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TCN Blog 2014 Top Story #11: Losing 2/5 of the Rotation

Before June 22nd, no one could have guessed that 12 different pitchers would end up starting games for the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals. Six of the starters would be called into service the rest of the way, in response to the shockwaves that followed the events of that day in late June.

That was an especially bad time for the club, with subsequent moves that altered the club’s direction for both 2014 and 2015. A starting rotation that was number one in ERA in Major League Baseball at the time was decimated when two of its five members were placed on the disabled list at the same time – left-hander Jaime Garcia and right-hander Michael Wacha.

It was not yet known that they would both essentially be done for the season.

Wacha’s injury seemingly came out of the blue and brought with it an unusual diagnosis. He had what was called a stress reaction in his pitching shoulder. When placed on the DL, he was 5-5 with a 2.79 ERA for the defending NL champions.

Considered one of the most promising young pitchers in the game, Wacha had been the MVP of the National League Championship Series as a rookie in 2013 after throwing 13 2/3 shutout innings against the Dodgers.

Having opened the 2014 season on the shelf, Garcia’s return trip was less surprising, especially given his recent history. It was initially stated that he re-aggravated his surgically repaired left shoulder. At the time, he was 3-1 with a 4.12 ERA.

When healthy, Garcia went 26-15 in 2010 and 2011 and secured a four-to-six year contract extension before running into his shoulder problems. He had missed all but nine starts in 2013 then underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum.

Complaining of nerve issues and numbness in his hand in June 2014, Garcia opted for season-ending thoracic outlet surgery. The news of his third procedure in as many years ruffled feathers in the front office.

The club’s immediate response to the loss of the two signaled the battle expected ahead for a rotation spot in 2015 spring training.

Two rookies were called upon first. Carlos Martinez initially stepped into the rotation for Wacha. Lefty Marco Gonzales received the call from Double-A Springfield to take Garcia’s turn. Neither would stick, however.

All of the sudden, the greatest area of strength for the 2014 Cardinals, the rotation, required shoring up in an initiative that culminated in a pair of late-July trades.

Joe Kelly, who had been out since April with a hamstring injury, soon returned. He took over for Gonzales until his trade to Boston, with veteran John Lackey, who came the other way in the four-player swap, then joining the starting five.

Tyler Lyons made four starts, logging a 6.55 ERA before the organization acquired 2013 American League all-star Justin Masterson from Cleveland. The Cardinals gave him six turns through the rotation before tiring of his seven-plus ERA.

Wacha returned in September, but was clearly not himself. The 22-year-old made four final-month starts, never getting beyond the fifth inning and posting a 5.40 ERA. Though active in the post-season, Wacha did not pitch until his very curious use in the final inning of the Cardinals’ NLCS elimination game in San Francisco.

Despite the bad news that came to a head on June 22nd, the Cardinals managed to hold their 2014 rotation together. The club ended the regular season ranked fifth in the NL with a starters’ ERA of 3.44.

One can forever speculate how much better 2014 could have been with a healthy Wacha and Garcia all season long rather than the parade of less-effective replacements.

Looking ahead to 2015, the public prognosis for Wacha is good, but some worries must remain due to the unusual nature of his injury. At this point, nothing is expected of Garcia. Though the club could control the left-hander through 2017, it seems more likely they will pay the remaining $10.25 million due him and exit the deal after next season.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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31 Responses to “TCN Blog 2014 Top Story #11: Losing 2/5 of the Rotation”

  1. crdswmn says:

    “Wacha did not pitch until his very curious use in the final inning of the Cardinals’ NLCS elimination game in San Francisco.”

    Yes, the “curious” use that led to the immortal words of our manager:

    Matheny, when asked about not using closer T. Rosenthal in 9th: “We can’t bring him in, in a tie-game situation. We’re on the road.” —Bernie Miklasz, October 17, 2014

    Whenever someone asks me why I can’t get excited about the 2015 season, the above quote is my answer.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Well, there’s always tomorr… whoops!

      • blingboy says:

        I’m sure no one wants to get me started on that always tomorrow stuff.

        The thing I always wonder about when I see that Mad Mike quote is, even if we were to accept that the decision not to use the closer was lucid, why Wacha? If he can make such an indefensible decision at such a pivotal moment once, he certainly can again. That is why I thought Mo would have to off him. When it does happen again, it will be all on Mo.

        Brian, when you were in Florida, did you happen to hear anything about Garcia?

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    Teams have a lot of financial leverage within the first 6 ML seasons over any player. Giving a guy a multi year deal early in his career is unnecessary. Garcia illustrates the risk. He soon suffered serious injuries and operations. If he cannot resume pitching, it would be a loss for the sport, but at least the Cards have provided financial security to the kid from Mission, now a wealthy man.

    Wacha was a brilliant bright star in 2013, lifting the Cards to the World Series. He got pretty heavy use early in 2014 from Mad Mike and suffered an injury. Restoring and preserving Wacha should be uppermost in Mo’s cranium.

    • Brian Walton says:

      You are right – pre-free agency multi-year deals are unnecessary and carry risk. However, teams save a lot of money and extend their years of control of a player by giving them out, which is why they have become common. They also avoid the ugly arbitration process each year.

      The Cards did it with Pujols, Wainwright and Molina among others and came out very well as a result. Most recently, Carpenter signed one and Lynn appears to be next. The only ones that turned out badly were Garcia and Craig, and in the latter case, they got out early enough that they were able to dump the contract on Boston. They did not offer one to Freese and probably will not with Jay, either.

      In Garcia’s case, they did at least mitigate some of the risk by making the final two years team options. It will “only” cost them a million to buy out 2016 and 2017. It seems the only way to alter that course would be for Garcia to mount a major comeback this season. Low odds but not impossible.

      Overall, the track record with these kinds of contracts has been very good, which is why the team will continue to offer them where they make sense.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        They were handing out these kind of deals in Atlanta too, at least before ownership got fed up with Frank Wren and bounced him out of there.

        I sense the Cards have liked to issue about one of these per year for special service as a signal to the Clubhouse. Carpenter had a terrific 2013, Craig a great 2012, give them more financial security early on, as a reward. Craig’s mysterious drop off in 2014 shows the downside. We will have to hope Allen figures out what has gone wrong and can bounce back, because his slump has been a real shame and painful for his fans.

        Pitching is an injury risk, so we provided Jaime financial security as a reward for his early work. I have no problem with doing that. Its ball player respectful. It turned out that he needed that security, because he has suffered a series of injuries ever since. Garcia has quality pitches, but it seems like some of his breaking pitches must put too much stress on the shoulder.

        After his terrific 2012, we rewarded Jason Motte with an unusual two year deal. I do not believe it added another year of team control, rather simply resolved his salary for the final two years of team control. This too seemed reward for great work, because the team instead could have gone to arbitration with Motte twice. We gave him extra security, and like Garcia, this helped the player, who almost immediately needed TJ surgery such that his 2013-14 became virtually lost seasons. Pitching is a risky profession, so it has been nice of Mo to be generous with Garcia and Motte.

        • Brian Walton says:

          What Atlanta does is irrelevant.

          There is no way multi-year, tens of million dollar contracts are made as a “special service” or as a “signal to the clubhouse.” They are smart business deals – no more and no less.

          I do agree that these kinds of deals seem more risky with pitchers, though as we saw with Craig, problems can happen with position players too. The key point is that no one is going to bat 1.000, but the Cards have done well overall.

          • JumboShrimp says:

            Teams can elect, in their discretion, to offer more financial security to select players, for reasons that generally will not be discussed in the press. Are teams obliged to offer multi-year deals during years before free agency? No. This is a team choice, without a player right.

            These will still be carefully crafted deals, factoring the market wage for a man, given his past contributions. If this is what you mean by “smart business deals,” then we can agree such contracts are realistically constructed.

            • Brian Walton says:

              The reasons behind offering such deals are not complicated or secret.

              In their sales pitch, they may spin the deal as offering “financial security” for the player, but that is NOT the motivation of the club. It is to lock in the services of a player they believe will increase in value at what will become in the future a below-market salary.

              • JumboShrimp says:

                You may assume agents can be taken advantage of, so teams can reap financial savings at a “below market” salary, so all these deals are premised on a team saving money. In contrast, I assume both economic parties, team and player, have equal financial sophistication, and will negotiate in their self-interest. Motives on both sides will vary by player. I assume agents are equally sophisticated and teams will not want to triumph over agents, thereby diminishing the longer term reputation of the team in the marketplace for player services. There is a balancing of gains and losses, between a team and an agent. Both parties have to contribute value and gain something, to seal a fair deal. One side does not benefit more, but gains and benefits are balanced across the multiple years, because both parties can perceive potential benefits to themselves.

                In 2011, Garcia helped us to a WS flag. The Cards could have still gone year to year with him on contracts, but instead elected to offer a multi year deal. This gave the player more financial security, which has benefited Garcia very much. For providing this security, the Cards could potentially have gained too, had Garcia continued to pitch well in 2012-14, because we could have then gotten him at an attractive price for 2015&16. I think this deal was premised on rewarding a valuable contributor during 2011, not on financially benefitting the Cards alone, because a mutually agreed to contract should be structured to be value neutral on a multi year basis, with balanced potential gains for each party. If the gain in financial security for the player were not genuine, then the player’s agent should not enter into it. Financial security is a valid consideration of a player, whereas teams can gain for themselves too by offering such security.
                We do not offer many multi year deals. They will be offered to select players, based on their contributions. Matt Carpenter had a great 2013, we gave him financial security. Motte had a great 2012, he got a two year deal. Such deals send signals to the Clubhouse that great performances are rewarded, if a player and his agent want to accelerate financial security. However, if a player instead prefers to go year to year, so as to accelerate the greater gains of free agency, he is free to choose this alternative path.

                • Brian Walton says:

                  Lotta words there, and I am going to continue to disagree with you trying to make this more complicated than it really is.

                  The team makes offers based on projected future performance, not past results or in gratitude or a supposed desire to see the player financially secure or to send clubhouse signals or other such malarkey. It is a very significant business transaction.

                  The club takes risk by giving more years but gets benefit later if the player performs beyond his salary level. The player takes risk by accepting less money than he might make for the out years if he does well, but gets the security of a multi-year commitment.

                  That is it.

    • Brian Walton says:

      It seems it is getting fashionable to pin every Cardinals misfortune on the manager.

      Tell us more about your second-guessing that Wacha’s supposed overuse early last season led to his injury.

      The facts say Wacha pitched every fifth day in April and May, making six starts each month. He averaged six innings per outing. During that time, Wainwright also made 12 starts, averaging over seven innings. Lynn made 11 starts, averaging 6 1/3 innings. Miller made 11 starts, averaging 5 2/3. Garcia averaged 6 1/3 before he was hurt.

      What would you have done differently?

      • JumboShrimp says:

        Wainwright has been around the block a few times and is getting paid the big bucks. Matheny rides him hard. Being human, Wainwright can be injured, like the season he went on the DL for months with a finger tendon injury. Wainwright survived lots of use in 2014, tiring late in the season after all the workload as the teams number one pitcher.
        Lynn and Miller seem sturdy guys with velocity. Lynn got up around 200 innings, a great year. He should be rewarded. I was sorry to lose Miller to Atlanta, since Shelby might eat 800 innings during the next four seasons.
        Garcia, the Cards squeezed what they could out of him. They knew he was unlikely to contribute 200 IP, but they got 50 some. Every 50 innings help!
        On Wacha, he had not thrown a lot of innings in the minors. The Cards set up as their number two pitcher, expecting him to be the new Chris Carpenter or new young Wainwright. Wacha pitched very well to start the season. The epic story of the bright young star continued. Then he had two successive poor games, in retrospect a big warning of something starting to wrong. Then Wacha could not pitch. It would be interesting to see the pitch counts for each of Wacha’s 12 games to see if he threw a lot of pitches in starts 8, 9, or 10, on the cusp of his subsequent decline

        • Brian Walton says:

          In summary, as usual, you presented another one of your theories as fact, admitting after spewing out a lot of words that you did not do the research. By all means, check pitch counts. Please come back and share your findings. I have better things to do than debunk your theories.

          • JumboShrimp says:

            I have, in response to your invitation, offered my opinion that pitch counts could matter and might shed light on the Wacha situation, your number 11 story of the year.
            Bernie authored a nice fact based argument including pitch counts during a summertime essay in which he opined Rosenthal was overworked in his closer role.
            Merely to clarify, I have not at all claimed that I know what Wacha’s pitch counts are, nor will I be looking into what Wacha’s pitch counts were, because the effort to do so could potentially exceed my interest in learning these numbers.

        • crdswmn says:

          Wacha had 15 starts before the injury. He had four starts of 100 pitches or more—104, 101, 103, 104. The remaining 11 starts were under 100 pitches. Starts 10, 11, and 12 were 88, 84 and 89 pitches.

          I blame Matheny for many things, because I believe he deserves it, but Wacha’s injury isn’t one of them.

          • JumboShrimp says:

            Thanks for sharing these data, Crdswmn. Courtesy and facts are welcome.
            It is nice Mr. Wacha had no pitch counts above 104. Very interesting. He has nice control and seems pitch efficient. I had not assumed he would have had any games over 120 pitches, confirmed by your data. This kind of load seemed to be what burnt up the career of budding Bud Smith. At least we did not make TLR’s mistake twice!
            I recall being concerned in several games Mike was leaving Wacha in longer than seemed necessary for the specific game context, hence my retrospective worry about pitch counts.
            If one were going to invest time in this topic, it would be interesting to consider days between starts as well. Did the Cards keep Wacha as well as Wainwright on a 5 day schedule, occasionally skipping Miller or Garcia, in order to maximize the number of Wacha starts.
            Wainwright began starting during 2007. When Adam got to June, he went through a rough patch. For many a pitcher, it seems like they can encounter stamina/health problems around June, having by then thrown during March, April, May. In 07, Wainwright was able to push through, but it was a struggle. Thus I was not surprised Wacha encountered a difficulty at this stage of the season, while still sickened, because he was such a wondrously gifted talent. I hope Wacha can bounce back. One survival tactic might to limit him to 150 innings for 2015, so he is not expected to shoulder 200 innings, as the Cards tried for him during the ill-fated 2014.

            • Brian Walton says:

              Jumbo said:

              I recall being concerned in several games Mike was leaving Wacha in longer than seemed necessary for the specific game context, hence my retrospective worry about pitch counts.

              I don’t see it, at least on the macro scale.

              Wacha made 15 starts before he went on the DL. Here are the final outcomes of those games:

              One-run game – 4
              Two-run game – 8
              Three-run game – 3
              Four or more run games – 0

              In those 15 starts, the Cardinals offense averaged exactly three runs for the entire game (including after Wacha left). That is it. 45 runs total. They were held by the opposition to two or fewer runs in six of Wacha’s starts. They only scored as many as six runs once in his 15 starts.

              In other words, he was not ever given much breathing room. When he went on the DL, despite an ERA of 2.79, his record was just 5-5. A sub-3.00 ERA and still just one win for every three starts!

              If anything, the “game context” would have dictated keeping him in longer, since the games were low-scoring and tight. But given the Cardinals’ ongoing trouble scoring runs, they may have pinch hit for him or double-switched him out before he was spent. As crdswmn noted, Wacha’s pitch counts were relatively low.

              If you are still looking for someone to blame for the injury, why not pick on the offense instead of “Mad Mike”? If the hitters had given him some blowouts, perhaps he could have cruised more.

              (P.S. I would not be surprised to see a similar story for the remainder of the rotation as the hitters did not score much no matter who was pitching.)

            • Brian Walton says:

              Jumbo asked:

              “Did the Cards keep Wacha as well as Wainwright on a 5 day schedule, occasionally skipping Miller or Garcia, in order to maximize the number of Wacha starts.”

              No. They kept them ALL on a five-day schedule. Number of starts up to June 22, when Wacha and Garcia went on the DL:

              Wainwright 15
              Lynn 15
              Miller 15
              Wacha 15
              Other starters 15

              It was nice and even as the team had played 75 games (15 times 5).

              Garcia is part of the “Others” as he opened the season on the DL.

            • Brian Walton says:

              In conclusion:

              Before his injury, Wacha had the same number of starts as everyone else. He averaged six innings, less than all of the other starters except Miller, and never went over seven. Wacha averaged just 93 pitches per start, never threw over 104, and received very little run support.

              I see zero evidence of “pretty heavy use” by the manager, let alone any unusual workload connection to his injury.

              • JumboShrimp says:

                That’s pretty good, Brian, and seemingly factual.
                Wacha is a young guy and the Cards deliberately held down his workload during 2013, to preserve him. Mike has said he would have liked to have had Wacha in rotation opening 2013, but the Cards sent him to Memphis, as a more prudent decision, given his modest minor league experience. This may have helped lighten the load on Wacha in 2013 and enabled him to contribute so brilliantly late in the season and in the playoffs.
                For 2014, the Cards reasonably chose to put him on a 200 inning workload pathway, a level of effort he would not have had in college . It turned out Wacha could not quite hold up, under this heavier 5 day rotation pace, despite a terrific beginning to the season.
                How Wacha will be used during 2015 will be interesting.

                • Brian Walton says:

                  Wacha threw 180 1/3 innings in 2013 (including post-season). In that context, 200 in 2014 would not have been a significant increase. 230, including playoffs, could have been, but of course it did not unfold that way.

                  The Verducci Effect (disputed by some pretty smart people) looks for a 30-inning increase for under-25 pitchers as an injury red flag. Verducci Effect supporters might point to his increase from 2012 to 2013 as a signal for his 2014 problems.

  3. blingboy says:

    I think I remember some talk to the effect the injury might have been due to something with Wacha’s mechanics and it would be looked into. Never heard anything else about it.

  4. blingboy says:

    Bernie mentioned a couple things having to do with Mo’s to-do list this winter.

    1. Nobody knows if the middle infield UT position has been improved. It might be worse.

    2, If Yadi goes down again, Mo would have to go dumpster diving again.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Agree with both, but don’t they seem familiar to you? We have already been talking about both of them right here.

      “Perhaps Kelly and Anna will compete for the right to replace Descalso or maybe they will strengthen Memphis up the middle in 2015. I am still hoping for the latter.

      “The unanswered question is whether the Cardinals’ negative experiences with Ty Wigginton and Mark Ellis the last two years altered their direction such that Anna and Kelly are “Plan A” or will the club will add a more proven middle infielder for the 2015 Major League roster?”

      “Perhaps the Cardinals need to recognize where Molina is in his career and lessen their in-season usage of their most valuable asset going forward.

      “Otherwise, the club may again have to again scrounge the waiver wire for emergency catching help during the 2015 season – with no guarantee a stopgap as serviceable as Pierzynski would be available or that the team’s post-season hopes could again be kept afloat.”

    • crdswmn says:

      1. Depends on the viewpoint. If you are ONLY concerned with offensive improvement, then yeah, it might not be improved or could be worse.

      2. Bigger concern for me than UT position. I don’t know why the Cardinals are so stuck on Cruz. Could be the pitching staff, could be Matheny, could be anything. It makes no sense to me.

      • blingboy says:

        The thinking probably is that as bad as DD was, the Cards liked him over Kozma. I am willing to agree that it wouldn’t be a downgrade.

        I am on the Anna and Kelly to Memphis bandwagon. A glance at the roster matrix is telling. It seems like Mo cleared out the middle infield clutter and got some new guys.

        • Brian Walton says:

          My guess is that last spring, they had been expecting to pencil Aledmys Diaz into the 2015 equation. His delay changed matters. Before too long, he should be at Memphis, at least, along with Breyvic Valera and Jacob Wilson. I am guessing Anna and Kelly will become expendable at that point.

          On Kozma vs. Descalso, I see it as a wash. In 2013, Kozma’s full season with St. Louis, he managed a -0.1 fWAR. The last two years, Descalso’s fWARs were -0.3 and -0.1. I am still voting for “Door C”. Wouldn’t it be nice to have at least a replacement level player as a reserve? Is that too much to ask?

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