Today at 1:20pm, Luke Weaver will take the mound in Chicago for the finale of a shortened series against the Cubs. About five hours later, Jack Flaherty will take the mound in Omaha as the Redbirds face-off against the Storm Chasers.
Okay, in reality, both games will probably be cancelled under a foot of snow, but let’s just say those are the variables in today’s thought exercise. UPDATE: The Cardinals/Cubs game has already been postponed.
The Weaver start in Chicago is great. The club did the right thing - eventually - when after the Monday rainout they opted to bump Michael Wacha from a start against the Cubs and keep Weaver on regular rest. But of course, by starting Flaherty in Omaha, they are cementing their plan to simply push Wacha back one day and delay the top pitching prospect’s return by at least another turn of the rotation.
Last week, I fretted about Adam Wainwright’s spot in the rotation. Since then, he hasn’t been great, but he’s gradually creeped back to something like average, posting Game Scores for the season of 38, 47, 52. So Wainwright’s performance has gone from crisis to something more like “let’s keep a very close eye on this.”
But the other factor that I noted could cost Wainwright his spot in the rotation was the existence and excellence of Jack Flaherty - which remains a factor for Wacha as well. Through three starts - two in the minors and one in the majors - Flaherty has thrown 18 innings, struck out 25, allowed 16 hits and 3 walks, while giving up no home runs.
Wacha, meanwhile, has muddled along at a sub-Wainwrightian level, posting Game Scores of 30, 49 and 45. In 14 innings, he’s struck out 12, surrendered 14 hits and 10 walks, while giving up 2 home runs.
As if the performance was not reason enough to take Wacha out of the rotation, Jeff Zimmerman’s research suggests he’s almost certainly injured. Zimmerman looks for changes in velocity, spin rate and zone percentage, because players who show massive drops across the board are very often hurt. Joining Wacha near the top of the leaderboard was Sam Tuivailala, who is, you know, injured.
Wacha, as you’ll recall, deals with a shoulder injury which never really goes away, but can be better or worse at times. Last year was a bit of a bounce-back for him, pitching 163 innings and posting his best FIP since he was first diagnosed with the condition in 2014.
Given his history, performance and the data suggesting the shoulder injury is flaring up, and with a guy like Flaherty showing very big league quality stuff in AAA... why would the Cardinals give Michael Wacha another start?
I’ve advocated for the club to be more dynamic in terms of shuttling pitchers between the rotation, AAA and the 10-day DL. VEBer jdog55 even created this helpful graphic to illustrate the point:
This is clearly a time for the club to - at a minimum - move Wacha to the 10-day DL for some rest and give Jack Flaherty at least a couple turns through the rotation. From there, they can reevaluate.
Will the club actually do that? That’s far less-clear.
On the plus side, after initially announcing Wainwright and Wacha would both keep their scheduled starts against the Cubs, the team did shift gears to move Wacha to the Reds series. But in explaining the move, Mike Matheny constructed some elaborate excuse about wanting to separate Waino and Wacha in the rotation because they have similar stuff and arm slots.
If someone can point me towards data supporting Matheny’s assertion, I’m all ears, but the idea that facing two pitchers with similar arm slots ON SEPARATE DAYS is somehow an advantage to major league hitters seems utterly preposterous to me. Will the Cardinals use this revolutionary new data to stagger their starters going forward? Will the wisdom soon spread throughout the league, with the Nationals no longer making the foolish choice to start Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg back-to-back?
I’m sure Matheny thinks he’s just shielding his guy here or something like that, but 1) it’s prima facie ludicrous, and 2) it’s yet another example of the special treatment Mike’s Guys™ receive.
It was just two months ago that Matheny was AGAIN taking shots at Carlos Martinez for somehow not living up to expectations. Martinez is - as you have probably noticed - the best pitcher on this baseball team. Now, even with the team actively side-stepping a Michael Wacha start, the manager can’t even say something as matter-of-fact as “Wacha’s been struggling lately so we’re going to get him an extra day of rest and start Weaver, who’s been really strong for us.”
There’s a number of factors in how the Cardinals manage their rotation this season, taking advantage of the burgeoning talent of Flaherty and likely soon, Alex Reyes. But the fact that the manager’s devotion to certain guys continues to be one of those factors threatens to again be the thing that costs the team a few wins over the course of the season and maybe a shot at the playoffs.