St. Louis Cardinals: It’s Time To Try A 6-Man Rotation

| January 23, 2017 | 4 Comments

Photo courtesy: Associated Press, MLB.com

Different is not bad, it’s just different.

Heading into the 2017 season, the St. Louis Cardinals are by far the team with the best depth at starting pitching. In fact, I would say that they have the best rotation in the National League. Take a minute to consider the number of available starters already on the roster and their career stats:

Player

Career W/L ERA WHIP K/9
Carlos Martinez

34-21

3.32 1.291

8.0

Adam Wainwright

134-76

3.17 1.187

7.6

Alex Reyes*

4-1

1.57

1.217

10.2

Lance Lynn

61-39

3.37

1.302

8.7

Mike Leake

73-64

3.99

1.277

6.1

Michael Wacha

33-21

3.74

1.269

7.8

Luke Weaver*

1-4 5.70 1.596

11.1

*MLB Rookie Last Season

Admittedly, both Luke Weaver and Alex Reyes are sporting numbers likely outside of what their final career numbers will look like. Weaver, a 23 year old first round pick from the Amateur Draft, struggling with fatigue at the end of the season after starting the 2016 campaign in AA Springfield and throwing a career high 119.1 innings between AA, AAA, and on the MLB roster. Likewise, Alex Reyes joined the team midseason and made twelve appearances, starting only five games. Though he has the potential to be a star for the next decade, it is unrealistic to expect him to hold a 1.57 ERA pace when his career BB/9 is over 4.0. Both will improve and regress to the mean, respectively.

What does this leave for the Cardinals? A conundrum.

With the exception of Weaver, all six of the Cardinals starters are quality starters on any team. On talent alone, CarMart is the clear ace of the staff and Reyes has the skills and tools to be an excellent two, leaving the 35 year old, perennial Cy Young contender Adam Wainwright to suffice as the third starter. This isn’t a tough life, Cardinals fans.

The big issue comes in with what do you do with the fourth and fifth starter? Does Matheny turn back to Mike Leake, whose 5-year/$80M contract provided the Redbirds with a disappointing 9-12 season with a career high 4.69 ERA and highest WHIP since 2013? Do the Cardinals look to Wacha, who has had recurring issues with his scapula in his throwing shoulder and has not looked like the future ace in almost two years? What about Lance Lynn, the perpetual 15 game winner who needed Tommy John Surgery and missed the entire 2016 campaign? Finally, are we sure that Reyes is ready for an increased workload?

The best solution: go to a 6-man rotation and let Weaver start in the minors.

Though the idea of having six starters has been discussed at length and analyzed by some pretty bright minds (start with this 538 article here), this Cardinal team is in a unique position compared to other teams, like the Mets of 2015 who first really gave this idea some thought before they horrifically mismanaged their young arms. Perhaps the best comparison point is how the Chicago Cubs used a 6-man rotation in 2016 en route to their first World Series victory in a century by keeping Mike Montgomery in the rotation after John Lackey returned from IR. The Cubs had four top-end starters on staff in the 2016 Cy Young winner Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, John Lackey, and 2015 Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. However, they also had Jason Hammel and then Montgomery when Lackey came back from injury. In an effort to ease injury and preserve some gas for the playoffs, Manager Joe Maddon elected to keep Montgomery AND Lackey for the rest of the regular season.

That situation is similar but different to what the Cardinals are facing heading into 2017. Wacha and Lynn are coming off of season-ending injuries. Reyes is going to try to throw over 200 innings after barely breaking 100 in 2016. Wainwright dealt with elbow inflammation the second half of 2014, missed the 2015 season with an Achilles injury, and was not stellar his first 16 starts of 2016 when he was sporting a horrid 5.04 ERA. Finally, Leake caught a hard case of the purse flu and no-showed the entire season.

Thus, give me one reason why the Cardinals should not go to a 6-man rotation to start 2017. Wins in April mean just as much as wins in August and if St. Louis can keep their studs fresh later in the season and ease the rest of the rotation either back into action or give them more time to rest early in the season, looking at you Leake, where is the downside?

History is on the Redbirds side. The St. Louis Cardinals have always been innovators in baseball. When Branch Rickey was with the Cardinals in the 1930s, before he did things like break the color barrier in sports, he created the modern farm system. Thinking outside the box, Rickey invested in several minor league teams and used those teams and his skills as a player developer to turn the minor leaguers into Cardinal stars, including players like Dizzy Dean. If there was a franchise to try something new and different with a 6-man rotation, the Cardinals have the talent, means, history, and perspective to realize that different is not bad, it’s just different.

__________________________

Thank you for reading. I tweet nonsense. You should read it. @Brett_Butz

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Category: Brett Butz, Cardinals, Uncategorized

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  1. Tony says:

    I would like to see St Louis use a 4 man rotation with Martinez, Wainwright, Reyes, and Leake. Use Wacha and Lynn in the bullpen with the rest of the guys down there. In doing this the starter would be limited to 75-85 pitches per start or roughly 5 to 6 innings then start using the bullpen where you have Rosenthal, Lynn, and Wacha who can all go multiple inning to get the ball to the back end of the bullpen

    • DJ Farkus says:

      I agree that the 6-man idea is the wrong way to go. Teams can play around with that after September call-ups, but doing it earlier can put the bullpen in a bad position if you don’t “steal” bench roles for more bullpen arms.
      And I kinda like the 4-man idea. Bullpens are the rising weapon in MLB, and I’d like to see the Cards deploy a scary bullpen.

    • Michael Banks says:

      So, when the inevitable injuries mount up in the bullpen you’ll have a bunch of guys who don’t have the stamina to go more than 5 or 6 innings max. Not a smart move at all. Also, leake would mean that 1/4 of our rotation is garbage unless he has a significant turn around. Pitchers are impacted by routine more than any other position. I remember when most cardinal fans were ready to throw martinez away for a washed up infielder because he hd his routine messed eith bouncing between the bullpen and rotation. Fans were so convinced he was a bist who couldn’t last five innings. Your idea is to condition 4 guys to only last 4 innings. Sorry, but more often than not you need a stud rotation that can make it to the 8th inning come the playoffs. With the exception of kansas city, and their lights out pen two yesrs ago, having a team of low stamina starters and having the pen close 4 innings if the game does not work in the playoffs. Unless you’re happy just getting a wild card birth and getting killed in the playoffs.

  2. Michael Banks says:

    Not completely accurate. While reyes was suspended he was pitching down in jupiter. He had his 160 innings last year even if officially he barely had 100. Plus, as easy as the ball comes out of his release he is probably the least likely of our starters to have arm fatigue.

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