[The United Cardinal Bloggers have begun their offseason roundtable discussion in which member bloggers take turns posing a question each day to the others. Today’s question comes from Matt Whitener of Cheap Seats Please.]
If you had to construct a pitching staff for the Cardinals, from rotation to the ninth inning, who would you pick in what capacity? Who are the 5 best starters, and 6 best relievers for each role?
No doubt, there will have to be some sacrifices made, and if you think there needs to be a signing somewhere, make it. Just construct what you think to be the best pitching staff the club could put out from day one.
The second question assumes a particular answer to the first, that being a five-man rotation and 11-man staff. So we’ll start there, using players currently on the 40-man roster and assuming all are healthy enough to not be on the DL:
- Adam Wainwright: After leading the team in WAR in 2012, he is now the undisputed ace and deserves to get the ball as soon as he is rested, even if it means skipping the fifth starter occasionally.
- Jaime Garcia: Garcia of course needs to have a big asterisk everywhere he is listed (or one of those little daggers † — or is that a surgeon’s knife?). But if he’s healthy, he’s the team’s second-best pitcher, with a 3.44 xFIP over the last three years — better than Chris Carpenter and behind only Wainwright.
- Lance Lynn: Stats abusers can try to knock Lynn’s 2012 campaign with their seas0n-half splits, but the fact remains that he boasted the third-best xFIP in the rotation. And he’s only getting better.
- Chris Carpenter: On the other hand, Old Carp (can we start calling him that now?) looks like he’s going to have to really increasingly on craft over capability, and that’s if he can stay off the DL. Fans need to let go of the notion of their erstwhile ace as a top-of-the-rotation starter.
- Shelby Miller: Talent-wise, Miller is ahead of Westbrook. It’s doubtful, though, that he’ll make the rotation to start the season, if for no other reason than that Westbrook will be making $8.75 million (teams have never been particularly adept at understanding sunk cost).
- Jake Westbrook (spot starting, long relief): True, Westbrook had a killer (by his standards) 2012, posting a 3.92 xFIP, his best since 2008. But he is only one year removed from a 4.08 (and a much-worse appearing 4.66 ERA). The bullpen will make him look better, and he’ll be less exposed.
- Jason Motte (highest-leverage): Whether it’s the seventh inning or ninth inning, up a run or down one, Motte should get the ball in the toughest spots, including with men on base (thus making the most of his team-leading 10.75 K/9). The team has other options for three-run “save” opportunities.
- Trevor Rosenthal (high-leverage): When Motte needs a spell, Rosenthal has shown that he’s the guy who can provide it.
- Mitchell Boggs (medium-leverage): Both Boggs and Mujica succeed by inducing ground balls and not walking many, so they’re fairly interchangeable when the stakes aren’t particularly high.
- Edward Mujica (medium-leverage)
- Marc Rzepczynski (literal LOOGy): It’s possible that the Cardinals have a right-hander who could be as effective as Zep against lefties; Mujica, for example, outperformed the portsider against wrong-way hitters in 2012, with a 2.80 xFIP (compared to 3.14). We expect that both will regress, which means that Zep (career 2.85 xFIP vs. LHB), espectially if Matheny limits his exposure to righties, will be the better option — barely.
That leaves a handful of moderately talented pitchers that need to be either jettisoned or sent to Memphis (and it makes the Cardinals’ recent decision to part with Kyle McClellan easier to understand): Joe Kelly, Fernando Salas, Victor Marte, Maikel Cleto and Eduardo Sanchez. That group would made a decent bullpen for several teams, the Cubs and Mets among them. For those that make it through the winter still on the roster, their status will be determined in spring training.
The glaring weakness is from the left side, where Rzepczynski has created a gaping confidence gap. The trouble is that the free-agent pool isn’t exactly swimming with great LOOGys: Fernando Abad, Sean Burnett, Tim Byrdak, Randy Choate, Pedro Feliciano, Mike Gonzalez and J.P. Howell are some options. Burnett (4.75 K/BB in 2012) and Gonzalez are the only ones worth pursuing, and, given the headaches that Cardinal lefties gave Mike Matheny last year, are probably worth a little extra cash.
As for our pipe-dream version of the staff? With several pitchers who are better than one-inning guys but not deep-inning starter candidates, like Miller, Westbrook, Boggs, Kelly and Rosenthal, the Cardinals are in a place to deploy our 10-man rotation idea. Not that it will happen, of course.