The St. Louis Cardinals starting rotation has been announced, and with Carlos Martinez, Daniel Ponce de Leon, and John Gant in it, there is plenty of risk. Due to injuries to Miles Mikolas, Kwang-Hyun Kim, and Dakota Hudson, the Cardinals are left with a shortage of starting pitchers with MLB experience. Thus, Daniel Ponce de Leon, who profiles better as a reliever until he can improve his control, and John Gant are moving from the bullpen into the rotation. Additionally, Carlos Martinez will also be seeking to prove that he can still hold down a rotation spot.
However, each one of these players has an element of risk when they are in the rotation. Ponce de Leon has yet to prove that he can pitch deep into games, John Gant has been solid as a reliever but has not started a game since 2018, and Carlos Martinez has had various issues which led to him falling out of the rotation after a strong three year stretch from 2015-2017. Additionally, Adam Wainwright will be the second starter, behind Jack Flaherty, and at 39 years old, he should not be expected to be anything more than a back of the rotation arm. However, that is a sign of how much risk is contained within the Cardinals rotation.
Of the last three members of the Cardinals rotation, Martinez and Gant have the most problem, as Martinez has previously been successful as a starter and a reliever, and Gant has been a solid reliever since joining the Cardinals. Even though each of them could struggle, the Cardinals will likely need one or both of them to prove that they belong in the rotation if the team is going to get good results from its pitching staff early in the season. Martinez will need to show that he has regained some of his lost velocity, while also proving that his arm can handle a starter’s workload. Gant, like Martinez and Ponce de Leon, will need to prove that he can pitch deep into games. This is already a concern for someone who has not started a game in three years, but even more so for someone whose walk rate has hovered between 11% and 13% since arriving in St. Louis.
There is potential for the Cardinals rotation to struggle at the beginning of the season since none of the back three starters have been effective, full-time starting pitchers recently. This could be a problem for a team that has traditionally relied of pitching and defense, and may do so again in 2021. However, there is also potential for this rotation to be just as good as a rotation with Mikolas and Kim. To begin with, Kim’s peripheral numbers from 2020 suggest that he is not actually as good at run prevention as he was in his first season. Thus, the Cardinals may be able to get comparable results from Gant, Martinez, or Ponce de Leon.
Additionally, Mikolas is a solid and dependable starting pitcher and probably the hardest to replace between him, Kim, and Hudson. However, he is 32 years old, posted a 4.27 FIP in 2019 and did not play in 2020. He did throw 184 innings in 2019 and finish the season with 2.5 fWAR which is a solid overall season. However, this is something that can be replaced. John Gant can likely put up similar numbers to Mikolas if things go well for him in the rotation, which means that Martinez and Ponce de Leon will simply need to be able to pitch well enough until the rotation can get healthy.
Even though there is a lot of risk in the Cardinals rotation to begin the year, the Cardinals have plenty of pitching depth, and that depth should be able to pitch well enough until the team gets healthy again. Ponce de Leon, Martinez, and Gant are all relatively unproven in the rotation at this point; however, if they struggle the Cardinals have players like Jake Woodford, Johan Oviedo, Tommy Parsons, and Matthew Liberatore waiting for a call up. Thus, it seems that the Cardinals current rotation will at least be good enough to keep the Cardinals in games until the pitching staff can return to health.