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Cardinals Report Card: Pitchers

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Looking at Jeff Gordon’s grades once again and they are kind of better.

St Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs Photo by Andrew Weber/Getty Images

Well, I decided to look at Jeff Gordon’s grades for the St. Louis Cardinals pitchers. Moments like these make you really miss the playoffs. I could be writing about the Cardinals needing to pick a certain fourth starter for the National League Division Series, but instead I am willingly clicking on a Jeff Gordon article. For fun apparently.

Once again, I will give my own grade for the pitcher along with commenting on Gordon’s. Listen, we have a “grade” for players already. They’re called stats. So this is entirely pointless. I realize that. But since I’m playing the game, I will grade to the best of my ability.

Miles Mikolas - A+

Great start. Absolutely fantastic start we have here. I’ll be honest. I had no idea Miles Mikolas was 18-4. Jeff just told me and that’s why I currently know, but I was oblivious to his win total before today. I have successfully purged wins from my brain apparently. I know they post the win-loss record when they put up pitcher’s stats, but maybe I ignore that because I already know the relevant stats? I don’t know.

My grade - A

John Brebbia - A

This is great. Nothing but good decisions here. Again, I’ll quibble a little on the exact grading, but if you’re in the ballpark, I can respect that. Brebbia was probably our second best reliever, which is absolutely bonkers and probably says more about our bullpen than any insult I could create. No disrespect John.

My grade - A-

Daniel Poncedeleon - A

Interesting. I can easily defend the A here. First off, he deserves the A for coming back from a head injury and having the confidence and the ability to get his way on an MLB roster and hold his own. Also, relative to expectations, him being 26 and never really a serious prospect, he vastly exceeded expectations. The funny thing though, is that Gordon thinks Poncedeleon “re-emerged as an elite prospect” which what? He was never an elite prospect and still isn’t.

My grade - B

Jack Flaherty - A-

My specific gripe with Gordon’s grades is not the grades themselves, but the inconsistency from player to player. It is kind of absurd to suggest Poncedeleon deserves a higher grade for performance over Jack Flaherty. Poncedeleon had a better ERA, yes, but he also had about 118 less innings pitched in the majors. Flaherty, who turns 23 in a week, vastly improved his K rate (21.3% to 29.6%), and marginally improved his BB rate (10.6% to 9.6%). He’s getting less groundballs than he did in 21 innings last year, but an 8 percentage point jump in strikeouts is way greater than a 5 percent drop in groundballs. He may or may not have a HR problem, but I find it hard to believe that an otherwise excellent pitcher in every other respect would be a true talent 15.2% HR/FB guy (Average is around 11% and that would decrease Flaherty’s HR total from 20 to 15, which is rather significant!), so I’m giving him a little leeway there.

Grade - A

Jordan Hicks - A-

I have no idea how you grade a player like Jordan Hicks. Last year, he played the majority of his innings in Peoria and he wasn’t very good there. He did pitch excellent in 27 innings in Palm Beach, but... it’s 27 innings. So the fact that he was able to jump straight to the majors and pitch well enough to stick in the majors all year is an incredible achievement. But, going just by the stats, he very much pitched like a disposable bullpen piece. There is absolutely nothing about his numbers that is exciting to me. Strikes out average amount, walks a ton, and a great groundball rate. Low K, high BB, high groundball guys in the bullpen are very much not my favorite. So I’m torn on what grade to give him. Factoring in his age and his jump from the majors, I’ll give him a slightly better grade than I otherwise would have. But I do not blame Jeff for giving him an A- honestly.

Grade - B

Michael Wacha - A-

Well, here’s where me and Jeff diverge a bit. Wacha’s advanced stats over the whole season are not that great. I admire the fact that Jeff didn’t really hold Wacha’s injury against him. I am, in one kind of way. I fully believe that if he had stayed healthy, his advanced stats would improve (and more likely than not, his ERA would rise). But, I have to grade on what he DID do, and what he did do was have his career worst FIP (by a good amount), xFIP (barely), and SIERA (by a whole lot). He DID start particularly slow and Wacha is prone to streakiness. Hence my belief that he would improve his numbers after a slow start. But I fear I’m losing my more traditional stat lovers at this point in the piece.

Grade - C+

Tyler Webb - B+

If you are a staunch believer in ERA, I think a B+ is about as low as you can go for a guy who had a 1.76 ERA in very limited time. So props for that. Webb, however, was not good. He was, pretty much, as expected given how the Cardinals acquired him: replacement level reliever. When you’re a pitcher, it would be helpful to do these three things: strike people out, don’t walk people, and get groundballs. Webb did not of these three things. His ERA is a mirage.

Grade - C

John Gant - B

Gant’s grade is due in part to his last five starts of the season, because Jeff values September higher than the other months. Gant did struggle down the stretch, and I will note one possible cause: innings. Innings thrown by Gant in 2017: 120.2 IP; Innings thrown by Gant in 2016: 107; Innings thrown by Gant in 2015: 140.1 IP. Lastly, innings thrown by Gant in 2018: 163 innings pitched. Fairly easily his career high in innings pitched, and the last time he came even close to that number was 3 years ago. Anyway, Gant pretty much pitched like the pitcher we thought he was: serviceable if needed, but he’s not going to push anyone out of the rotation. We just so happened to need him for 19 starts.

Grade - C+

Dakota Hudson - B

Thankfully, this other erratic, young bullpen piece is easier to grade. I am not a big believer in Hudson and never have been. That said, he did just have his age 23 season and was fine, but not great. Yes, he did have a 2.50 ERA - and I’m really sorry to ERA believers, I’m really not trying to be instantly off-putting here - but he had a .08 HR/9, boosted by a 1.3% HR/FB. If you’re wondering, “normal” home run luck gives him about 8 home runs allowed instead of 1 in the minors. I’d be willing to accept he could have a better HR/FB% than most pitchers, but not THAT. Maybe 7-8%. In the majors, well he became a more extreme version of Jordan Hicks statistically. He really didn’t strike anybody out, walked nearly as much as he struck out and actually had a near identical groundball rate to Hicks. And as Jeff notes, he allowed 8 of 10 inherited runners to score in his last six appearances, so yes his 2.63 ERA is extremely misleading.

Grade - C

Carlos Martinez - B

Jeff is going in order of grades, as you can tell, so I guess I’m going to keep beating a dead horse. Yet another guy with a good ERA and bad advanced stats. At some point, we are going to be getting to the guys with ERAs more in line with their performance and at that point, I will better be able to judge Jeff’s grades. So Carlos was a lot worse than he was in the past few years. He struck out less, walked more, and got less groundballs than both last year and his career. He had a 4.42 xFIP, and since his career HR rate is 10.4%. Unless, somehow, he declined in every other way but improved in HR/FB%, he got pretty lucky this year. So this grade may seem harsh, but it comes from a belief that his FIP should be higher.

Grade - C+

Bud Norris - B

I know, without yet looking at the stats, that I at least will give Bud a B or higher so, I’m relieved to finally not be more down on a pitcher’s season than what I imagine is the general populace, because that is not fun. Much like Flaherty, Norris appears to have an artificially elevated HR rate due. Unlike Flaherty, there is reason to believe it might be true talent. Norris has a career HR/FB of 11.9% and has not had a HR/FB lower than that since 2014. In fact, his HR/FB% of 15.7 this year is the second lowest in the past four seasons. Okay, talking my through this, I will in fact be giving him lower than B as it turns out.

Grade - B-

Tyson Ross - B

If there’s one thing I will not understand, it was the belief that the only reason Ross wasn’t starting was because he was getting bonuses for every start. That is definitely not the only reason. Ross’ performance also helped. He struck out 14.4% of hitters while walking 9.6%. And he pitched mostly in the bullpen. With a career 10.6% HR/FB and a rate of 5.6% in his short time with the Cards, Ross benefited pretty mightily from home run luck. But I will give him bonus points for providing 0.3 WAR with the bat for the Cards due to... home run luck with his bat!

Grade - B-

Chasen Shreve - C+

Shreve was hated in New York. Turns out that being a lefty specialist who walks a lot of batters and has a propensity to give up a lot of homers does not lead you to become a fan favorite. Shocking, I know. In the past, he has been a guy with great xFIPs, but terrible FIPs because of his career 16.9 HR/FB% (which was probably higher before he came to STL). It stands to reason that moving out of Yankee Stadium would help. It technically did, but Shreve was straight awful with the Cards. He struck out a lot of guys, but also walked 13.9% of batters and had a 20.5 GB%, which is astoundingly low. He allowed 3 home runs in 14.2 IP and was barely unlucky.

Grade - D

Mike Mayers - C+

Here’s another case where I just did not realize how high Mike Mayers ERA was. He allowed 3 ER in his last two innings of work, spread out across three outings, which I’m sure did not help. I’m a little surprised he got a C+ and not lower, because a 4.70 ERA is not very good. But with 0.3 WAR and a 3.95 FIP, Mayers was very solid, if unspectacular over the season. Unfortunately, that meant he was one of the better relievers this season.

Grade - C+

Austin Gomber - C

Whoa. He’s mostly right, but for some reason I’m still surprised. Not a whole lot to be impressed about by his numbers. High ERA. High xFIP. Okay FIP. He strikes out an average amount of hitters, walks too many, and does not get many groundballs. He appears to be in a bit of a no-mans land right now. Not quite good enough to start, but doesn’t really seem to especially adept at getting lefties out (.322 wOBA against), which would make him awkward in the bullpen. Anyway, I agree with his grade.

Grade - C

Dominic Leone - C-

Oh no, we were on such a roll. He’s kind of a tough player to grade, admittedly. He missed more than half the season and had a 4.50 ERA. I think Leone is getting a bit punished here by expectations. If you want reason for optimism, Leone had a 3.62 FIP, 3.78 xFIP, and 3.57 SIERA when he was healthy. Since he only pitched in 24 innings, I’m even less inclined to look at his ERA.

Grade - C+ (would be higher if he had his line over 60 innings)

Adam Wainwright - C-

Another hard player to grade. Jeff’s reasoning is not exactly the best, as he says Wainwright gave up four runs in three September starts, but Wainwright was actually pretty good in September and terrible early in the year. He had 25 strikeouts and 4 walks in 22.1 IP, which I did not think a 37-year-old Adam Wainwright was capable of doing. But unfortunately you have to grade the whole season, not only when the guy was good.

Grade - C+

Luke Weaver - D+

Strong evidence that Jeff highly prioritizes September stats above the rest of the season. You don’t even need to take my word for it. He says the September stats in nearly every writeup. Weaver was extremely disappointing though. He was having a rough year with okay peripherals, got moved to the bullpen, and then got like astronomically worse. Hopefully, Luke can figure it out again, because I really liked 2017 Luke Weaver.

Grade - C-

Matt Bowman - F

Jesus. He suffered a litany of injuries throughout the season and only ended up pitching 24 innings. Here’s where it gets weird. Bowman posted a career high strikeout rate - I mean by far, but also walked a lot more too. The thing about strikeouts is that they are more valuable than not striking hitters out and thus, he had a 3.83 xFIP, which is sandwiched right between his 2016 and 2017 xFIPs. He had a 21.1 HR/FB%, and his performance may or may not have been affected by injuries. I think an F is harsh.

Grade - D+

Brett Cecil - F

Okay this is fair.

Grade - F

Luke Gregerson - F

Boy I liked the batting section more, when I was giving players who got Cs a higher grade and not giving players with Fs higher grades. Gregerson threw 12.2 IP so it feels pointless to note his 25 HR/FB%, 3.73 xFIP, and 3.88 SIERA. Honestly, that should give you some hope for 2019 that he’s not done. Not much solace for his 2017 season though.

Grade - D

Tyler Lyons - F

Much as I hate to say it, he had below replacement level numbers, mostly because hitters stopped hitting groundballs off him. He’ll find a place somewhere - he’s a lefty who strikes out over a batter per inning - but it probably won’t be here.

Grade - F

And Gordon didn’t grade him, but I will.

Greg Holland - F-

Maybe it’s because someone told me I was giving the Cardinals’ hitters too high of a grade. Maybe it’s because I am more pessimistic about the pitching. Or maybe it’s just because the pitchers sucked this year. But I felt like I didn’t give out many good grades to this group of pitchers. Usually a strength, almost everything seemed to go wrong for the Cardinals pitching this year. And they still had the sixth best ERA in the National League. Let’s hope to a more fun pitching post next year.