Barring a setback in the offseason rehabilitation of Carlos Martinez's strained shoulder, the 2016 starting rotation is basically set for the St. Louis Cardinals. Adam Wainwright will almost certainly lead the way as the staff ace, followed by Martinez, Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn, and Michael Wacha. Considering no player has ever accepted a qualifying offer (and unsubstantiated rumors of a "handshake agreement" between John Lackey and the Cardinals front office about not offering a QO), 37-year-old Lackey will be pitching elsewhere in 2015. After three seasons of LOOGYing, Randy Choate is now a free agent, and whether it is fair or not, Tyler Lyons just may be destined for a full-time bullpen role (plus, he is out of options).
This leaves left-handed starting pitchers Tim Cooney and Marco Gonzales on the outside looking in, but if 2014 and 2015 are any indication, both pitchers will still get plenty of opportunities for big league starts in 2016. After all, pitchers will be pitchers, and what cannot be overlooked is the fact that each projected rotation member has dealt with serious injuries fairly recently: Wainwright (elbow, Achilles), Martinez (shoulder), Garcia (plethora of issues), Lynn (forearm), and Wacha (shoulder). While this will come off as cynical, at least one of the five will miss time in 2016. Fortunately, the Cardinals will reap the benefits of having two capable starters staying fresh with Triple-A Memphis.
After essentially a lost 2015 campaign, a hopefully healthy Gonzales will be out to reclaim the promise he delivered at the end of 2014 and especially throughout the playoffs. Cooney, after being roughed up mightily in his big league debut against the Phillies, was pitching really well in his second stint with the Cardinals, only to have his season cut short by appendicitis. With both likely to see time with the Cardinals in 2016, I proposed the following poll question on Twitter yesterday:
Who will have a bigger impact on the 2016 #STLCards?— stlCupofJoe (@stlCupofJoe) November 4, 2015
After nearly 900 votes (at the time of publishing), Gonzales was the clear favorite in the poll. Admittedly, Gonzales is the "sexy" pick considering he was the team's first-round draft pick in a more recent draft (2013) and experienced a Wacha-like rise through the farm system. However, one must not forget that Cooney was not necessarily a "diamond in the rough" type draft pick (i.e Kevin Siegrist in 2008), as the Cardinals selected him in the third round of the 2012 draft and ended up signing him for $404,400 (even with the slot value assigned to his pick). We will revisit the poll again at the end of this post, but before we get back to that, let's take a look at their small-sample-sized MLB numbers, some PITCHf/x data (via BrooksBaseball), and a three GIFs per pitcher (courtesy of the always generous @mstreeter06).
MLB Statistics (regular season)
(Of note, I excluded Gonzales's one start from 2015 because he had no business being thrown into a big league start given the persisting shoulder issues he dealt with all season.)
A sample size of thirty or so innings is nowhere near big enough to draw even the vaguest of conclusions, but for completeness, I felt the need to include this information (because I bet at least one reader would have jumped onto FanGraphs to "run the numbers"). Rather, what truly matters to me is what can be found using PITCHf/x data with visual representations of pitches via GIFs. I will be honest in saying that I was fairly surprised with what I found.
As you can see, they both possess the same array of pitches, and their fastballs, sinkers, and curveballs clock in at virtually the same velocity. Gonzales, known for having one of the best changeups in the draft, throws his 3+ MPH slower than Cooney, and this is what accounts for a slight difference in movement that you will see below.
Dragless Horizontal Movement (inches; negative = glove side, positive = arm side)
Gonzales enjoys more horizontal movement on his so-called "straight" pitches (fourseamer, changeup), while Cooney creates more movement on his breaking pitches. In fact, a quick scan of each pitcher's vertical movement (Gonzales, Cooney) shows that Cooney's curveball has more of a two-plane break, versus a tighter, more up-and-down curve from Gonzales (this will be better understood after watching the GIFs below).
Plus, as I mentioned above regarding the slower velocity of Gonzales's changeup, when you include gravity, his changeup gets an extra six inches of drop, compared to Cooney's. Regardless, both of these pitchers possess what most would consider average to slightly above-average stuff, largely because they don't light up the radar gun. Yet, when considering the movement on each of their pitches (and the possibility of honing in on their command), they both immediately become really hard to hit consistently.
Whether we like it or not, I envision both Gonzales and Cooney playing a role on the 2016 Cardinals. Many teams would gladly accept them as their fifth starter (which makes you wonder about their possible trade value, even though Gonzales's is at a low point right now). While Gonzales is the more highly-touted prospect, he is coming off a lost season, and we are not yet sure about the future health of his throwing shoulder. Sure, Cooney's 2015 was cut short as well, but at least it wasn't arm-related. Thus, after seeing the data and viewing the GIFs, who do you think has a bigger impact in 2016? Answer the poll question below.
Credit to BrooksBaseball.net for the PITCHf/x data and @mstreeter06 for the GIFs.