The Cardinal Nation blog

Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

TCN blog 2013 top story #13: Steady, unsteady rotation middle

Even without injured ace Chris Carpenter, who did not appear during 2013, the St. Louis Cardinals called upon 10 pitchers to take turns in the rotation during the regular season. Seven of them made nine or more starts for the eventual National League champions.

The stories behind veteran Adam Wainwright and rookies Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha will be told later in this countdown. This time, we will look at the other four busy starters – two of whom were steady and two who were unsteady – during 2013.

Less-heralded than the aforementioned three, but crucial to the team’s success, were Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn. The pair was ready to answer the bell all season long and performed admirably.

On the other hand, Jake Westbrook and Jaime Garcia had ups before major downs. They both got out of the gates smartly, contributing to St. Louis’ fast start. Yet neither was a factor down the stretch – the former due to ineffectiveness and the latter due to injury.

Lynn proved he could be the workhorse anticipated when he was drafted in the supplemental first round in 2008. In 2013, the right-hander made a career‐high 33 starts, pitching over 200 innings for the first time while logging 19 quality starts.

A fast starter, Lynn posted 11 wins prior to the All‐Star break for the second consecutive season. Different from 2012 was that he got his mojo back after a second-half slide. Lynn struggled through a team-worst five-game losing streak from August 9 through September 5.

In the final month, Lynn was fantastic, helping St. Louis lock down the NL Central title. He yielded just seven earned runs (eight total) in his five September starts. That 2.12 ERA marked his best month of the season.

During the same time that Lynn was struggling, Kelly stepped up. After moving from the bullpen into the rotation for the second consecutive season in July, all the right-hander did was win. Specifically, Kelly logged a team-best eight-game winning streak from July 12 through September 6.

As a starter, Kelly went 9‐3 with a 2.28 ERA, allowing two or less runs in 11 of his 15 starts. He held opponents to a collective .247 batting average and gave up just five home runs while in the rotation. Not a bad showing for a man who did not make the starting five out of spring camp.

Two of the starters that did begin the season in the rotation were Garcia and Westbrook. Fortunately, others were able to step in and pick up the slack when they faltered.

Westbrook had a tremendous beginning, logging a 2.88 ERA in his 12 first-half starts. The veteran faded badly after the break, however, with a second half ERA of 7.78. The 36-year-old was moved into the pen in early September, rarely pitching before being given the final-day regular season start as a send-off. The current free agent was inactive during the post-season.

Amid questions lingering from 2012 about his left shoulder, Garcia pitched well in 2013 spring training. The 27-year-old did not make it though May, however, before requiring season-ending surgery. Garcia ended his year with a 5-2 record with a 3.58 in nine starts. He hopes to regain his starting spot in 2014 and should do so if healthy. Kelly may again be on the outside of the rotation looking in.

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 20 stories of the year countdown

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46 Responses to “TCN blog 2013 top story #13: Steady, unsteady rotation middle”

  1. [...] league ownership 16. Missing Motte 15. The Craig-Adams two-step 14. Peralta, PEDs and penalties 13. Steady, unsteady rotation middle 12. 11. 10. 9. 8. 7. 6. 5. 4. 3. 2. [...]

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    Thanks to Brian for contributing a daily article. It must be so wise as not to provoke comments.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Thank you. I am not sure if “wise” is the best characterization, though. I would accept “accurate” at least. Folks are always quickest to point out mistakes, so from that perspective, no comments is a good thing… ;-) There are still plenty of readers out there…

  3. JumboShrimp says:

    So what are our biggest remaining weaknesses? One is depth at catcher behind Yadier. Matheny does not like putting Cruz into the lineup. At AAA, neither Perez nor Tartabella can hit. Its grim.

    Two catchers still in the market are Suzuki and Buck Last year, they each commanded around $6MM. Buck is aging and might have to accept a salary cut, but is being tarrgeted by the Twins, so will probably make a deal with them.
    The Cards could pony up $3MM for a backup catcher, but that might not be enough to land Suzuki. It would be nice to pull a good backup catcher out of hat, find a guy from Cuba or Japan.

    • crdswmn says:

      “Matheny does not like putting Cruz into the lineup”

      Why do you make stuff up and pass it off as fact?

      • JumboShrimp says:

        Facts:
        Matheny only gave Cruz 123 at bats during 2013, Molina more than 500.
        Molina also started every playoff game.
        Cruz had an OPS of 533. When somebody is beneath the Brendan Ryan line, wow and retch.
        Molina had to go on the DL in 2013, sore knee. If Molina had not broken down from too many innings, Cruz might have only gotten 80 at bats in 2013.
        Molina is an important element to the success of the Cards.

        Therefore: It would be nice to have a ML caliber backup catcher.

        • JumboShrimp says:

          Matheny had managed for two years. During both seasons, Molina received 505 at bats, an odd statistical coincidence.
          During Yadier’s ML career, these are his only two years above 500 at bats.
          The modest use of Cruz has also been oddly consistent. 126 at bats in 2012, 123 during 2013.

          Conclusion: Matheny loves to write Molina’s name into the lineup card and likes Cruz in the dugout.

          • Brian Walton says:

            You conveniently forget that Cruz had a stress fracture in his forearm for several months. Part of the time he tried to play through it and he spent part of it on the DL. He wasn’t healthy by September 1, but they activated him anyway so he would be post-season eligible.

            No matter who the back up catcher is, Matheny wants to write Molina’s name into the lineup pretty much every day. Given Molina’s elite talent, that is understandable, though like anything, can be overdone.

            It won’t matter much if the reserve is a .602 OPS guy (Cruz’ career number) or .685 OPS guy like Suzuki. He is still going to be rarely used. The key is how the catcher handles the pitching staff, not his hitting. Didn’t Mo tell you that, or were you not listening? ;-)

          • crdswmn says:

            Fact: Correlation does not imply causation.

            But I forgot, you are not a logic guy.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Just today, Mo said (to the media, not in an imaginary conversation) that they are thinking about Cruz getting some play in winter ball to be better prepared for next season. I would continue to be surprised if the Cards sign someone else and even more surprised if a catcher of the Buck/Suzuki ilk would want to come to St. Louis. Not impossible, but it seems highly unlikely to me.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        Mo’s statement is unsurprising. After making exciting changes at SS, 2B, 3B, and CF, Mo is now thinking about the catching depth problem. Its on his mind. Its hard not to consider it, after other problems are improved.
        Since Cruz is who we have right now as the backup, it makes sense to get him some at bats during the off season, precisely because Cruz is given so few during the regular season. One reason a hitter performs poorly is from inactivity and not seeing enough at bats. Winter ball can help out, a little. What is odd is the GM realizing this in late December. They should have been reserving a winter ball roster slot from Cruz last summer. He needs at bats.
        The escalation of salaries in baseball includes the catching position, with Molina and McCann getting 5 year deals for $75MM and $85MM respectively. If your starting catcher is collecting $15MM, some thought needs to be given to competitive remuneration for the backup. The Cards used to budget $800K. We need to think about going up to $5MM and seeing what that could buy. Ballplayers are mercenaries, love has a price.

        • JumboShrimp says:

          There is a 28 year old catcher who has escaped the Castro brothers and is free agent. The Cards should take a careful look at him. We outbid other teams for Rene Archoa (sp). We may need to fish in this pond again.
          If Molina suffers a season ending injury, Tony Cruz and Audry Perez do not even begin to get it done. Now is the best time to look for help at catcher. If Molina suffers an injury during 2014, Mo will have a lousy negotiating hand and have to give up a lot of talent in a trade. it would be business prudent to work on the catching depth problem asap.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        During 2013, the Pirates added C Buck from the Mets for the stretch drive. Buck became a $6MM bucco backup to Russell Martin. If a leading central division foe is willing to carry two experienced ML caliber catchers, Mo could think about doing the same. tactic, to stay competitive.

        • Brian Walton says:

          Buck’s OPS with Pittsburgh was a whopping .583. That is worse than Cruz’ career mark. Buck was such an impact player that Hurdle used him in just nine games during the season. By the way, Buck hasn’t had a .700 OPS year since 2010.

          Some people are impressed by names and reputation when in reality, there seems to be little substance behind it. In summary, Pittsburgh paid a portion of Buck’s salary plus gave up a prospect for 23 at-bats of .583 ball. The money reports are sketchy, but the Bucs could have spent as much as $1 million on Buck (one-sixth of his salary). In my book, that acquisition turned out to be a bad move, not one to praise.

          P.S. In the post-season, Buck was hitless in one at-bat. One.

          For all we know, the Mets made the Bucs take Buck in order to get the more important guy in the trade included, which was OF Marlon Byrd. The latter was making just $700K and playing well as an everyday starter so was a nice bargain acquisition for Pittsburgh. I could see the Mets wanting to unload unneeded salary (Buck) on the Bucs as a condition to get Byrd. This is just speculation on my part, but could be an explanation.

          For 2014, the Pirates had no intention of paying to keep Buck around. Instead, they acquired a minimum salary guy, Chris Stewart, from the Yankees. Stewart’s career OPS is .575. As a reminder, Cruz’ is .602.

    • blingboy says:

      I do see the potential benefit in bringing in Suzuki so he and Wong can converse in Hawiianese. I would lay 100 to 1 odds that Crdswmn and her newfangled metrics have not factored that in.

    • blingboy says:

      Our Tony started off as a third baseman, IIRC. So he has the experience and athleticism to provide a bit of positional versatility in a pinch. Guys like Buck and Suzuki would not provide that.

      • Brian Walton says:

        There you go. The backup third baseman question is answered by Tony Cruz. Once he goes in at third, keep him in the game and he could then move behind the plate if Yadi is injured later. Problem solved! ;-)

        • blingboy says:

          To bad for Tony that Matt is even more of an innings hog than Yadi.

          • Brian Walton says:

            In all seriousness, I have wondered if Carpenter wasn’t worn out by the end of last season. He clearly did not finish strongly. If Wong steps up and Ellis can prove to be credible in a relief role at third, it might really help the team be fresher when October rolls around.

            • blingboy says:

              Yes, and somehow Peralta might be freed up to take turns at 3B as well. OTOH, last year was Carp’s first exposure to a full MLB season as an everyday player, so fatigue might be less of a factor this season. I certainly hope that there is a lookout for any sign of arm fatigue. An injury would be horrible.

              • Bw52 says:

                Cards have a adequate 3B backup in AAA.Scott Moore who has big league time and has some success.He is not on the 40-man but he could be added if needed and some dead weight dropped (Rondon,Fornataro etc;)

                • crdswmn says:

                  Scott Moore is a terrible defensive 3B. He is much better at 1B and 2B.

                  • Bw52 says:

                    Nobody said Moore was Brooks Robinson.He is in the Descalso fielding area at 3B but with better range.Moore could be a short term stopgap solution.

                    • Brian Walton says:

                      I suppose Jermaine Curtis could be too, then.

                    • crdswmn says:

                      No, he’s actually worse at 3B defensively than Descalso.

                      Using BRef defensive metrics:

                      Scott Moore’s Rtot/yr in 5 seasons at 3B is -37

                      Daniel Descalso’s Rtot/yr in 4 seasons at 3B is -5

                      Using fangraphs metrics:

                      Scott Moore UZR at 3B is -7.7 (total of 5 seasons) Avg is -1.54

                      Daniel Descalso UZR at 3B is -1.9 (total of 4 seasons) Avg is -0.475

  4. Brian Walton says:

    One major positive in all of this is that it is still a week before Christmas and the only item to fret about for the 2014 club is apparently the 25th player on the roster – the Maytag repairman – aka the back up catcher to Molina.

  5. Brian Walton says:

    The #1 worst catcher in all of MLB in framing pitches in 2013 was… John Buck. Kurt Suzuki also made the bottom 10. Molina is third-best, right after… Chris Stewart. Looks like the Bucs decided they want a good catcher as their 2014 back up instead of a once-good hitter on his way down.

    Here is a different view of catcher framing value that covers the last five seasons. Molina is number 1. Very interesting is Tony Cruz at number 20, ahead of many MLB starters. Buck and Suzuki are not last – quite. They are 57th and 58th, respectively, on the list of 62 catchers ranked.

  6. Bw52 says:

    I have found that tolerating snarkiness is less than it used to be Crdswmn.So you can see we totally disagree.

  7. LarryBird says:

    I am a little ….no let me say a lot taken aback about Cruz being a backup catcher. He is a great backup catcher. I just hope he wants to be Yadis backup for years to come :) The Cards need Yadi to get 500 at bats regardless of who is his backup! He is our mvp and needs to play as much as possible.

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