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Cardinals Predictions - The Rotation

Will each member of the rotation top their ZIPS projections or come in under? Come read my picks and make your own!

MLB: Spring Training-Houston Astros at St. Louis Cardinals Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports

Opening Day is now less that 4 weeks away, and with that in mind, I would like to make some predictions for the season. And I want to hear yours too! So, I’m starting a new series in which I’ll look at each player’s ZIPS projection, pro-rated to Fangraphs’ Depth Chart playing time projections, and give my opinion on whether that player will exceed or fall short of his projection. After I give my opinion, I will add a poll so you can make your voice heard as well.

Why ZIPS? Because it’s well-known and fairly accurate (at least compared to the other popular projection systems). Now, for those of you who don’t know, here’s a little bit of information about how the projections are formulated, courtesy of the MLB glossary:

ZiPS is a system of player projections developed by FanGraph’s Dan Szymborski when he was at Baseball Think Factory. According a Q&A on the Baseball Think Factory website, ZiPS uses growth and decline curves based on player type to find trends. It then factors those trends into the past performance of those players to come up with projections.

The system uses statistics from the previous four years for players from ages 24-38, and it weights more recent seasons heavier. For younger or older players, it uses weighted statistics from only the previous three years. The system also factors velocities, injury data and play-by-play data into its equations.

Since the projections are pro-rated for projected playing time, my predictions will be focused on WAR only. The rest of the numbers listed are just there for context.

And for a fun little wrinkle, I’m only going to predict over or under because it’s no fun to predict that a projection is perfectly accurate. And it’s also unlikely since a player who finished with 3 WAR and was projected for 2.9 technically exceeded expectations even though we would say the projection for him was spot on. And, let’s also keep in mind that these are 50th percentile projections. Players go over or under them all time but they generally give us a pretty good and reasonable expectation for a player.

Before we go any further, to give credit where it’s due, I got this idea from the Cleveland Guardians SBNation site, Covering the Corner, and decided to bring it here with my own analysis. So, big shoutout to them for a great way of doing a season preview.

With that little preface out of the way, let’s dive into the St. Louis Cardinals rotation, with the bullpen, the infield, the outfield, and the bench coming later (in no particular order).

Jordan Montgomery ZIPS Projection

31 GS, 167.0 IP, 21.1% K%, 5.7% BB%, 0.97 HR/9, 3.38 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 2.7 fWAR

My Prediction

Jordan Montgomery is the pitcher projected to lead the Cardinals in fWAR according to ZIPS DC (ZIPS projections pro-rated by Depth Chart playing time projections) and it’s not particularly close. In fact, he’s actually the only pitcher projected to finish the season with more than 2 fWAR.

And I actually like this projection a lot. Montgomery finished with 2.7 fWAR last year, though that was boosted by a really strong start to his Cardinals career. He was even better in 2021, finishing the year with 3.2 fWAR so he has been a good bet recently to match or break that 2.7 fWAR threshold.

His home run rate is projected to be a career low, but his strikeout rate is also projected to be a tick lower than it was in 2022 and nearly 3% lower than it was as a Cardinal. It’s also projected to be 3.4% lower than it was in 2021.

That estimation feels a tad conservative to me but probably not conservative enough to outweigh the the projected career low home run rate. His walk rate is also projected between his 2022 season (5.0%) and his 2021 season (7.7%) which feels pretty reasonable to me.

I’m really splitting hairs with this prediction as I do think Montgomery will probably finish right around that 2.7 mark but I’m going to that the under and just under and say that he’ll finish in the 2.4-2.6 range.

The Verdict - Under


Will Jordan Montgomery finish with an fWAR over or under 2.7?

This poll is closed

  • 71%
    (372 votes)
  • 28%
    (150 votes)
522 votes total Vote Now

Steven Matz ZIPS Projection

39 G, 19 GS, 116 IP, 23% K%, 6.8% BB%, 1.21 HR/9, 3.71 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 1.2 fWAR

My Prediction

Okay, this one is too easy. It’s a clear over for me. Matz threw 48 innings last year and reached 0.7 fWAR and I feel reasonably sure that he will throw more innings than that. In fact, if he stays healthy, I wouldn’t be shocked if he ended up being the best starter on the team.

This projection is far away from that. Sure, he struggled to stay healthy last year and pitched his way to a 5.25 ERA. But he also had a 3.78 FIP and a 3.15 xFIP and finished last year with 0.7 fWAR in just 48 innings. In fact, that put him on pace for 1.7 fWAR if he would have reached the 116 innings he’s projected for this year.

He also has the highest pitching+ rating (103.2) among all Cardinals starters according to Eno Sarris’ model.

So, while I don’t feel confident saying he will indeed be the best starter on staff or will be able to stay healthy and throw 150 innings, I do feel confident in saying that he will beat his 50th percentile ZIPS projection.

The Verdict - Over


Will Steven Matz finish with an fWAR over or under 1.2?

This poll is closed

  • 88%
    (457 votes)
  • 11%
    (60 votes)
517 votes total Vote Now

Miles Mikolas ZIPS Projection

31 GS, 183 IP, 17.9% K%, 4.9% BB%, 1.21 HR/9, 3.75 ERA, 4.13 FIP, 1.9 fWAR

My Prediction

This is another one where I’ll take the over. In his four seasons with the Cardinals, Mikolas has thrown over 200 innings twice and over 180 innings once. In those three seasons, his lowest fWAR total was 2.4.

I find it interesting that in a season where he’s projected for 183 innings, he is still projected to finish under 2 WAR. He is 34 years old and will turn 35 during the season so it’s quite possible that he could start to slow down this year but I do think 1.9 fWAR is a bit too low.

Mikolas’ velocity has been stable since 2019 and while that could change this year, I see no outward signs to predict a major statistical plunge. The thing about ZIPS is that is does make predictions based on the aging curve so it makes sense to see a 34-year-old projected to lose some steam this year.

Mikolas may not have great stuff, and that means that he could really be hurt if his stuff ticks down, but he also does a great job locating and mixes his pitches really well. For me, as long as Mikolas stays healthy, I’ll guess 2 WAR is his floor.

The Verdict - Over


Will Miles Mikolas finish with an fWAR over or under 1.9?

This poll is closed

  • 89%
    (458 votes)
  • 10%
    (55 votes)
513 votes total Vote Now

Adam Wainwright ZIPS Projection

28 GS, 164 IP, 17.7% K%, 7.1% BB%, 1.22 HR/9, 3.96 ERA, 4.41 FIP, 1.1 fWAR

My Prediction

This is a prediction that I may regret at the end of the year considering Wainwright’s velocity issues early this spring, but I’m going to take the over. For now, I’ll buy into the idea that Wainwright is still working past some back spasms that are affecting him on the mound.

Looking a few years back, Wainwright was worth 3.8 fWAR in 2021 and 2.8 fWAR in 2022, so I really don’t think he’ll drop all the way to 1.1 fWAR this season.

What’s interesting about this projection is that Wainwright is projected for a similar strikeout rate (17.8%) and walk rate (6.7%) as he had last year. The real difference is the home run rate as Waino surrendered 0.75 home runs per nine innings and is now being projected for 1.22.

That’s a large part of why his 4.10 xFIP last year was so much higher than his 3.66 FIP. If we took Wainwright’s 2022 xFIP and projected next year’s FIP based on that, we would likely end up with something pretty close to the 4.41 FIP he’s projected for this year.

Again, I do think ZIPS is docking him quite a bit for turning 42 this season but I think Wainwright has enough going for him to have a better season than he is being projected for.

The Verdict - Over


Will Adam Wainwright finish with an fWAR over or under 1.1?

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    (235 votes)
  • 55%
    (289 votes)
524 votes total Vote Now

Jack Flaherty ZIPS Projection

30 G, 26 GS, 137 IP, 24.7% K%, 8.2% BB%, 1.22 HR/9, 3.47 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 1.5 fWAR

My Prediction

I honestly don’t know what to do with this projection, and if that seems pessimistic, let me remind you that Flaherty has combined for just 1.5 fWAR over the past 3 seasons.

The problem with predicting Flaherty’s season is that you have to predict health and performance and both of those aspects have been up and down, and mostly down, in the last few seasons.

I’m going to take the optimistic view and predict that he will have more than 1.5 fWAR in his contract year. His 24.7% projected strikeout rate is a good deal higher than his 19.8% strikeout rate last year but it’s also a good deal lower than his 28% career strikeout rate and I do think a renewed Flaherty can get more strikeouts than what he’s projected for.

The home run rate and walk rate seem about right but what will really make the difference for Flaherty will be how many innings he can pitch and how electric his stuff can be. If he can return to his old form, then he’ll blow his strikeout and innings projections out of the water.

Even if he finds some kind of middle ground, I do think he can overperform his projection. Whether he will is another story but I am going to predict that he will, and, again, I think he’s an arm who can hit that 2 WAR mark at least.

The Verdict - Over


Will Jack Flaherty finish with an fWAR over or under 1.5?

This poll is closed

  • 66%
    (345 votes)
  • 33%
    (174 votes)
519 votes total Vote Now


I’m taking the over on 4 out of the 5 members of the starting rotation and I am about 90% sure that’s not going to happen in real life. Yet the Cardinals only have one starter projected for over 2 WAR and this is a rotation filled with guys who seem like they could finish in the 2-2.5ish WAR range. Hence my seeming optimism relative to the projections.

I want to see what you think, though, so make your picks! I’ll revisit this article, and this entire series, at the end of the season and we can see how I did and how much better you all did.

Thanks for reading, VEB. Have a great Sunday!