Late January is the dead of winter, made all the more lifeless by the complete and utter lack of baseball. It often leads me to ask myself about broader concepts. Given the rise in strikeouts across baseball that is strangling offensive production, I wondered a few days back what it meant to be a "strikeout pitcher" in this day and age of gaudy K totals. As I was comparing individual pitchers to the league-wide strikeout rate, I thought it might be fun to take a gander at how the projected 2015 St. Louis Cardinals starters compare to MLB starters as a whole when it comes to various stats.
Because relievers tend to have higher strikeout rates than starters, I wanted to compare starters to starters. This can be tricky. For example, Lance Lynn made two starts for St. Louis in 2011. The rest of his work was in relief. So I excluded his 2011. I also left Adam Wainwright's 2006 season off the charts because he was a reliever. Same thing with Martinez's 2013. For Wacha in 2013, I used his K% as a starter only, excluding his K-happy relief work. I used Martinez's 2014 strikeout rate as a starter only as well.
Strikeout Rate (K%)
Last offseason, I used Adam Wainwright's 2012 vs. 2013 seasons to explain why I prefer using strikeout percentage (K%) to strikeouts per nine innings (K/9). Typically, there isn't much of a difference but there is the occasional case, as with Wainwright, when K/9 is misleading. So we're going to use K% in this post as opposed to K/9.
The likely 2015 Cardinals rotation has a lot of average or above-average strikeout rates when compared to MLB starting pitchers overall, but the trend seems to be downward: Wainwright, Lackey, and Lynn all posted lower K rates in 2014 than in 2013. Wacha remained about the same between the 2013 regular season and his sophomore campaign, though it dropped some due to his performance after returning from the disabled list. While Martinez only notched seven starts in 2014, he posted the highest strikeout rate of the bunch. Interestingly, Wainwright (19.9%) and Lackey (19.7%) posted almost identical K rates last year.
Walk Rate (BB%)
We often hear a pitcher called a "strikeout pitcher" but I've never heard of a pitcher described as a "walk pitcher." Nonetheless, I thought it would be interesting to see how the 2015 Cardinals starters compare to the MLB starter walk rates over the seasons of their respective careers as starters.
The veterans, Wainwright and Lackey, both issue free passes at a rate comfortably below the MLB starter average. However, Lynn, Martinez, and Wacha give up walks at above-average rates. Wacha does so just barely. Lynn's BB% has always been a bit higher than one would like to see but not fatally so. Martinez's walk rate is likely the primary contributor to the inefficiency general manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny have targeted as an area of focus for the young righty.
Groundball Rate (GB%)
Under former pitching coach Dave Duncan, the Cardinals were long known as a pitch-to-contact staff that focused on inducing grounders. Have things changed under Derek Lilliquist's stead?
Wainwright, who can safely be described as the last of the Duncanites, is still a groundballer, though his GB% dropped precipitously last year. Martinez possesses a nasty sinker and also induces worm-killers at an above-average rate. However, Lynn, Lackey, and especially Wacha are average or below (however slightly) when it comes to getting the opposition to hit the ball on the ground.
Flyball Rate (FB%)
There is a give-and-take between contact on the ground and in the air. While there's some fluctuation between LD% and FB%, the MLB GB% remains pretty constant over the years. Not surprisingly, when it comes to the likely 2015 St. Louis starters, those who posted high groundball rates post lower-than-average flyball rates and vice versa.
Wainwright gives up flies at a rate well below the MLB average. So did Martinez. Lackey is roughly average while Lynn and Wacha allow flyballs at an above-average rate. Pitching their home games in Busch Stadium III, a ballpark that suppresses offense generally and power-hitting in particular, giving up more flies than average isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Entering 2015, the Cardinals starting rotation might not have a true strikeout pitcher. They also don't appear to have a traditional groundballer. Martinez might fit the bill for both categories, but his MLB starting track record is rather short and it remains to be seen what his pitching profile will be over a full season's worth of starts. Instead, the Cardinals hover right around average when it comes to inducing strikeouts and grounders with Wacha and Lynn being a bit more flyball heavy than Wainwright, Lackey, or Martinez.