By Neel Kale, from Cardsblog.com
By now, I'm sure you've heard about the PECOTA projections at Baseball Prospectus. If you haven't, go take a look and then slowly but the pitchfork down. Yes, the Cardinals are projected to be worse than the Twins, but that doesn't mean there's cause for panic.
As John Kern discussed in his article from last week, there are a lot of flaws with the PECOTA projection in relation to the Cardinals. For a full breakdown of PECOTA in relation to the Cardinals, I suggest you read that.
I already discussed the issue with the defense last week, and PECOTA projected the Cardinals to be the worst defense in the NL Central. Today; however, we look at one aspect of the projections that was particularly alarming: the pitching.
This may come as a surprise, but the Cardinals rotation is not a sure thing next season. It seems like the Cardinals have stacks on stacks on stacks of major league ready pitchers. Heck, some even said they should go for a six man rotation. Is the Cardinals rotation all that it's said to be? Let's break it down case by case.
Carlos Martinez easily has the most befuddling projection. I'm almost sure the PECOTA projection on him is incorrect. It feels like the time I did a physics problem and calculated the speed of a baseball to be 5 billion miles per hour.
PECOTA projects Martinez to have an ERA over 4 and a WHIP of 1.31, which makes almost no sense looking at his numbers from last year.
He's not aging more rapidly than a regular human being and his BABIP didn't indicate any absurd luck, so it's unclear as to why his ERA is projected to jump up by more than a point.
It could be that PECOTA thinks the defense is so bad that Martinez's pitching will be effected, or maybe they think his last couple of seasons are a fluke. Whatever the case, Martinez is probably not the issue in this rotation.
Spoiler alert: PECOTA does not think Adam Wainwright will age gracefully. Like Martinez, Wainwright is projected for an ERA well over 4 and a WHIP well over 1. The difference is that in this case, there is evidence they could be wright (see what I did there).
Wainwright will be entering his age 35 season, and his 2016 season was already the worst of his career. His line drive percentage, walk rate and extra base hit percentage were all up, and he's not necessarily getting going to age like a fine wine. Despite being such a solid piece for so many years, this may be the beginning of the end for Adam Wainwright.
Fresh off of Tommy John surgery, Lance Lynn hopes to recapture some of his solid 2015 season. Unfortunately PECOTA doesn't think Lynn has a very good chance of doing so. Lynn is projected to have an ERA over 4 (notice a trend?) and a WHIP well over 1.
Despite these garish numbers, I wouldn't be too concerned about Lynn going into 2017. He's still under 30 and pitchers tend to improve upon their pre-surgery numbers after coming back from Tommy John. It's difficult to predict how pitchers will do after coming back from injury, especially one with such a long recovery time. As I discussed in my article from earlier this offseason, Lynn will probably be fine.
Although Alex Reyes' future is cloudy as of now, I'm going to assume he's healthy for the sake of this article. Despite being the young gun of this rotation, he was not spared. Despite having a breakout year and landing the number 1 spot on MLB.com's pitching prospect list, Reyes was also projected to have an ERA over 4 and a WHIP well over 1.
The St. Louis Cardinals, as currently constructed, strike a very delicate balance of veterans, players in their prime, and untested prospects not quite ready to contribute. Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, and Luke Weaver are examples of players who fall into each category, respectively.
This is curious, because Reyes barely pitched over 45 innings, so it's weird to project his season based off of such a small sample size. Young pitchers do tend to be volatile, so maybe that's what PECOTA is banking on, but Reyes is a safe bet to exceed his projections this season.
Surprise! Mike Leake leads the rotation in projected WAR. Seriously. Despite having a projected ERA well over 4 and a projected WHIP of 1.25, Leake stands to improve from his previous season. Leake had an abysmal 2016 after signing a big contract, and he's definitely a candidate for a bounce back year.
It's been said before, but his contact rate, strikeout rate and walk rate were all in line with his career numbers, so he may have been a victim of bad luck. Still, it's hard to hand wave a 1.319 WHIP away and pretend it was the BABIP gods. Leake will probably be better than last season, but that's not saying much.
Luke Weaver/Michael Wacha
The previous five players are part of the projected starting rotation, but many anticipate Wacha and Weaver finding their way in. PECOTA does not see that happening. Weaver and Wacha both have ERAs closer to 5 than 4 and WHIPS closer to 1.5 than 1. Ultimately, take these two with a grain of salt. Weaver and Wacha don't have enough sample size to actually project their performance. Weaver especially, as he has only thrown 36 innings.
This is how I grade the accuracy of these projections
- Martinez - how is this even possible
- Wainwright - probably bad, but not that bad
- Lynn - within the realm of possibilities
- Reyes - nope
- Leake - probably pretty accurate
- Weaver - nope
- Wacha - nope
For those of you that were super concerned about the PECOTA projections, you can definitely relax. I think the rotation is a major reason the Cardinals are projected to be so bad, but I also think that projection is flawed. It seems pretty unlikely that the entire Cardinals rotation would have an ERA over 4.
Some teams have players that are projected to have unexpectedly bad seasons and some with unexpectedly good seasons. It seems like the Cardinals got none of the latter. All of their pitchers have the worst case scenario.
Lynn never returning to form, Wainwright aging, Martinez regressing, Leake doing Leake things. I'd say the odds of one of those happening is likely, but all of them happening? That's probably not going to be the case. If you were concerned about the Cardinals rotation because of PECOTA, rest easy knowing some things can't be projected.
The real question lies in what should happen if the Cardinals are in a hole when July comes around. Would they push through to try to get a Wild Card or sell? If a team wants to trade, let them speak.