Tuesday, November 02, 2004

2004 Starting Rotation Review

This is the first of a series of articles in which I will break down what the Cardinals have, what they might expect for next year, and what they may need to improve the team next season. Similar articles on the starting lineup, bench, and bullpen will follow in the coming days.

The stats I will be using below are pretty common, other than ERA+. ERA+, which can be found at baseball-reference.com , is a park and league adjusted stat. 100 indicates a league average pitcher. 110 indicates a pitcher that was 10% better than league average.

Chris Carpenter
15-5, 3.46 ERA, 182 IP, 121 ERA+
2004 Salary - $500,000 plus incentives
2005 Salary - $2 million plus incentives

Carpenter had to have been the comeback player of the year in the NL, as he became the obvious #1 starter on a 105 win team after not pitching for a year and a half. Picking up his option at this point is a no-brainer. However, there are some concerns.

First, the obvious fact that he didn't pitch in the playoffs due to nerve problems in his throwing arm. This injury, which is also being experienced by Brad Penny of the Dodgers, appears to be something in which nobody knows what to expect. While we can be optimistic about Carpenter based upon the fact that the Cardinals considered putting him in the bullpen for the World Series, there are still some uncertainties to any effects this might have on his arm next season.

Additionally, there is the fact that Carpenter went from pitching 73.3 innings in 2002, to 0 in 2003, to 182 in 2004. I have read in the past that pitchers throwing 40 or more innings from one season to the next are at a high injury risk the following season. (Think Mark Prior in 2004, after an increased workload in 2003.) However, I have not been able to track down this report on the internet, so you're going to have to trust me on this one.

From a performance standpoint, this is the first season that Carpenter has posted an ERA under 4.09. But, considering he's always pitched in the AL, that is of no surprise (and is a reason why I like using ERA+). Using ERA+, we see that his 2004 season was a slight upgrade over his last healthy season, when he posted a 116 over 215.7 innings in 2001.

Talent wise, I think Carpenter should be a solid #2, if not a decent #1 starter for the Cardinals next season. However, between the nerve problems and the increased workload, I personally think that Carpenter is a likely candidate to spend time on the disabled list during the 2005 campaign, and should be considered a bit of a risk to be counted on as the #1 starter next season.

Jason Marquis
15-7, 3.71 ERA, 201.3 IP, 113 ERA+
2004 Salary - $530,000
2005 Salary - unknown

Marquis was a pleasant surprise in 2004, stepping up to be the team's 2nd best starter during the middle of the season. At one point during the year, he won 11 consecutive decisions. However, many of us still have his finish on our mind in which is lost 3 of his last 4 regular season decisions, then had rough starts against the Dodgers and Astros in the playoffs. He did rebound slightly in Game 4 of the World Series, putting up the only quality start of the series for St. Louis. However, even in that start he struggled, giving up 6 hits and walking 5 batters, only striking out 4, over a 6 inning stretch.

From a performance standpoint, this wasn't actually the best season for Marquis. In 2001 for the Braves, he posted a 3.48 ERA, giving him an ERA+ of 127 over 129.3 innings. The following season, however, he nose dived to an ERA+ of 81 over 22 starts. Leo Mazzone never trusted him again, for whatever reason.

Overall, it was a good year for Marquis who we must remember is less than a year older than Rick Ankiel. However, His apparent fatigue late in the season, combined with the fact that he had never thrown more than 140 professional innings in his career, do make him an injury concern for 2005. He, like Carpenter, is likely to spend at least a limited amount of time on the DL next season.

Jeff Suppan
16-9, 4.16 ERA, 188 innings pitched, 100 ERA+
2004 Salary - $1 million
2005 Salary - $4 million

Suppan ended a streak of 5 consecutive years of 204 or more innings pitched. However, he missed no starts during the year due to injury and likely would have pitched 200 innings had the Cardinals been in the race down the stretch.

Suppan's ERA+ of 100 was a slight decline over 2003, in which he posted a 105. It was, however, the 5th time over the last 6 years in which he was at or above average in his league.

Jeff Suppan will likely be just as good, if not slightly better in 2005. He does not appear to have injury problems, although they can happen to anyone at anytime. With that being said, his workload this year including the playoffs is about what he is used to pitching during a season.

Woody Williams
11-8, 4.18 ERA, 189.7 IP, 100 ERA+
2004 Salary - $4.75 million
2005 Salary - $8 million if option is exercised, no buyout if not

Woody really turned his season around after a shaky start, during which he considered retirement. From an innings pitched standpoint, it was the 4th most he had ever thrown in his career. However, his ERA+ was his lowest since he posted a 99 in 1999, and just the 3rd time in his career he wasn't above average.

Woody turned 38 in August, and likely will never return to the form we enjoyed from 2001 through 2003. Spending $8 million on a 38 year old pitcher who was league average as a 37 year old isn't a very smart move, especially with guys like Danny Haren and Rick Ankiel waiting in the wings. I assume that the Cardinals will not pick up his option. If they do, I would hope for a one year deal for a low amount of money. If they don't, I will always remember Woody as a gutsy, hard working pitcher who was a great starter for the Cardinals over his short stay with the team.

Matt Morris
15-10, 4.72 ERA, 202 IP, 89 ERA+
2004 Salary - $12.5 million
2005 Salary - Free Agent

Take a look at the following trends for Matt over the last 4 seasons.

Year - ERA+, HR/9IP, K/9IP

2001 - 137, 0.5, 7.7
2002 - 114, 0.7, 7.3
2003 - 111, 1.0, 6.3
2004 - 89, 1.6, 5.8

What you see there is not exactly an encouraging trend. He's allowing more and more home runs, and striking out fewer and fewer batters. And as you would expect, his ERA+ is trending down over the same time span.

We heard many different stories out of the Cardinals and Matt Morris over this season. Early in the year, he was talking about how he could no longer rely on his fastball. The Cardinals took some heat for supposedly turning off the radar gun during one of his starts. He had a tendency to follow high pitch count starts with horrible outings. He also had a tendency to have his best outings after 5 or more days of rest. Shoulder tendonitis was blamed late in the season, but he was still taking the mound on 3 days' rest for Game 2 of the World Series.

Morris turned down an extension through the 2006 season prior to the start of this season. At the time, he thought that the dollar amount offered - rumored to be $15.5 million total - was lower than he could get on the open market. At this point, however, do you honestly think anyone out there will want to sign him to a contract that high? If so, I personally hope it's not the Cardinals that are interested.

Conclusions

Jeff Suppan is the only starting pitcher from 2004 that I personally trust to be healthy and effective in 2005. Chris Carpenter and Jason Marquis had great seasons from which they can build upon, with the one caveot being that they may be prime candidates for injuries next season. And both Woody Williams and Matt Morris do not have much appeal to be signed for next year in my opinion - at least, not at the prices I assume they would want to work for.

In my mind the Cardinals have the opportunity to replace Woody and Morris with Haren and Ankiel in the rotation. Of course, you can't place too much faith in Haren, who is unproven, or Ankiel, who is a seriously huge question mark. And of course, there are always the even bigger gambles of bringing up guys like Adam Wainwright, Brad Thompson, and Anthony Reyes. However, those guys are probably better suited to be options for the 2006 campaign.

Overall, I think the Cardinals would be best suited to pick up one more starting pitcher, either via free agency or trade. Having the extra starter would give the Cardinals a rotation of (in no particular order):

  • Chris Carpenter
  • Jason Marquis
  • Jeff Suppan
  • Free Agent/Trade
  • Dan Haren/Rick Ankiel

This arrangement would allow for Haren and Ankiel to compete for a rotation slot. The one that doesn't make the rotation could be used in the pen, available to step into the rotation in the event of an injury to one of the other starting pitchers. Wainwright, Thompson, and Reyes could all be used in the unfortunate event that two starting pitcher were to go down at the same time, which is entirely possible.




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