April Grades: Pitching Staff

Yesterday I tackled my April Grades for the Cardinals’ position players and today I will tackle the grades for the Cardinals’ pitching staff and the manager. Chris Carpenter is still out and we’ve kind of forgotten that he even exists with how great the staff has been so far in 2012.

Manager Mike Matheny – Matheny was my #1 choice to take over for Tony La Russa after he announced his retirement. We’ve long heard about his potential as a manager. However, I didn’t really like that he had zero managerial experience. It’s something I held heavily against Jose Oquendo. But I felt that Matheny always had the ability to be a good manager, and so far he has been.

It’s hard to take over for a probable future Hall of Fame manager, but he has and he’s done it by making it into his own team. Over the last few years, I felt that the Cardinals had strayed from that “Play Like a Cardinal” ideal and become flat with their on field play. This year, I see some excitement. I see some of that baseball that I recall seeing earlier in La Russa’s tenure coming back. It’s a fun time to be a Cardinals’ fan. Grade: A.

SP Adam Wainwright – Wainwright struggled in April going 0-3 with a 7.32 ERA in 4 starts. It doesn’t help that he’s gotten zero run support either. Many, even I, expected him to slide right back into his #1 role in the pitching staff upon his return, but it’s taken a few more bumps that I thought. He has shown some improvement with each start, so I think it’s only a matter of a few starts until he’s back on top and the pitcher we all expect him to be. Grade: C-

SP Jaime Garcia – Garcia is an interesting case. I think he’s at a little bit of a crossroads this season about whether he will turn into the quality left handed starter we all expect him to be or if he’ll simply be average. Or even, whether he’ll head to the bullpen when Carpenter returns, but in April he was 2-1 with a 2.78 ERA in 5 starts. Efficiency, one of his usual problems, didn’t seem to be a major problem in any of his starts, except his second in Cincinnati where he threw 81 pitches over 4 2/3 innings. But he’s kept his pitch counts reasonable and it’s enabled him to go deeper into games. Hopefully he can keep this up. Grade: A

SP Kyle Lohse – Lohse was the Cardinals’ best starter last season and another year removed from the injury and he should get all the better. He has. Lohse put up a 1.62 ERA and a 4-0 record in 5 starts in April this year, and April is the best month of his career. If you think about it, Lohse has bailed out the Cardinals’ rotation multiple times. In 2008 with Carpenter out most of the year and Wainwright out as well, he was the staff leader. In 2011 with Wainwright down, he was the team’s best starter over the course of the season. Then now in 2012, he’s put in another incredible performance with Carpenter out. He will likely slow down a little bit over the coming months, but April was masterful. Grade: A+

SP Jake Westbrook – Can I say I told you so? I expected Westbrook to respond strongly after putting up the worst season of his career last year and he has with an incredible start and he’s usually stronger in the second half of a season, so you have to wonder what that means. Westbrook started the season 3-1 in 4 starts with a 1.30 ERA. You can’t ask for much more from the team’s #4 starter. Grade: A+

SP Lance Lynn 4-0 with a 1.33 ERA in 4 starts to start his first season in the rotation with the Cardinals. Considering he got a late start on it because of the injury to Chris Carpenter, it’s been an amazing start. You could not have asked for anything more out of him either. He’s started to make the question, “What do we do with Chris Carpenter” look more and more legitimate with every start. Grade: A++

CL Jason Motte – Named Mike Matheny’s closer shortly after he took over the team, Motte has been solid more often than not. He has made 8 appearances and thrown 7 2/3 innings. His 3.52 ERA is not reflective of his performance, with 2/3rds of the runs he’s allowed coming in his only blown save against the Cubs on April 23rd and the other one coming in a game the Cardinals’ led handily. He is 3 for 4 in save opportunities, something I think people expected him to get more of. All in all, not spectacular, but not disappointing at all. Grade: B

RP Kyle McClellan Last year’s replacement starter for Adam Wainwright was returned to the bullpen this season and he’s starting to slide in as one of the the go-to middle innings guys, throwing 11 innings out of the pen in April with a 3.27 ERA. This should be an interesting year for McClellan. It is his second arbitration year and the Cardinals might be hesistant to pay the price next year to keep him around. He’d like to start in the majors, but I also think he’s capable of being a premier setup guy. Grade: B

RP Victor Marte – Marte was acquired by the Cardinals last April and he spent the entire 2011 season as the closer in Memphis and was impressive while doing it. This year he wasn’t expected to be on the big league club, but after an injury to Scott Linebrink near the end of spring training, and Marte was the first callup when Linebrink hit the DL before the Milwaukee series. Marte has proven himself a solid arm in the bullpen as well, becoming one of Matheny’s go-to guys in high pressure situations. In fact, according to Baseball-Reference, Marte has allowed just 1 hit in high and medium leverage situations combined. His 2.79 ERA over 8 appearances in April are also really good. It should be interesting to see if he can maintain it or if guys figure him out. Grade: A

RP Mitchell Boggs – Boggs has been impressive in April so far. Over his 10 1/3 innings, he has a nearly spotless 0.87 ERA. He has been one of Matheny’s favorite choices for late game appearance when he doesn’t need Motte. Boggs got his opportunity to close last year, but held it very briefly before someone else was given the opportunity. He has the ability, no doubt, but is still inconsistent. Still, it’s a better April than I expected. Grade: A

RP Fernando Salas – It’s been a tough season for Fernando Salas. He struggled in spring training and he’s struggles so far this season, posting a 4.50 ERA in 8 innings in April, easily the worst performance in the bullpen. Last year, Salas held the closer’s role for most of the summer before coming down with a case of homeritis. While he’s only allowed 1 of those, his opponents are hitting .333 against him with a .528 slugging percentage, that’s not a recipe for success. Salas has, in my opinion, the best stuff of anyone in the bullpen right now, he’s just struggling. When Linebrink returns, he could be the first to go back to Memphis to see if he can get straight again. Grade: D

RP Marc Rzepczynski – Scrabble as some call him, or Zep as I do, had a solid April. Not great, not horrible. He posted a 3.00 ERA in 6 innings over 8 appearances. He’s gotten the opportunity to face both lefty and righty hitters this season, with 20 plate appearances against righties and 18 against lefties. He is once again dominating left handed hitters to the tune of a .118 opponents batting average and righties at just .211. This is why the Cardinals’ acquired him last year. He is one of the best left handed relievers in baseball and this could be his coming out year. Grade: A

RP J.C. Romero – After spending time in four organizations last season, Romero has been a pleasant surprise for me. Especially when you consider that he’s been used sparingly. He made just 6 appearances for 4 1/3 innings in April and maintained a spotless ERA. He’s the second lefty behind Zep, so he’s not called on often, but one of the things Matheny will need to watch out for is not using him enough going forward. Just 4 innings over the course of a month is a recipe for a pitcher who will be rusty going into a critical situation. Grade: A

Overall – The Cardinals pitching staff has been excellent this year so far. The starting rotation has been phenomenal, amongst the top staffs in the majors, however the bullpen has been more around average. That’s something that will need to be worked on, but we certainly have some depth there with Linebrink on the DL working towards a return and Eduardo Sanchez working on his stuff in Memphis. Not to mention Maikel Cleto and maybe a rookie or two that’s down there too. Still room for improvement there though. Grade: B