2012 Previews: Starting Pitching

With just six posting days left before the beginning of the 2012 season, I don’t have much time to get things going in the whole preview department. So the hope is to hit several topics over the next few days to round it all up.

Last season the Cardinals starting pitching took a big hit in spring training when Adam Wainwright was lost in February to Tommy John surgery. The injury advanced Kyle McClellan into the rotation. Lance Lynn made two starts when McClellan missed a couple due to an injury in June before Edwin Jackson was acquired near the deadline to replace McClellan in the rotation.

Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, and Jake Westbrook all made over 30 starts for the Cardinals. They hadn’t had that many starters make more than 30 starts since all 5 starting pitchers did it in 2005.

Adam Wainwright

As I mentioned earlier and I’m sure everyone knows, Adam Wainwright missed last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. His recovery was so quick that he reportedly requested to be put on the postseason roster for the Cardinals. No truth to the rumor that Mozeliak laughed him out of his office.

Wainwright, 30, will now get to work his way back into form. And in form he has looked. Wednesday was the first spring training game where he got touched up for some runs, which is okay for me. I’m more concerned if a pitcher doesn’t get hit at all than if he’s dominant in spring training.

Back in 2010, his last season in uniform, Wainwright started 33 games, threw more than 230 innings and won 20 games with a 2.42 ERA as he finished second in the Cy Young Award voting and got an All Star nod. It was a career year for him.

Now what can we expect from Wainwright in 2012? After a year off I think the organization needs to ease him back into going deep into games. However, with the injury to Carpenter, that might not be easy. I think 200-210 innings is going to be a solid projection for Wainwright. I think they’ll keep him on a tight leash early in the season, but as he shows he can handle it, let the leash out a little further as the season wears on.

From everything I hear, his fastball is good and his curveball might be more nasty than ever. That will project well for Wainwright. I project Wainwright for an 18-8 season with a 2.83 ERA and 207 innings.

Chris Carpenter

He’s the question mark. He has been down for most of the month of March, suffering from what’s been termed a bulging cervical disc. Right now he’s on a rest program for a few weeks before he likely resumes throwing in mid-April. The problem is that because he isn’t throwing, the team really has no time table for his return. I think getting him back before June starts is a pipe dream. I expect a mid-June return for Carpenter.

Over the last two years the 36-year-old pitcher has thrown over 230 innings in each year and led the MLB games started. Last year he also threw in two appearances on three days rest in the playoffs for good measure. But the opinion of many is that he single handedly put the Cardinals on his right arm and carried them to a World Series win. Unfortunately, we now get to deal with the fall out.

While his stats can be reproduced, most likely by Lance Lynn this season, what can’t be emulated is his mentality and approach on the mound. While his numbers may not reflect ace status anymore, Carpenter still carries that mentality on the mound with him. Whether players want to admit it or not, it affects the guys on the field and the guys trying to hit off of him.

With a shortened season, the numbers will obviously be lowered. If he does come back in June, he will have missed about 12 starts on the season, leaving him 20 if he takes a regular role in the rotation the rest of the season. I figure he will end the year at 9-4 with a 3.78 ERA over 134 innings.

Kyle Lohse

Statistically the Cardinals’ best season last year, Lohse is heading into a contract year. This year is the final year of the 4 year, $41 million deal he signed going into the 2009 season. He led the big league club in wins, ERA, and WHIP among the starting pitchers, lending some credence to the idea put forth last season that if he was healthy, he could produce at similar levels as he did in 2008 to earn that big contract. He was even better.

For the first two months of the season, Lohse was one of the best pitchers in the major leagues before he struggled his way through the summer. Part of that, I think, is because he had only thrown 92 innings last year and just 117 the year before that. He just wasn’t conditioned anymore to put that much wear on his body.

At 33 years old, Lohse has a lot to pitch for this season in what could be his last chance to wring a solid multi-year deal out of free agency. I think he’ll put up a year pretty similar to last years’ performance. I see him at 15-9 with a 3.56 ERA over 193 innings.

Jaime Garcia

Garcia is really the wildcard in the rotation, I think. He had a rough spring training in 2011 and while he once again continued to show flashes of greatness, he also showed an inability to get over adversity on the mound. Many believe that he was aggressively protected in his rookie season by Tony La Russa and that’s what led to his 2.70 ERA and helps explain a nearly 1 point jump to 3.56 in 2011.

His WHIP remained equal, he walked fewer batters, but he got hit more and hit a little harder. He was satisfactory in nearly every month except August where he got pounded and posted a 6.84 ERA over his 5 starts, allowing nearly two base runners per inning. The struggles roughly coincided with his signing of a 4 year, $27 million contract that buys out his arbitration years and adds two additional option years. With his future secure, did he lose a little focus?

It’ll be a big year for Garcia. Can he take his place as one of the premiere left handed pitchers in the majors, as he’s shown flashes of his being capable of doing? That’ll be the question. I think he does settle in. I think he goes 15-6 with a 3.44 ERA over 203 innings as he becomes Wainwright’s #2 pitcher.

Jake Westbrook

The man we all wanted to get rid of in the offseason will be back this year and back in the rotation. However, chalk me up as glad about it. Westbrook came to the Cardinals in a deadline deal in 2010 and was phenomenal down the stretch, posting a 3.48 ERA over 12 starts. While it got him a 2 year, $17.5 million deal with the Cardinals, it also set him up for some pretty high expectations from the fans.

Then came the 2011 season we all saw. It was easily the worst season of his major league career, one that nobody really saw coming. The announcers liked to explain it away, saying that Westbrook was more of a second half pitcher. While, he is to an extent, it isn’t as pronounced as they made it seem. But it is interesting to see that before the Rafael Furcal acquisition, Westbrook had a 4.86 ERA. After it, just 4.32. His ERA dropped nearly half a run, just by having a competent shortstop up the middle.

That all points towards a better season out of Westbrook this season. It’s an important season for him too because it could be a free agency season. He is in the final year of the deal, but the Cardinals hold an option for 2013, an option that he needs to make it difficult for the Cardinals to turn down as it appears that Shelby Miller is all but penciled into the rotation for 2013.

For my projections on Westbrook this season, I think we’ll see a solid Westbrook, but not to where we saw him at the end of 2010. I see him at 14-9 with a 4.17 ERA over 192 innings.

Lance Lynn

Cardinals fans got introduced to Mr. Lynn last year. As we liked to think, it’s probably the first time a major league team had two players named Lance (Berkman being the other) on the roster, let alone playing critical roles on the team. Lynn made two starts last year where he got hit up in the first one against the Giants, but showed some skill against the Astros in his second. After his cup of coffee he got a trip back to Memphis. But later that month he returned in the bullpen and quickly earned himself a late innings role. It was an injury that forced him out of the bullpen late in the season and he returned in the playoffs with some stellar performances and some struggles.

We heard a few things about what the Cardinals’ planned to do with Lance Lynn this year. I heard in December that they were planning on starting him in Memphis back in their starting rotation and ready to be the spot starter should someone be needed. But when February arrived, he was working as a reliever and trying to earn a spot in the St. Louis bullpen. In March he got the call and they transitioned him to a starting pitcher again.

He’ll get the undesirable chance to replace Carpenter in the Cardinals’ rotation, but he should be ready to go. I think he’ll be a surprise for the Cardinals, enough so that we’re going to have a hard time pushing him out of the rotation when Carpenter does return. Sticking with my previous projection that Carpenter misses 12 starts, I put Lynn at 6-3 with a 3.91 ERA over 71 innings.

In Summary

Just a quick summary of the projections I made for our starting rotation. Last year the starting rotation went 62-42 (12th MLB) with a 3.81 ERA (12th) over 999 innings (7th). Totaling up the projections, I think the starting rotation will go 77-39 with a 3.56 ERA over 1000 innings. Definitely plausible in my opinion.

Wainwright: 18-8, 2.83 ERA, 207 innings
Lohse:15-9, 3.56 ERA, 193 innings
Garcia: 15-6, 3.44 ERA, 203 innings
Westbrook: 14-9, 4.17 ERA, 192 innings
Carpenter: 9-4, 3.78 ERA, 134 innings
Lynn: 6-3, 3.91 ERA, 71 innings