When Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak prioritized innings in his reconstruction of the team’s starting pitching, he knew what he was doing.

And Mozeliak absolutely did the right thing, because innings matter. Innings matter very much. The impact of innings on a team’s win-loss record is more valuable more than many realize.

I can back that up with conclusive numbers. From 2021 through 2023, I wanted to see how well the Cardinals fared when receiving at least six innings from a starting pitcher in a game.

On the other side of the innings log, I wanted to know how the Cardinals did from 2021 through 2023 when their starting pitcher turned in fewer than six innings in a game.

Here’s my report on the length of starts made by the Cardinals over the past three seasons, and it shows the obvious impact on winning and losing:

> When a St. Louis starter went 6+ innings: 122-62 for a .663 winning percentage.

> And when a St. Louis starter went fewer than 6 innings: 132-170 for a .437 winning percentage.

I’m thinking there’s a substantive difference between a .663 winning percentage and a .437 winning percentage over a comprehensive three-season period, so I guess this makes me Fredbird.

I didn’t look at the number of earned runs allowed in these 486 starts since the beginning of 2021. My focus was simply on the number of innings supplied by a starter in an assignment and what it means for the outcome.

Obviously, if a starter works six innings or more, he’s usually pitching well, or at least solidly. And except for an injury concern or empty-tank fatigue, there’s no reason to pull him earlier.

As we can see from the records that appeared in the above breakdown, the Cardinals (and all teams) clearly benefit from starts that last six innings or deeper.

This isn’t a startling revelation. But when Mozeliak sought to reinforce a shaky and vulnerable rotation, it made sense to strengthen the foundation. And that process begins with the bedrock — the innings.

If they can maintain their innings-load performance over the last two seasons, Kyle Gibson, Lance Lynn and Sonny Gray will make a favorable difference.

I’ve been asked if the Cardinals are really that much better off after signing the three free-agent starters.

Mozeliak didn’t add Aaron Nola, Blake Snell and Moshinobu Yamamoto to fill his three-starter quota. So what’s the big deal? Why should we be excited about Gray-Gibson-Lynn?

Well, you’re entitled to your own opinions and emotions on Mozeliak’s in reaction to Mozeliak’s first three moves of the offseason. You don’t have to be excited – or even satisfied – by anything.

I’m just trying to explain why STL’s three new starters are bringing innings value that can lead to a lot more success for the 2024 Cardinals. With these signings, the Cards now have four of top 50 innings guys in the majors. Holdover starter Miles Mikolas is part of that.

Over the last two seasons, here’s where each of the four starters rank in the number of six-inning starts:

Mikolas, 43 … 8th.
Gibson, 35 … 23rd.
Lynn, 30 … 36th.
Gray, 28 … 47th.

And if you’d like to see how the 136 combined 6+ innings starts from these four pitchers impacted their respective teams, here’s the bottom-line: when Mikolas, Gray, Gibson and Lynn went 6+ innings in a start over the last two seasons, their teams had an 88-48 record in those games for a .647 winning percentage,

* The Cardinals were 25-18 over the last two seasons when Mikolas turned in six or more innings.

* The Twins were 18-10 when Gray went 6+.

* Gibson and Lynn’s teams were 45-20 when they gave their teammates at least six innings to enhance the probability of winning the game.

So, yeah, this is kind of a big deal.

You may think otherwise. Do you think I’ve gone cray-cray? Well, maybe that’s true in some instances of my existence … but not in this area.

Here’s another fact I’ll submit into evidence …

Last season the wretched Cardinals were 30 games under .500 (36-66) when a starter pitched fewer than six innings in a game.

But when a starter gave the Redbirds 6+ innings, this woeful outfit was a feisty10 games over .500 at 35-25.

I don’t think there’s anything fuzzy or misleading about those numbers and the appreciable influence of starters going six innings or more.

Last season when Gray, Gibson and Lynn worked at least six innings in a start, their teams went 35-20 for a .636 winning percentage. If we add Mikolas and his 21 starts of 6+ innings in 2023, the collective team record of the four starters was 47-29 (.618.)

Here’s what I’m NOT claiming …

1. I’m not saying the Cardinals have enough starting pitching for 2024. Not yet, anyway. They’re still short on solid depth. They must protect themselves from avoidable vulnerability.

1a. As presently structured, this is an older rotation. A sequence of injuries has limited starter Steven Matz to an average of 13.5 starts and 76.5 innings in his two seasons with the Cards. Zack Thompson has a 5.01 ERA in 10 major-league starts. Matthew Liberatore has a 5.72 ERA in 11 big-league starts. Andre Pallante has a 3.98 ERA in his 11 starts for STL over the last two seasons – but that’s no cause for premature jubilation. Not where I type, anyway.

2. I’m not saying the Cardinals have a strong, one-two combination at the top of the rotation. They don’t. St. Louis needs a front-end starter to go with Gray, who ranked third among MLB starters last season in ERA (2.79) and WAR (5.3). Gray finished second in the American League Cy Young voting. But how much better would the Cardinals be with a more impressive No. 2 starter that would lower Mikolas to No. 3 in the rotation?

3. I’m not saying the Cardinals have dramatically improved their rotation’s strikeout capability. That isn’t the case, but the strikeout jab should be more effective in 2024 – especially if Mozeliak adds another starter who can dial up the Ks. Last season St. Louis starting pitchers ranked 29th among the 30 teams with a pathetic 17.4 percent strikeout rate. The three incoming recruits were above that: Gray (24.3%), Lynn (23.6%) and Gibson (19.5%).

4. I’m not saying Kyle Gibson is the new Bob Gibson. But I will say this again: K. Gibson is better than he gets credit for. Over the last two seasons Gibson had 32 quality starts — just one fewer than Aaron Nola and two less than Jordan Montgomery, Pablo Lopez and Logan Gilbert. And Gibson’s 32 quality starts were more over the past two seasons than Dylan Cease, Blake Snell, Spencer Strider, George Kirby, Max Scherzer, Max Fried, Eduardo Rodriguez, Justin Steele, Marcus Stroman, Shohei Ohtani and Shane McClanahan. Is that good?

5. I’m not saying Sonny Gray is vintage-form Adam Wainwright. But Sonny is elite. Over the past two seasons his 2.90 ERA ranks third among starters that have covered at least 300 innings. The only starters with more impressive ERAs over that time are Justin Verlander and Blake Snell. And the only starters with a superior fielding-independent ERA than Gray (minimum 300 IP) are Zack Wheeler and Kevin Gausman.

6. I’m not saying that all is swell with Lance Lynn. After allowing a ghastly 48 homers and running up a horrendous 5.84 ERA in 33 starts last season – postseason included – he can’t crater again in 2024. But I do think Lynn is capable of doing better next season if he does something about his correctable flaws. Busch Stadium looms as a likely friend.

7. I’m not saying Mikolas is awesome and and had an ideal profile for a No. 2 starter. That isn’t so. But he isn’t dross, either. Over the last two seasons, among innings-qualified pitchers, Mikolas is fourth in innings (401), 20th in WAR (5.9), 23rd in ERA (4.04), and 23rd in FIP (4.08.) He should have more things working for him in ’24. The pitch arsenal requires adjustments.

8. I’m not saying the three free-agent signings will transform the Cardinals into a powerhouse that’s highly capable of making a deep postseason run. But it sure does help to have two higher-quality starters to lead your postseason charge. But there are also minor considerations – pardon my sarcasm – such as offense, defense, bullpen, managing, strength of the opponent.

9. I’m not saying the rotation is the only thing that determines the fate of this pitching staff. Mozeliak must add significant pieces to the bullpen. This organization can’t be wasting space and money on the Drew VerHagen caliber of relievers. Fortifying the bullpen is a must. Based on his public comments, Mozeliak seems well aware of that.

But when you have four starters who can go deep into starts – relative to contemporary standards – it alleviates the burden on the bullpen.

By increasing the innings capability of their rotation, the Cardinals have made significant progress in the project of rebounding from a 71-91 season.

In 2023, that gruesome .438 winning percentage was the fourth-worst in a season by a Cardinals team during the 63-year Expansion Era.

The recruitment of Gray, Lynn and Gibson should alter the direction. Not only did the Cardinals work up an an innings transfusion for their ailing rotation, Mozeliak took the approach at a time the industry is relying on starters who pitch less.

As recently as 2014, MLB had 66 starters throw at least 180 innings in a season. By 2023, the number of starters who distributed 180+ innings was down to a somewhat lonely 25.

The now have Cardinals four of those 25 starters — 16 percent of the supply — in their conglomeration of Gray, Mikolas, Lynn and Gibson. The four put St. Louis in position to lift the 2024 rotation to a respectable level.

These starting-pitching moves may be underwhelming to you on the surface. But I have no problem praising Mozeliak for implementing an informed strategy to attack his team’s most flagrant problem.

Thanks for reading …

Have a groovy weekend.


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. on 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

All stats used in this column were sourced from StatHead, Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

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.