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The Likelihood of a Cardinals Starting Pitching Injury

All pitchers come with risks, but some are more likely than others. A look at the Cardinals' starting pitchers chances of injury.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Starting pitching depth is not a new topic at VEB. Ben took a look at the state of the Cardinals' pitching options just a couple weeks ago. I questioned how many starters the Cardinals would need over the course of the season back in December. The answers to the questions those posts pose are relatively simple. The Cardinals have some depth, but they could always use more. The Cardinals will need a lot of starters to get through 2015, and the starting five at the beginning of April will almost definitely not be the starting five come September and hopefully October.

With Yu Darvish, Cliff Lee, Zack Wheeler, and Marcus Stroman all suffering serious injuries this spring, the issue has come to the forefront once again, robbing fans of seeing some of the best players in baseball in 2015. Joe took a look at recent studies on Tommy John surgeries. Adam Wainwright, John Lackey, and Jaime Garcia have all missed seasons due to surgery and the long recovery involved. Taking a bird's eye view of starting pitching landscape is helpful, but we are now less than three weeks away from the start of the season and we have a pretty good idea on who some of the starters are and who the rest of the starters could be. We can take an individual look at the pitchers and their likelihood of getting injured this season.

Over at FanGraphs, Jeff Zimmerman has run a lot of data on pitcher injuries and come up with a percentage chance of a pitcher getting injured. The three factors he used in determining the chance of an injury were age, disabled list appearances over three years with a maximum of three, and number of starts made over three years. The pitchers used all had 120 innings and 20 starts in the previous year. Zimmerman has published this year's data which can be found in the article here.

Of the Cardinals' potential starters, just three made Zimmerman's list as only Adam Wainwright, John Lackey, and Lance Lynn pitched 120 innings last year and made 20 starts. Let's start there.

Adam Wainwright

Name Age DL Stints (last 3 seasons) GS (last 3 seasons) DL%
Adam Wainwright 32 0 98 37.0

Wainwright is someone fans are incredibly worried about. He did not actually miss time last season, but very easily could have given his struggles. Offseason surgery does little to alleviate those concerns. Zimmerman also discussed a few other risk factors with injuries. In his chart, if a pitcher threw the curve more than 25%, the slider more than 30%, threw under 60% of pitches for strikes, or the Pitchf/x zone percentage was less than 47%, Zimmerman noted those possibilities as further risk factors. Wainwright had no problem pitching in the strike zone, but he does use his curve quite a bit. Wainwright throws his curve more than 25% and was at 25.6% last season per Brooks Baseball.

John Lackey

Name Age DL Stints (last 3 seasons) GS (last 3 seasons) DL%
John Lackey 35 2 60 55.3

The numbers do not look great for Lackey. He is getting up there in age and missed the entire 2012 season. Lackey's 55.3 DL percentage was fourth-highest of the 128 pitchers studied. He does not have any other risk factors, but counting on him to get through the season unscathed is wishful thinking.

Lance Lynn

Name Age DL Stints (last 3 seasons) GS (last 3 seasons) DL%
Lance Lynn 27 0 95 31.5

Lance Lynn has been a great workhorse over the past three seasons. He's young, never gone on the disabled list, and made a ton of starts. He has none of the risk factors and his DL percentage was eighth lowest of the pitchers studied. If Lynn can recover from his hip issue, he is a good bet to stay healthy throughout the season.

Jaime Garcia, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Marco Gonzales

The other four candidates in spring that could start for the Cardinals did not pitch in 120 innings and make 20 starts last season. As a result, they are not among the comparable group that studies and data was based on. We can use the same formula with the caveat that the formula was not created with these players in mind. All professional starts are included below.

Name Age DL Stints (last 3 seasons) GS (last 3 seasons) DL%
Jaime Garcia 27 3 36 53.1

It might be reasonable to expect a higher number, although 53.1% is still pretty high. Keep in mind that if Garcia had made 20 starts and pitched in 120 innings last season, we might have a bit more confidence in him being healthy. Given that he made just seven starts last year, it is safe to say his chances of hitting the disabled list are more than the listed amount above. On a positive note, Garcia is a strike thrower who uses his fastball most of the time so he comes with no other risk factors.

Name Age DL Stints (last 3 seasons) GS (last 3 seasons) DL%
Michael Wacha 22 1 44 35.3

Wacha's age is a big advantage that helps cover up his DL stint last season. He has looked good in spring, but the unusual nature of his condition will continue to trouble fans. Wacha could be the difference-maker for the Cardinals rotation. He also does not have any additional risk factors.

Name Age DL Stints (last 3 seasons) GS (last 3 seasons) DL%
Marco Gonzales 23 0 32 32.6

Gonzales is just a few years removed from college resulting in a lack of professional starts. Like Wacha, he has age on his side. As a primarily fastball-change pitcher, he does not come with any pitch-type risk factors although he is still working on his pitch repertoire this spring. Gonzales had a slightly difficult time adjusting to the majors. He was barely over 60% on strikes thrown, missing that risk factor. His Pitchf/x zone percentage of 45.7 would put one mark against him. The small sample and adjustments he made as the season wore on lessens the concern, but strike-throwing is something to keep an eye on.

Name Age DL Stints (last 3 seasons) GS (last 3 seasons) DL%
Carlos Martinez 22 0 47 30.2

El Gallo is young and has made the most professional starts over the past three years of this group. While he did use his slider a lot last season, it was below the 30% threshold per Brooks Baseball. His 9.3% walk rate is something that can be improved upon and allow him to pitch deeper into games. However, neither his strike percentage nor his Pitchf/x zone percentage warranted giving Martinez an extra risk factor.

A pitcher can get injured at any time. Lance Lynn looks safe, but even 30% is not a great number when it comes to predicting time on the disabled list. Using the percentages above, the Cardinals have an 8.7% chance of the current projected starting five all making it through the season, and that might be an overstatement given the assumptions made about Wacha and Martinez. The Cardinals rotation has some question marks, but that makes them no different than every other team in baseball. The Cardinals do have some depth to start the season, and they showed last season that if the depth is in question, they will make the moves necessary to fill in any gaps.