Hello, again. It’s time for me to dive back into my review of individual Cardinal players for 2022, and what their performance can tell us about what to expect in 2023.
I’ve reviewed all of the position players, the regular starting pitchers and most of the relievers. I have five more to go, and these reviews will be shorter except for the guy I’m about to look at.
NEXT UP: Righthander Jake Woodford, age 26.
Analysis: He’s pitched well over the last two seasons, finessing his way to a 3.26 ERA in 116 innings. But Woodford was particularly effective over his 48.1 innings. The right-hander has been used as a spot starter, posting a 3.83 ERA in nine starts over the past two seasons.
Woodford has been at his best as a reliever, sculpting a 2.30 ERA out of the bullpen in 2021, and coming back for a 2.23 ERA as a reliever in 2022.
Last season, in 48.1 total innings, Woodford held all MLB hitters to a .249 average, .293 onbase percentage and .318 slug and got dinged for only one home run by the 188 batters he faced. Among 386 MLB pitchers that faced at least 188 batters in 2022, Woodford’s rate of allowing only 0.2 home runs per nine innings was tied for fourth-best among the 386.
Adjusted ERA neutralizes park-and-league effects to present a fairer assessment of a pitcher’s work. A 100 ERA+ is the league average. And In 2022, Woodford had a 172 ERA+ … meaning that he performed 72 percent above league average. It’s a small sample, yes … but this still gives us an idea of how well Woodford does his job when given the opportunity to pitch in the big leagues.
Negatives? Woodford doesn’t strike many hitters out, has a blah swing-miss rate, and his walk rate is a tad high. But in 2022 he turned in a 52 percent ground ball rate, limited hard contact and kept the ball in the yard. The batting average against Woodford on balls in play (.278) seems to indicate he’s quite fortunate in the luck department – but Woodford has had a low BIP average against him in every MLB season that he’s pitched, so I don’t want to put the “lucky dude” label on him.
Confusing: For the second consecutive season Woodford was repeatedly relegated to Memphis, pitching 43 innings for the Triple A affiliate in ‘22. Even during times when the Cardinals are filling staff vacancies caused by pitching injuries, they seem to be lukewarm on Woodford. Maybe it’s his low (16%) career strikeout rate — but it’s funny how that concern doesn’t seem to apply to other St. Louis pitchers.
Woodford was told to concentrate on reshaping his slider, to make the pitch more effective against a variety of hitters. And Woodford used his time at Memphis to make that improvement. You can see the results:
In 2021 – per Statcast and based on the contact quality against him – Woodford had a ..440 slugging percentage against him when using the slider. In 2022, hitters had an expected .361 slug against the slider. Last season opponents batted .184 with a weak .316 slugging percentage in at-bats that ended with Woodford serving the slider.
That said, Woodford’s slider-strikeout rate dropped substantially in 2022. I don’t know why, but that didn’t have a negative impact on his overall performance.
Woodford: Better than the Cardinals think. After spending the month of August in Memphis in 2021, Woodford returned with sharper stuff and had a 2.51 ERA in 28.2 innings in September. From that final month in 2021 through the 2022 season, here’s a list of the best ERAs among Cardinals that worked at least 75 innings over that time:
— Jake Woodford, 2.34
— Andre Pallante, 3.17
— Miles Mikolas, 3.67
— Adam Wainwright, 3.67
— Dakota Hudson, 4.31
Now we’ll use fielding independent ERA (FIP) for the same pitchers since Sept. 1, 2021:
— Woodford, 3.03
— Wainwright, 3.17
— Mikolas, 3.98
— Pallante, 3.98
— Hudson, 4.23
In late August of last season, when asked if Woodford’s improved pitching warranted a more prominent role, manager Oli Marmol said, “He’s earned every bit of it. There’s no doubt about it.”
With all due respect to the Cards manager, I’m thinking that the doubts still remain for those who make the decisions. I say that because Woodford has obviously pitched well enough to earn a regular spot on this staff. And in cultivating an enhanced slider, Woodford worked hard and did what he was instructed to do. But the bosses still haven’t committed to him. I’m all in favor of a higher strikeout rate for St. Louis pitchers – but I don’t understand the selective–standard inconsistency and how it’s used against Woodford.
Woodford gets hitters out. He doesn’t allow many runs.
That’s his specialty.
If the Cardinals truly believed in Woodford, they wouldn’t continue to keep rolling him on that I-55 drive to Memphis.
Woodford’s grade in 2022: B+
How Woodford will be used in 2023: Probably the same way he’s been used for the last two years — treated like a marginal MLB pitcher. And deployed as a starter-reliever swingman when he isn’t being shuttled to Memphis. Or, if the Cardinals can admit they’ve been wrong about the underrated Woodford, perhaps will see him receive a more prominent role in ‘23. And the change in pitching coaches should benefit Woodford. But we must also consider this possibility: the front office will have a say in this, and management will probably want to justify its 2022 free-agent investment in Drew VerHagen by giving him a job on the big-league staff if he’s healthy. The Cardinals are weird that way.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.
For the last 35 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. 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.