Stop the madness.

Liberate Liberatore.

The Cardinals have used Steven Matz’s latest injury to take another look at lefthander Matthew Liberatore as a starting pitcher and the latest audition is a flop. In three starts Liberatore has serviced 10 innings – an untenable average of 3.33 per outing. Because Liberatore was shifting from a bullpen role, we can understand why he didn’t provide many innings in his first start on May 5 against the White Sox.

Here’s the thing: Liberatore pitched 3 and ⅔ innings that day against the White Sox but couldn’t even get that far in his next two starts. He lasted 3 and ⅓ innings against the Angels, and went 3 innings in Sunday’s loss. Liberatore came out for the fourth but was yanked after getting socked for a single and RBI double by the first two batters.

Liberatore gave up one run in 3.2 innings vs. the White Sox but was clobbered for 11 hits, three walks, two homers, eight earned runs and an 11.37 ERA in 6 and ⅓ innings by the Angels and Red Sox.

Liberatore has gotten worse instead of better. Liberate him. Put him back in the bullpen. End this ridiculous situation that exposes the Cardinals’ pathetic lack of starting-pitching depth and stubborn refusal to acknowledge failure and make sensible adjustments.

Despite being smacked upside the head since the start of last season, the people who make baseball decisions for the Cardinals still think they know best. The Cardinals still operate as if they believe they’re smarter than most baseball organizations, and the hubris starts at the top with chairman Bill DeWitt Jr.

Liberatore was making progress as a reliever — but truth is, the quality of his work has been overstated by local media. Working out of the bullpen Liberatore has controlled left-handed batters to a .125 batting average and .250 OPS. That part is terrific, but we’d like to see more strikeouts. But if the opposing manager can get RH batters into the game, the advantage goes to the hitter. Liberatore has faced 39 RHB in a relief role this season, and they’ve crushed it with a .313 average, .421 onbase percentage and .469 slug.

Whether he’s being used as a starter or reliever, the Cardinals can’t hide Liberatore from right-handed hitters. And they’ve had no problem putting up big numbers against him. The lefty vs. lefty thing works, but Liberatore must stay in the game to face three hitters. And managers can go to the bench for a right-handed batter.

Liberatore has more of an attacking mentality when chucking as a reliever. He is not as aggressive in his approach as  a starter. And that’s why the Cardinals were naive to think he was ready for the assignment. This is Liberatore’s third season with the Cardinals, and no one on the St. Louis coaching staff has helped make him more competitive against RH batters. That’s a problem.

But after Leavin’ Steven (Matz) left a start with back pain on April 30, the Cardinals saw this as another chance to give Liberatore another shot at starting. By golly, the Cardinals are going to prove they knew what they were doing in trading outfielder Randy Arozarena to Tampa Bay for the prospect Liberatore.

Instead of cultivating Liberatore to become a bullpen fixture, the Cardinals repeatedly sent him back out there to absorb beatings as a starter. And with this seriously flawed thinking, the St. Louis baseball brains weakened the starting pitching and the bullpen in one move.

Even with inherent Liberatore’s weakness when facing right-side hitters, Ryan Helsley is the only STL reliever that has allowed a lower batting average (.114) than Liberatore (.125) when taking on left-hitting batsmen. Libby is the team’s best left vs. left reliever. But that skill was stripped away from the bullpen when the Cardinals relocated Liberatore to the rotation.

MLB teams have used the Injured List for 77 starting pitchers this season. Though Sonny Gray (hamstring) missed his first two starts of the season, he was back by April 9. Matz is their only other major-league level pitcher to go on the IL, and this organization can’t come up with a starter to substitute for him. The other four teams in the NL Central have collectively placed 16 starting pitchers on the IL this season without much duress. The Cardinals lose one starter, and they have no idea what to do about it.

JUST THE FACTS

This isn’t all on Liberatore, but the Cardinals go into the new week with a 6.02 starting-pitching ERA that’s the worst in the majors for May. a 6.02 ERA that’s the worst in the majors this month. The Cardinals have four quality starts in May;  among MLB teams only the Giants (3) have fewer than that.

Liberatore has a 9.00 ERA in his three starts this year, and a 5.99 ERA in 21 career major-league starts. His average start has lasted 4.2 innings. In a starting role he’s been pummeled for a .305 average, .380 onbase percentage and .507 slugging percentage.

Liberatore has nothing in his pitching arsenal that can neutralize right-handed batters. The Cardinals might want to look at the stats or something. The Red Sox knew all about Libby’s weakness against right-handed hitters and loaded their lineup with eight of them Sunday. Liberatore pitched to 12 RH batters and was ripped for six hits, a walk, two doubles and a homer. He struck out one. Boston’s RH hitters attacked Liberatore for a .545 average, .583 OBP and 1.000 slugging percentage.

In his 21 career starts Liberatore has been pounded by RH batters for a .323 average, .393 OBP and .551 slug.

Liberatore has faced 73 right-handed hitters this season when deployed as a starter or a reliever. The damage report: three homers, seven doubles, nine walks, a .353 average, .431 OBP and .631 slug. Both his walk rate (12.3%) and strikeout rate (17.8%) are poor against RH batsmen.

Because of Liberatore’s inability to pitch deeper into games, the Cardinals used 12 relievers during his three starts. With Liberatore covering only 10 innings, the bullpen had to clean up for 17 innings. By burning so many relievers in a Liberatore start, the Cardinals risk leaving themselves vulnerable for the next game. But to be fair, that’s not why the Cards lost to the Mets and Angels on the day after Liberatore’s two previous starts.

The Cardinals don’t have someone better than this to plug into the rotation? Really? Wow. This is a strong indictment of management-ownership. The executives who run the baseball department – which oversees the scouting, draft and the minor leagues – has flunked at the critical task of developing pitching within the system. I’ve been writing about this for a long time … and will continue to write about this. It’s too important to ignore or move to the side.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. Friday. Stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

Stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions, Spotrac and Cot’s Contracts unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.