THE REDBIRD REVIEW
After signing free-agent starting pitcher Lance Lynn, the Cardinals quickly pivoted to make a deal with Kyle Gibson.
Gibson, 36, will receive $12 million in 2024 with a club option for 2025. Lynn also has a club option for ‘25.
The moves for Lynn and Gibson aren’t flashy or exciting. The transactions won’t lead to a boost in offseason ticket sales. These signings are predictable. Fans have taken to social media to throw tantrums. The best fans in baseball want more. The consumers want to see the Cardinals ownership-management to think bigger, be bolder, and aggressively land a front-rotation starter. The loyal fans want to see proof of a total commitment to winning. These are understandable and reasonable requests.
I wrote a piece earlier today, taking an extensive look at Lynn’s addition.
You can read it here.
Here are 15 quick-hit takeaways on what the Cardinals have done so far to stanchion a shaky, wobbly and embarrassingly poor 2023 rotation that was among the worst during the 28-season Bill DeWitt Jr. Era as owner.
1. Obviously the Cardinals still must add a top starter. A five-man rotation of Miles Mikolas, Steven Matz, Lance Lynn and Gibson isn’t enough. Not if the team is trying to reach 90+ wins and return to the playoffs. But the Cardinals aren’t finished, so let’s see what they do next before we lose our collective minds by blowing every circuit in our head wiring.
2. Last week on my KFNS radio show, I offered this assessment, and I did not waffle on it: it’s best to be prepared, because the Cardinals would not be diving into the deep end of the free-agent pool of starting pitchers. People thought I was kidding, or doing the hot-take thing. Nope. I had good information on this, and that’s why I adjusted my expectations. Please do not be confused here; I am not defending the Cardinals. I am merely the messenger that felt obliged to explain the reality of the situation.
3. The Gibson signing did not surprise me at all. I essentially predicted this very move on my KFNS radio show last week – and even talked about why I thought it made sense. With an asterisk, of course; bringing in Gibson did not fulfill the glaring need for a higher-caliber starter. The same applies to the Lynn signing.
4. I think we agree on this: the Cardinals had a major need for rotation stability. Guys who can make most, if not all, of their scheduled starts. Guys who can supply a solid load of innings without significant disruption. Reliable guys who could be counted on. In recruiting Gibson and Lynn, the Cardinals did just that.
Last season Lynn and Gibson combined for 375 and ⅔ innings and 65 starts. You don’t need to remind me of Lynn’s dreadful ERA (5.73) and his homers-allowed disease. I wrote all about that earlier on Tuesday. And I know all about Gibson’s 4.73 ERA in 2023.
The Cardinals now have three starting pitchers – Miles Mikolas, Gibson and Lynn – who combined for 577 innings in 2023. The three ranked 4th (Mikolas), 12th (Gibson) and 23rd (Lynn) among all MLB starters for innings pitched last season. That matters given the flimsy nature of the team’s ‘23 rotation. The Cardinals had to use 10 different starters last season. Other than Mikolas no starter pitched more than 121 innings – though Jordan Montgomery was on course for nearly 190 innings before the trade that sent him to Texas.
5. Again: these signings do not mean the Cardinals are good to go, or that their work is done. They need more quality. They need to strengthen the top of their rotation. They need a more strikeout bang. But at least they’ve reinforced the bottom part of the rotation with starters that produce innings. And before I forget, let’s all say this again: the bullpen requires considerable strengthening.
6. Gibson is probably better than you assume. Over the last two seasons he’s pitched 359 and ⅔ innings. And while his ERA over that time (4.88) is obviously on the high side, his fielding independent ERA (FIP) is a more attractive 4.20. That FIP reflects the aspects of pitching that Gibson can control: strikeouts, walks, homer runs, and hit by pitch. That’s a more accurate measure of a pitcher’s performance.
6a. No, Kyle Gibson isn’t a power pitcher … but he’s an improved pitcher. As John Denton (MLB.com) pointed out, Gibson developed a “sweeper” pitch in 2023 and his breaking ball run value ranked in MLB’s 94th percentile. Opponents hit .147 against Gibson’s sweeper.
7. Over the last two seasons, Gibson is one of only 16 major-league starters that have worked at least 359 innings with a FIP of 4.20 or better. A good amount of innings. A decent FIP. Despite what many people believe, those dudes aren’t all that easy to find. But no one, including me, is trying to pass off Gibson as some sort of ace. I’m just saying that he’s a lot more than a generic pitcher.
8. Gibson’s WAR over the last two seasons (4.5) is virtually even with Marcus Stroman and better than that of Charlie Morton, Jose Berrios, Lucas Giolito, Jameson Taillon, Michael Wacha, Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Josiah Gray, and many others. But go ahead and call him a dumpster dive if it makes you feel better.
9. The Baltimore Orioles topped the American League with 101 wins in 2023. Gibson led the O’s in starts (33), innings pitched (192) and wins (15). The team had a record of 20-13 in Gibson’s starts. Yes, the Orioles were fourth in the AL with an average of 4.98 runs per game. But Gibson did his part to make that run support stand up. He did his job.
10. I followed the Orioles pretty closely in 2023 and was impressed by the way Gibson was viewed by his teammates. He was a strong influence on younger Baltimore pitchers.
“A lot of experience, a lot of leadership, a guy that’s been there and has seen all this stuff that most of the people in this locker room aren’t that experienced, young guys especially,” O’s second baseman Adam Frazier said. “I think he’s brought that leadership to be able to calm some guys down and show them the way. He’s pretty even-keeled. A lot of these young arms can lean on him for what to expect or maybe how to go about their day and prepare and other stuff like that.”
11. Call me silly, but I’m pretty sure the Cardinals could use a veteran starter that brings respected leadership elements to the team environment. Lance Lynn can be that guy, too. This was a weakness in 2023.
12. This applies more to Gibson than Lynn. But the Cardinals better make sure to improve their defense in 2024. Lynn isn’t a ground-ball pitcher. Gibson is absolutely a ground-ball pitcher with a career GB rate of 50.5 percent. That’s in line with what he’s done over the last three seasons. If the Cardinals fail to put a better infield defense behind Gibson, then shame on them. Just to give you an idea of what a tighter overall defense could do for the Cardinals in 2024, consider this: last season Mikolas, Gibson and Lynn were each among the top five pitchers in the majors for most hits allowed. Add it all up, and they gave up 525 hits combined. Ouch! A good defense can lower those hit totals.
13. Gibson is a Mizzou baseball alum. He’s active in community-minded charities, and has worked with Adam Wainwright in this area. Gibson and family live in nearby Washington, Mo. He’s already done plenty of community-minded work in the St. Louis area. I know this is about the pitching … but this is a really good man. Gibson is a three-time team nominee for the Roberto Clemente Community Service Award. And he has donated or otherwise raised $430,000 over the last four years to feed the hungry.
14. OK, so what’s next? The Cardinals have four starters under contract — Mikolas, Steven Matz, Lynn and Gibson — and we’re waiting for the next move. The Redbirds have been linked to free-agent starting pitcher Sonny Gray. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale recently called the Cardinals “the favorites” to sign Gray. But the Atlanta Braves are making a hard push, and are a better bet to spend the necessary money to close a deal. Hopefully Bill DeWitt Jr. will sign off on doing what it takes to secure Gray. Last season Gray was 4th among MLB starters in WAR, pitched 184 innings, had a 2.79 ERA, and crafted the AL’s best FIP (2.83.) At age 34, Gray could probably be secured with a shorter-term deal – two or three years. But that doesn’t mean the Cardinals will outmaneuver the Braves for him. One thought: by adding two established innings arms, the Cardinals could have more interest in Blake Snell, who is light on innings but heavy on ERA quality. (As long as you don’t mind the walks.)
15. Here’s what I’ve been thinking and saying since last week: if I had to predict a course for the Cardinals in their starting-pitching initiative, I’d go with this:
* Two starters to refill the back end of the rotation with innings.
* Add a higher-caliber starter via free agency. But it wouldn’t be Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Blake Snell or Aaron Nola. and Nola subsequently re-signed with the Phillies … because that’s what he wanted to do, and free-agents get to make that decision.
* If the Cardinals declined to spend market value to add a higher higher level starter, they’d get that done by trading for one. So crank up the search engine and make sure to add the names Dylan Cease, Tyler Glasnow, Shane Bieber, or one of multiple candidates who pitch for the Mariners.
Finally, at least for now: congrats to Daniel Descalso for returning to the Cardinals as Oli Marmol’s bench coach for 2024. That gig had been set aside for Yadier Molina but he was having a difficult time choosing between a full-time coaching job and his kids. He was reluctant to leave them for the entire baseball season.
And congrats to former Cardinals manager Mike Shildt, who was given a two-year contract to manage the San Diego Padres.
Thanks for reading …
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
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible. Baseball Prospectus, Bill James Online or Sports Info Solutions unless otherwise noted.
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.