We have 5 guys that could be in the middle of many MLB rotations. Will any of them stand out as the leader, or "ace" of the staff, is the question. 5 pitchers with roughly the same expected performances would be fine as long as they are trending to be a bit above replacement level, but it's not that ordinary to assemble such a rotation.
My heart wants Jack Flaherty to be the ace, my mind says Jordan Montgomery will lead the 5, and my gut is gonna go with the gold standard Miles Mikolas like it does every year. 3a, 3b, 3c, 3d, and 3e may be interchangeable in some ways, but in other ways they have different strengths which could give them each a helluva good season if everything breaks right for them. Or at least, well above average, given our modest midrangers.
Jack Flaherty is our once prosperous, now fallen star. He has the most upside, and the lowest floor, because we are not really certain what he will do next. I could see him easily be the ace of this staff, but he could also be toast. I don't really know. It will be interesting to find out, especially with Wainwright possibly out for a while.
Montgomery is the horse. He will eat a lot of innings. Perhaps the most important pitcher we have. But at what rate will he perform at overall? He may be tough to beat by WAR because of his innings, and if he ends up being as good as any of the other pitchers...
Mikolas has been the #3 for a while now. 108 of Miles' 143 MLB games have been as a Cardinal. His career ERA is 3.7 and his FIP is 3.96, so he has clearly been outperforming his sabermetrics. Mikolas has pitched over 200 innings twice in his Cardinal career, so the inning eating potential is there. But what is peak Mikolas like? Over 4 WAR. I suppose it should also be mentioned that Mikolas is the Opening Day Starter. So he just may be who the Cardinals expect to seize the pitching reigns... especially after his extension. Should be interesting.
I have just now realized I coined a term a few weeks ago or so, 3M. Matz/Mikolas/Montgomery. 3M fully represents the core of the Cardinals midrange starting pitching talents. Floors are high and ceilings are low. This paragraph is for Steven Matz. One thing you might not know is Matz career K/9 is 8.67 and even above 10 in a couple of shortened seasons. His career left on base percentage is 74.3%. His rate stats are definitely #4 or back end of rotation, but if he can stay healthy and lower his walk rate, he might piece together a pretty darn good season. His projections however range from 1.1 to 2.0 fWAR.
To round out the m-o-t-o 5 Jake Woodford has been added from our reserves to replace vintage hurler Adam Wainwright. From all accounts Woodford had a masterful spring in store for us. So he naturally gets a chance to pick up where Wainwright left off (at least until a 41 year old groin heals up). Besides spring '23, Woodford performed well at the major league level in 2022:
A rather spirited line there. Over 48.1 IP. The projection doesn't expect much of him, but maybe he will rise to the occasion and give us proof of his distilled genius. Personally all I could afford was Very Old Barton so I fully expect Wainwright to be back soon and take poor Jake's job again.
But wait! I really just glossed over what I think will be the upside to the Cardinals rotation: Flaherty and Montgomery.
The two -y's. Whatever you want to call them, if Flaherty goes back to his 2018-19 performance levels or anywhere even close, he is a 4+ fWAR pitcher. But that's the upside. The downside is him just being toast, but also his projections expect him to be a #4 or back end of the rotation just like Matz. But it must be said that Flaherty has been another FIP beater since his career ERA is 3.41 and his career FIP is 3.92. If he can maybe stay healthy he could be right in the middle with the other Middle-of-the-Order starters.
So Montgomery would be my best guess at who our best pitcher is in 2023. Jordan M. has a career K/9 of 8.57. I think I will expect about 3 fWAR from him based on projections and how many innings I think he will pitch. And if he can keep his walk rate down he might have a magnificent season. But he could also be more of a 2 wins above replacement level pitcher if he's not going to have the best year.
So there ya have it, we have potential to have five 2.5 WAR starting pitchers. Or we might struggle to get up to 10 fWAR from the rotation. Or we could have one guy put up over 4 fWAR and a bunch under 2. Who knows! It was still fun to think about and write. Hopefully our middling rotation will give our potentially amazing offense and solid defense a chance to win every game.