Well, I’ve reached the end of the line in my reports on individual Cardinal players for 2022. I’ve been taking a look at their ‘22 performances with an eye on 2023.

In this final installment, I’ll assess the three remaining pitchers on my list: lefty Matthew Liberatore and right-handers Chris Stratton and Drew VerHagen.


Since the tall left-hander is technically still a rookie, he remains eligible for these Top 100 Prospects List. Baseball America has Liberatore at No. 79 and wrote this about him:

“Liberatore reached the big leagues in 2022 and should return there in 2023 at some point. He’s a polished lefthander with a mix of average or better pitches, albeit none of which jump off the page. He profiles as a strong contender for a spot in the back of the St. Louis rotation for years to come.”

That’s a polite and sunny outlook. The Cardinals and their fans are hoping that Baseball America is correct here.

Making his big-league debut at age 22, Liberatore had a 5.97 ERA in 34.2 innings. He pitched in nine games (seven of which were starts) and struggled with his control and fastball command. Right-handed hitters knocked him around for .327 average, .395 onbase percentage and .615 slug for a 1.010 OPS. Yikes. He was dispatched back to Triple A Memphis multiple times during the season.

“Libby” had his moments … three starts in particular against Milwaukee (May 28), Pittsburgh (June 14) and Atlanta (July 7.) In the three outings Liberatore pitched 14 total innings, didn’t allow a run, and struck out 15 batters. He did walk six batters – but all in all, the three starts were keepers.

There were too many flaws on display, which isn’t uncommon for first-time, age-22 MLB pitchers.

Strikeout rate: 17.4 percent. Ugh.
Walk rate: 11.2 percent. Double ugh.
WHIP: 1.78. Triple ugh.
An opponent hard-hit rate of 48.2% – quadruple ugh.

And only 37.5 percent of his pitchers were thrown for strikes.

There’s a lot of pressure on Liberatore to come through after being the prospect traded here from Tampa Bay for talented young outfielder Randy Arozarena.

While Cardinals fans waited for Liberatore to prove that he was worthy of such a move, Arozarena was voted World Series MVP (2020), won AL Rookie of the Year (2021) and performed 30 percent above league average offensively for the Rays (per OPS+). In 31 postseason games for Tampa Bay, Arozarena has 11 home runs, 17 RBIs, 23 runs scored and a huge 1.121 OPS.

Of course this isn’t fair to Liberatore; he really hasn’t pitched a ton of innings in the minors and is still developing. People don’t want to hear that, but it’s true. So I think it’s foolish to downgrade him and write him off … but at some point, soon, Liberatore will have to deliver and become a mainstay for the Cardinals.

Liberatore won’t be able to satisfy the expectations unless he improves his fastball and develops better secondary pitches.

Last season RH batters pounded his four-seam fastball for a .312 average, .584 slugging percentage. Overall his fastball was walloped for a .364 average and .673 slug. You can’t survive – let alone thrive – in the big leagues when your fastball is fodder for batting practice.

Liberatore’s changeup was pretty much useless. But his sinker was effective, and his curve and slider showed potential. So there are reasons to believe that Liberatore will come up with what he needs to be a good major-league pitcher … but not unless he fixes his fastball by making it more difficult for hitters to see the pitch when it’s coming out of his hand. That’s why he’s been so vulnerable and hittable. He’s a good fastball away from becoming part of this rotation. And 2023 is a crucial year for Liberatore and the Cardinals. The team will need to replenish the starting rotation in 2024, and it’s imperative for Liberatore to take a long step forward in ’23.

Liberatore’s grade for 2022: D. Yes, I’ve given him a break because of his inexperience and for his three good starts against the Brewers, Pirates and Braves. And the Cardinals were 5-2 in games started by the rookie.


Stratton did some good things after coming over from Pittsburgh in the trade-deadline deal that installed Jose Quintana in the St. Louis rotation. This right-hander will take the ball and go and handle frequent appearances without a problem. Pitching on back-to-back days isn’t an issue. Every bullpen needs a guy like that.

Stratton had a 2.78 ERA for the Cardinals in 20 relief stints (covering 22.2 innings) and none of his 98 batters faced took him deep for a home run.

After giving up four earned runs in his first 4.2 innings for his new team, Stratton had a 1.50 ERA over his final 16 relief appearances. That ERA was aided by an unusually low .222 opponent batting average on balls in play. But he had an inflated walk rate and was fortunate to avoid considerable damage.

And that brings us to a warning: Stratton’s effectiveness is often reduced because of his bad habit of walking opponents. For his career he’s walked 3.8 batters per nine innings and has a 1.46 WHIP (walks and hits per inning.) As a Cardinal his glaring 12.2% walk rate led to an opponent onbase percentage of .357 and a 1.50 WHIP. Stratton plays in traffic, and that causes problems. Stratton had a 23.5% strikeout rate for St. Louis. That was pretty solid considering the STL bullpen’s pathetic 21.2% strikeout rate that ranked 26th in the majors.

Stratton’s grade for the 2022 Cardinals: C+.


VerHagen was terrible in his first season as a Cardinal with a 6.65 ERA in 19 appearances and 21.2 innings. He had a poor strikeout rate (17%), a horrendous walk rate (13%), a subpar ground-ball rate (34%) and was smacked for an alarming average of 2.1 home runs per nine innings.

Injuries largely prevented him from showing his best form – whatever that may be – in 2022. VerHagen missed 123 in-season days with two hip injuries and a sore shoulder. The Cardinals signed him out of Japan before the 2022 season, granting him a two-year deal for $5.5 million. After six unimpressive seasons with the Detroit Tigers, VerHagen ventured to Japan and was solid for two seasons of work for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, posting a 3.51 ERA in 208 innings.

Unlike his career performance in MLB, at least VerHagen limited walks and home-run damage during his time in Japan and had a good ground-ball rate. But he still allowed 3.9 runs per nine innings; nothing special about that. But the Cardinals’ scouts were impressed, and the front office seemed excited to sign him.

Problem: As a Tiger – and again as a Cardinal – VerHagen couldn’t stay healthy, and couldn’t keep his ERA down. In 221 MLB innings VerHagen has a 5.26 ERA and yielded a home-run rate of 1.4 per nine innings. Major–league hitters have jumped on him for a .278 average, .350 OBP, .461 slug and .811 OPS. And he hasn’t struck out many hitters – and has walked too many hitters. The only positive for his MLB career is a 51.5 percent ground-ball rate.

Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak remains positive about VerHagen, and keeps talking him up. (Translation: the Cardinals spent $5.5 million on the veteran pitcher, and for that reason they’ll continue to oversell him to fans and media.) VerHagen obviously will get another shot at pitching regularly for the Cardinals in 2023, and Mozeliak hopes to be vindicated for the $5.5 million investment.

VerHagen is 32, and hardly in the stage of development. And except for 2015 – when he had a 2.05 ERA in a small-sample 26 innings – he’s never displayed a consistent ability to limit runs. And his career WAR is below replacement level. And if we take away the brief success in 2015, VerHagen has a career 5.69 ERA in the majors. He’ll be paid $3 million by the Cardinals during the coming season.

VerHagen’s grade for 2022: Has to be an F, but some of you may be inclined to give him an “incomplete.” That’s fine.

Finally …

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Today (Tuesday) on my KFNS-AM sports-talk show, I’ll have Keith Law from The Athletic on at 3:30 p.m. STL time, followed by new Cardinals’ TV play-by-play voice Chip Caray at 4 p.m. You can listen by going to 590thefan.com or by using the 590 The Fan app.

Mr. Law has four Cardinals on his newly released Top 100 prospects list: corner outfielder Jordan Walker (5th), shortstop Masyn Winn (46), pitcher Tink Hence (63) and pitcher Gordon Graceffo (66.)

Thanks for reading …

— Bernie

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 the fan app.

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

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.


Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

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.