THE REDBIRD REVIEW
Hello, friends. It’s once again time to process my thoughts into written words.
Today, it’s Part II of my three first-half report cards for the 2023 Cardinals.
Next up: the pitchers.
— This area has been the No. 1 problem for the 2023 Cardinals. The overall pitching staff ranks 25th in ERA (4.63) and 28th in Win Probability Added.
— The starters have a 4.74 ERA which ranks 25th in the majors. They’ve produced only 25 quality starts and are 27th in Win Probability Added. The rotation has a 5.47 ERA in the first three innings of games, which has shoved the team into too many early deficits. The starters rank 28th in strikeout rate and must rely on a defense that’s miserably unreliable so far in 2023.
— The relievers have an ERA of 4.48 (24th) but the situation has gotten worse with a 5.56 bullpen ERA since the start of June. The St. Louis relievers rank 29th in Win Probability Added and have the most blown saves (21) in the majors. The Cardinals have lost 10 times this season when trying to secure a lead after six innings.
— With such horrendous pitching and shaky defense, the Cardinals were muscled for 4.98 runs per game in the first half. The franchise is having its worst run-prevention season since 2007.
Miles Mikolas: It’s been an inconsistent season for the righthander, who has a 4.23 ERA in 19 starts. On the plus side, Mikolas gives the Cards plenty of innings, limits walks, and has reduced his home-run rate to 0.8 per nine innings. But he’s also been erratic: terrible in the first month, outstanding in May, and up-and-down in June-July. He has a low strikeout rate (16.%) allows 8.3 hits per nine innings and doesn’t get as many ground balls as he used to. Only three MLB starters have faced more batters with runners on base than Mikolas this year. The team’s poor defense hurts Mikolas, but he should be better. Grade: C.
Jordan Montgomery: The husky lefty is STL’s best starter, leading the rotation in ERA (3.23) quality starts (10), strikeout rate and WAR. After a mini-slump he’s pitched to a 1.70 ERA in his last eight starts. Among National League starting pitchers Monty ranks 9th in ERA and WAR and is tied for 11th in quality starts. The Cardinals will trade him or let him walk as a free agent after the season. And this is an example of why they’re wallowing. Grade: A minus.
Jack Flaherty: Jack gets himself in trouble with the second-worst walk rate (11.7%) by a MLB starter this season – and the batting average against him (.279) is the ninth-highest against a big-league starter. That combination gives Flaherty an average of 1.56 hits/walks per inning, the worst WHIP among big-league starters. Because Flaherty wastes so many pitches while working himself into jams and out of jams, it limits his ability to go deep into starts and he ranks 55th among starters in innings pitched. On the up side, Flaherty has a 3.09 ERA in his last 10 starts, lowering his season ERA to 4.27, and his stuff is improving. Most of all he’s avoided injuries. Grade: C minus.
Adam Wainwright: His pitching profile tells a story, and it’s a sad story. Nearing his 42nd birthday, Wainwright’s swing-and-miss rate is severely diminished. He has the poorest strikeout rate (11%) and second-worst ERA (7.66) among MLB starters that have pitched at least 50 innings. He’s been struck for a .362 batting average and a .599 slugging percentage that’s the highest against a major-league starter this season. And the onbase percentage against him (.409) is the second-highest against a starter. Despite some alarming trends, the Cardinals happily wanted him back for another season and Wainwright was enthusiastic about having a farewell season. After having treatment on his right shoulder and strengthening leg muscles, he’ll be back for another try at some point in the second. For sentimental reasons, I’d like to see him pitch competitively and I hope he can muster a strong closing act. But in issuing grades today, my job is to strip away the nostalgia and overall career performance and focus on the 2023 performance. Grade: F.
Steven Matz: Sunday’s start against the White Sox was a dandy, and perhaps this was a second-half preview of an improved Matz. We’ll see. And he did a good job after being reassigned to the bullpen. But Matz has a 5.70 ERA in nine starts this season and a 5.40 ERA in 20 starts as a Cardinal. This wasn’t what the Cardinals ordered when they gave Matz a four-year, $44 million contract that runs through 2025. Grade: F.
Matthew Liberatore: The young lefty has a 6.75 ERA in 32 innings this season. In parts of two seasons with the Cardinals, he’s pitched 10 scoreless innings against Milwaukee but has a 7.46 ERA in 56 and ⅔ innings against all other opponents. During his time in the majors, right-handed batters have pummeled Liberatore for a .338 average, .410 onbase percentage and a .571 slug. He’s getting worse instead of better, and that shouldn’t be happening. Grade: F.
Jake Woodford: He has a 5.67 ERA in six starts, and a 5.56 ERA in six relief assignments. That’s bad. But I give him credit for the times he’s alleviated bullpen fatigue by supplying innings in lost-cause games. And the Cardinals wouldn’t have won the second game from the Cubs in London without Woodford’s superb relief turn after Wainwright got clobbered early. Grade: D minus.
Andre Pallante: The second-year righthander was a valuable piece of the bullpen as a rookie in 2022, pitching to a 3.17 ERA and doing an excellent job against LH batters. But this season he has a 4.60 ERA overall and a 4.19 ERA in what amounts to 19 innings of work against left-side batters. Pallante was mediocre against righty hitters last season but is weaker against them in 2023, getting blasted for a .338 average, .410 OBP and .571 slug. He isn’t a big strikeout guy and walks too many hitters. Grade: D minus.
Jordan Hicks: He turned his season around after taking over the closer role, going 7 for 8 in save opportunities with a 1.80 ERA and a 32.4% strikeout rate – and only two walks in 10 innings. That made up for his 4.73 ERA in 26 appearances in his pre-closer days this season. His overall ERA is 3.93. The “before” and “after” thing makes it difficult to come up with a proper grade. He has the highest strikeout rate in the bullpen (33%) but is on the negative side in Win Probability Added. I’d give him a B+ grade as a closer. But overall so far in 2023? Grade: C+.
Chris Stratton: The workhorse righty leads all Cardinals relievers in WAR. Among the bullpen crew, he’s pitched the most innings (45) and faced the most hitters. He’s pitched more than an inning in 20 of 34 relief appearances and has worked on back-to-back days five times. Durability is valuable. Stratton’s 4.20 ERA isn’t handsome – but he keeps the ball in the yard, has a 26% strikeout rate, averages fewer than three walks in nine innings, and owns a fielding independent ERA of 2.99. Grade: C+
Ryan Helsley: Before going on the 15-day IL with a strained forearm on June 12, Helsley had a 3.86 ERA in his previous 15 appearances. Helsley was dominant in 2022, powering for a 1.53 ERA, 39.3% strikeout rate, and a save percentage of 82.6%. This season the ERA has jumped to 3.24, the strikeout rate has fallen to 32%, his walk rate is up to 10.4% percent and his save percentage is an unimposing 63.6%. Helsley is still an asset, but several key indicators are going the wrong way. That said, a return to full pitching health would help stabilize the STL bullpen. Grade: C.
Giovanny Gallegos: He hasn’t been the same in 2023. The reasons include a seven percent drop in strikeout rate, a significant increase in the home-run rate against him, and an opponent hard-hit rate that’s gone up by 12 percent compared to 2022. And his ERA, 3.05 last year, has ballooned to 4.25 this season. He also has four blown saves in 12 opportunities. He’s barely above the replacement level at 0.1 WAR. The busy Gio apparently is wearing down, but getting Helsley back should ease the burden. Grade: C minus.
Genesis Cabrera: There’s one notable positive about his performance in 2023: after having a strikeout rate that dipped to 17% in 2022, he’s recharged for a 26% strikeout rate this season. That’s been offset by a faulty 13.3% walk rate. He’s giving up too many homers which explains the .444 slugging percentage and his substantially increased hard-hit rate (43.4%) so far this season. He’s a little more vulnerable against lefty hitters than we expected, and right-handed hitters have popped him for a .917 OPS. He’s been more effective lately but the overall 4.70 ERA is unsightly .– as is his fielding independent ERA of 5.30. Grade: D.
Drew VerHagen: Too many walks and homers, too little consistency and a 4.78 ERA, and many questions about why the front office was so enamored of him. The usual payroll politics keep him on the big-league roster. Grade: F.
Dakota Hudson: He hasn’t pitched much for the big club this season (6.2 innings) and that isn’t much to go on. For the record he had a 2.70 ERA which is fine. But walks remain an issue, and he has a 6.00 ERA at Triple A Memphis this season. Hudson’s career has stalled out, and multiple attempts at fixing him have gone awry. In many ways, Hudson represents the Cardinals’ chronic failure with pitching – and their inability to take pitchers with talent and make them better. Or maybe Hudson is to blame for his own failings. Grade: D minus.
JoJo Romero: 3.65 ERA in 12 and ⅓ innings. He’s had scoreless outings in nine of his 12 relief assignments. Not bad, but he’s also been ripped for a 7.20 ERA in his last four relief gigs. The trust factor isn’t there and the Cardinals have relegated JoJo to the minors for much of the season. Grade: D.
I’ll be back – hopefully soon – with first-half report cards for ownership, the front office, and the manager/coaches.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts a weekday sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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The “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and B. Miklasz is available at 590thefan.com, the 590 the fan app or your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible, Baseball Prospectus or Bill James Online.
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.