the Cardinals figure to be involved in. Then, we went over each team’s position players. Today, we’ll look at the pitchers.

First, we’ll look at the five starters each team starts with. Grabbing the projections from Fangraphs, I took each pitchers’ FIP, and created a simple average for each team. Here’s the results:

No surprise that the Mets are first. No surprise either that the Rockies are last, though that has something to do with their ballpark. Let’s look at the Mets:

It’s not yet decided that Zack Wheeler will be in the rotation. It’s what I’m betting on, but it might instead end up being Robert Gsellman. Noah Syndergaard looks to follow up on his 6.5 WAR 2016 season. Jacob deGrom has averaged 4 wins a year the last three years, and Steven Matz will look to follow up on a strong first full season. Matt Harvey on the other hand, looks to bounce back from an average 2016 that was below the standards he set in 2013 and 2015.

In second place is the Giants:

Madison Bumgarner and Jhonny Cueto form a powerful one-two punch at the top of the rotation. If Cueto hits that projection, he’ll almost certainly opt-out of his contract at the end of the year. Jeff Samardzija is their number three, who would fit fine as most teams’ number two. Matt Moore came over last year at the trade deadline. The Giants paid a high price in four cheap years of Matt Duffy, but the team still retains one of the best infields in the game. Matt Cain could win the team’s 5th starter spot despite consecutive sub-replacement level campaigns in 2015 and 2016.

Let’s check in on the division rivals, the Pirates:

Gerrit Cole pitches like an ace on a rate basis, with a 2.98 career FIP. Injuries shortened his 2014 and 2016 campaigns to 22 and 21 games started respectively. Jameson Taillon missed all of 2014 and 2015 due to Tommy John Surgery and a hernia, but dominated Triple-A to begin 2016 before getting a call-up in the middle of the season. The projections are bullish on him, expecting a better FIP going forward than he had last year in his first taste of MLB action (3.71).

Fellow top prospect Tyler Glasnow didn’t have quite as impressive of a debut, but good things are still expected. Chad Kuhl makes three starting pitchers who made it to majors just last year. He doesn’t come with as much fanfare but looks to serve as a cromulent fifth starter. Ivan Nova was one of the best signings of the off-season, and that’s become a habit for the Pirates: they just seem to always make a few great signings every year.

The Cardinals come next. After that is the Diamondbacks:

Going into 2016, Zack Grienke had a track record of dominance in the long term (4th best pitcher by WAR from 2008 to 2015), the medium term (8th from 2013 to 2015), and the short term (7th best in 2015). The Diamondbacks bet on that dominance continuing, to the tune of $206.5M over seven years. Instead, he turned in an average performance in 2016, and his worst since 2007.

Robbie Ray will look to back up his breakout 2016. Archie Bradley hopes to make progress on a decent first full season. Since he’s a former Cardinal, you’re probably aware of Shelby Miller’s struggles last year. Here’s an interesting fact though. Shelby’s FIP- in 2014, his last as a Cardinal, was 124. In 2016 it was 117. The difference in perception comes from the fact that his ERA- in 2014 was 104, but 141 in 2016.

Next up comes the first below-average rotation, the Marlins:

Wei-Yin Chen had a down year in 2016, but it was mostly a homer issue, which resolves itself most the time. Edison Volquez’s numbers trended worse in 2016, but the Marlins still got a decent price at $22M over two years. The Marlins picked up Dan Straily off the Reds. He’ll join Tom Koehler and Adam Conley as below-average but above-replacement pitchers filling out the rotation.

Top prospect Jeff Hoffman has stuff that scouts drool over, but he hasn’t put it all together yet. He’ll head back to Triple-A or to the Rockies’ pen. Jon Gray on the other hand put together his tools nicely last year, striking out nearly ten hitters per nine in his first full season. Tyler Anderson came out of nowhere last year to toss over a hundred innings of above average ERA/FIP/xFIP. It’s not very pretty after that.

Of course, only very rarely do just five guys make all 162 starts for a team. Here’s how each team’s sixth starter rates out:

Luke Weaver takes this one home for the Cardinals. Here’s how each sixth starter rates out:

The Cardinals, Giants, Pirates, and Mets all have sixth starters that are projected fairly well. The Rockies’ Chris Rusin isn’t all that bad when considering the environment he pitches in.

And the seventh starters:

The Diamondbacks win this one, by nature of Patrick Corbin’s projection being better than the Diamondbacks apparent opinion of him. Steven Brault is the best guess for who would be up next for the Pirates. He’s the last guy that outranks new Cardinal John Gant. Here is each seventh starter:

Next, we’ll average the FIP of each team’s sixth and seventh starter, and take the difference between that and their starting five:

The Rockies and Marlins have the smallest difference, but that’s because their rotations are weak to begin with, more than the strength of their reserves. The opposite affect is at work for the Mets. The Cards, Pirates, and Dbacks have similar differences.

One last thing I wanted to do for the rotations was chances of injury. Using Jeff Zimmerman’s injury projections, here’s each teams’ chances of suffering three or more D.L. trips. That’s just for the original five starters, not the reserves. This will give us a good idea of which teams will need their reserves the most in 2016:

The Cardinals are the most injury prone, though you might have already known that. Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn are the team’s biggest injury risks, with Wacha not far behind. Mike Leake projects as an above-average injury risk because of his D.L. stint last year. Jeff Zimmerman’s data doesn’t care that it was for shingles, so you can mentally deduct a few percentage points from that. The Giants combine a strong rotation with a low chance of suffering many injuries.

Okay, that’s all for the rotation! Let’s move on to the pen. Here’s each team ranked by projected Bullpen FIP:

The Giants take this one home, but the Cardinals are a close second. Rather than look at potential reserves for each pen, I had a better idea. Unlike position players and starters, managers have an ability to get their best relievers into the highest leverage situations. Thus, a team’s best relievers have a lot more impact on win-loss record than the back half. So I decided to rank the N.L. Wild Card teams by best top 3 relievers, by projected FIP. Here’s the results:

The Cardinals come in first! Seung Hwan Oh, Brett Cecil, and Trevor Rosenthal form the best top 3 among these three teams. Of course, relievers are volatile year to year, so you don’t want to assume the projections pan out. Still, it’s good to see. The Giants come in second:

Mark Melancon briefly held the record for biggest guarantee ever for a reliever this winter, before Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman both topped him. He’ll join Hunter Strickland in high leverage situations. Will Smith would have as well, but he is now likely to need Tommy John Surgery.

The Mets place third:

Jeurys Familia will serve a suspension for a domestic violence arrest in late October. Reed will serve as the closer in the interim. Josh Smoker probably isn’t a high-leverage guy right now, but he projects as the third best option.

You’ll see a familiar name atop the Marlins’ list:

Kyle Barraclough was the price paid for one and a half years of Steve Cishek, back in 2015. A 4.33 FIP down the stretch for Cishek ended up leading to a non-tender, while Barraclough broke out in 2016. That’s a rare trade that the Cards wish they could take back. Brad Ziegler will probably factor into the late innings somewhere, but doesn’t project among the Marlins’ top 3 options.

The Pirates knew they wouldn’t have Mark Melancon past 2016. Instead of losing him at the end of the season and only getting a comp pick, they traded him to the Nationals at the deadline. They got Felipe Rivero back in return, who now projects as their best reliever going forward. Another great move by those pesky Pirates.

This feels a bit weird, because I’m used to criticizing the Rockies front office, but they got Holland on a great deal. That’ll allow everyone to move one spot down in their bullpen. Considering the environment, the top of the pen isn’t all that bad.

And lastly, the Diamondbacks:

Nothing else compares to the MLB when it comes to playing baseball a mile above sea-level. The Diamondbacks also play in an offense-friendly park, but that doesn’t excuse how weak the back of their pen is.

Well that’s everything. Between Thursday and today, we’ve spent about 3,000 words plus and about 35 graphics talking about the Cardinals’ six most likely competitors. Hopefully this analysis gave you a better understanding of those teams, and their strengths and weaknesses going into the season.

Of course, the Cardinals will also compete for a division title. The Cubs are heavy favorites, but stranger things have happened in baseball. Besides competing in the standings with their fellow N.L. Central teams, the Cardinals will also play each of those teams 19 times a piece. So on Monday, we’ll begin a preview of the N.L. Central. Until then, take solace in the fact that real baseball games are right around the corner!