THE REDBIRD REVIEW
The Cardinals’ starting pitching is a problem area that’s been in decline for several years. The situation reached a new low for absurdity and failure in Thursday’s 11-7 loss to the Angels.
Jack Flaherty was mauled for nine hits and 10 earned runs in 2 and ½ innings. The Halos led 11-2 after the top of the fourth. All of this the day after manager Oli Marmol tried to fire up the boys with a vehement defense of the team’s work ethic and caring. The response? Well, there was none. Nice try Oli.
Yeah, some other spots of the team can be singled out for blame including the inconsistent offense, the erratic defense, and the mediocre baserunning. The manager – struggling to deal with the pressure and the stress – is making baffling decisions.
More than anything there’s a troubling rotation that has turned in this performance over the first 32 games:
– 23rd in the majors with a 5.48 ERA
– 22nd in fielding-independent ERA, 4.94
– 24th with a 20.2% strikeout rate.
– 27th with a 84.5% contact rate by opponents on pitches in the strike zone.
– 22nd in home-run rate allowed.
– 26th in adjusted ERA.
– 28th in Win Probability Added (WPA.)
– 24th in opponent slugging percentage.
– 24th with 1.0 Wins Above Replacement.
– 28th with a 6.23 ERA in the first three innings.
There’s more. But you get the picture.
This isn’t a slump; it’s a reckoning.
This is what happens when an organization tries and tries and tries – but can’t develop a sustainable ace from within.
This is what happens when talented, potential No. 1 starters – Carlos Martinez, Jack Flaherty, Michael Wacha, Alex Reyes – are knocked down by injuries. (Martinez also lost control as a human being, which doesn’t apply to the others mentioned here.)
This is what happens when you trade away Sandy Alcantara and Zac Gallen and sign Mike Leake and Steven Matz to sizable free-agent contracts.
This is what happens when you trade a promising young starter, Marco Gonzales, for a one-year wonder named Tyler O’Neill.
This is what happens when you decline to trade for high-end starting pitching, or pay the going rate for premium free-agent starters.
This is what happens when you inexplicably wander into a failed experiment by trying to convert reliever Jordan Hicks into a starter.
This is what happens when pitchers drafted in the first round never develop into what the Cardinals expected them to be. That list would include Tyrell Jenkins, Rob Kaminsky, Dakota Hudson and Jake Woodford.
This is what happens when you trade a great outfielder (Randy Arozarena) for pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore – and still have “Libby” at Triple A Memphis. He’s pitching very well down there at a time when the big-league rotation is burning and needs help. But … no call-up. Perhaps it will happen soon, but this is crazy.
This is what happens when members of the St. Louis management are possibly the only people in the baseball universe to realize the Cardinals have a bad habit of constantly overrating the quality of their starting pitching – and refuse to fix it during the offseason. This has been going for years.
This is what happens when the front office falls way behind the times by failing to understand the importance of strikeouts by your starting pitchers.
From 2011 through 2015, St. Louis starting ranked fifth in MLB in WAR, second in ERA, third in fielding independent ERA, and fourth in Win Probability Added. No surprise, but the Cardinals led the majors with a .574 regular-season winning percentage and 32 postseason victories over the six-season run.
But over the last three-plus seasons the St. Louis starting pitching ranks 21st in the majors in WAR, 20th in ERA, 15th in fielding independent ERA, 15th in Win Probability Added and 27th in strikeout percentage.
Fans are unhappy. Some in the media miss the forest for the trees by dwelling on the new catcher and the new pitching coach.
Truth is, the front office has lost its touch and competence over the past few years in putting together a starting rotation. And the franchise is slip-sliding because of the neglect.
The team’s current 10-22 record took years in the making. This is what happens when an organization fails to understand the value and the necessity of reliably good starting pitching.
THE MISERY INDEX
Here are the five-worst records by a Cardinal team through the first 32 games of a season:
– 1903: 8-24, .250 winning%
– 1907: 9-23, .281
– 1973: 9-23, .281
– 1919: 10-22, .313
– 2023: 10-22 .313
* The Cardinals have lost six in a row.
* They’re 1-9 in their last 10.
* They are 3-13 in their last 16.
* The Cardinals haven’t won a series since their visit to Colorado and are 5-15 thereafter. When they departed Coors Field the Cardinals had won three of their previous five games and were 5-7 overall. No, it wasn’t the start they wanted but hardly a disaster. The Redbirds were three games out of first place in the NL Central and 3 and ½ behind Atlanta, which had the NL’s best record.
* The Cards have lost five consecutive series since splitting a four-game set with the Pirates.
* St. Louis is 5-11 at home and are 3-10 at Busch Stadium since winning the season-opening series from Toronto.
* The Cards are 6-16 against teams that have a winning record and 4-6 against losing opponents.
* The Cardinals are 12 games below .500 for the first time since the 1999 team plummeted to 72-84 on Sept. 27.
* The team’s current .313 winning percentage is the worst in the National League and is tied with the White Sox for 27th overall. Only two teams, Kansas City (.250) and Oakland (.188), are below the Cardinals.
STAT OF THE DAY: Here’s another indication of this team’s brutal starting pitching. In 2021-2022 combined, the Cardinals were 71-3 when scoring 7+ runs in a game.This season, they’re 5-3 when scoring 7+. Yes, that’s right: The Cards already have lost as many games this season when scoring 7+ runs as they did during the two previous seasons combined. How embarrassing.
This season NL teams other than St. Louis have a 99-6 record when scoring 7+ runs in a game for a .943 winning percentage. The Cards have a .625 win percentage when scoring 7+ in a game.
JORDAN WALKER UPDATE: In his first six games with Triple A Memphis, the rookie is batting .130 with a homer and a 34.6 percent strikeout rate. And over his last three games Walker is 0 for 11 with five strikeouts. The Cardinals are 1-9 since Walker’s last turn in the lineup on April 23. I don’t even know what to say.
NO CALIFORNIA LOVE: This season the Cardinals are 1-9 against the San Francisco Giants and the two Los Angeles teams, Dodgers and Angels. The Cardinals were outscored 52-31 in the nine games and their starting pitchers had a 5.26 ERA.
JOE POSNANSKI ON OLI MARMOL: When Marmol went on a soapbox after being insulted by a question about the fans’ frustration, the manager inexplicably felt the need to claim his team was more frustrated than the paying customers … even though absolutely no one ever said that the fans cared more than the team.
Marmol’s bizarre mewling elicited a comment from the national award-winning baseball writer Joe Posnanski.
“It’s a very dumb and inevitably doomed argument,” Posnanski wrote in his blog. “You don’t ever compare clubhouse frustration with fan frustration; it’s losing logic and also not the same thing at all.
“But a Cardinals fan is a Cardinals fan is a Cardinals fan … their love of the team and frustration with losing is not bought, and it is not negotiable. Sure, the players are trying, and they hate losing, and fans are often unfair, great, but, my friend, that’s the life you have chosen as manager. Telling a fan that you’re trying your best and you’re more frustrated than they are is pretty much telling a fan that you are all out of arguments.
“And no, I’m not saying Marmol is doing a poor job. I can’t know that any more than I could know if he did a good job last year. What I do know is that the Cardinals are 10-22, worst record in the National League, and they were expected by most to win the division, and it won’t be long at all before someone in the Cardinals organization wonders if maybe a managerial change could shake things up.”
LARS NOOTBAAR: He went 4 for 5 against the Angels on Thursday. That was an encouraging sign. Since returning from the IL on April 13, Noot is batting .263 and has a terrific .409 onbase percentage. But 12 of his 15 hits over this time have been singles, and his slugging percentage is a disappointing .386.
TOMMY EDMAN: He socked a three-run homer against the Angels in Thursday’s game. It was his fifth of the season. Edman hit 13 home runs last season but didn’t smash his fifth homer until June 4. Edman’s current .480 slugging percentage is third on the team behind Nolan Gorman (.536) and Paul Goldschmidt (.500.) Edman’s .480 slug ranks fifth among MLB shortstops.
TYLER O’NEILL: He had an explosive 2021 season, highlighted by a powerful slugging percentage, 34 homers, an impressive OPS and the best batting average of his career.
Was 2021 an outlier? It sure seems that way. Let’s take a look at 2021, and compare that to what O’Neill has done in his five other seasons including the early part of 2023.
I’ll put 2021 on the left side, with the other seasons to the right:
Batting average: .286 … .228
Onbase rate: .352 … .297
Slugging: .560 … .401
OPS: 912 … .698
O’Neill homered every 14 at-bats in 2021. In all other seasons combined he’s homered every 22.5 at-bats. There hasn’t been much change with his strikeout rate, which is 31.1 percent.
O’Neill was placed on the IL by the Cardinals Friday because of a strained .228 batting average and anemic .337 slugging percentage. He has one homer in his last 94 plate appearances.
ALEC BURLESON: The big guy needs a tune-up at Memphis. Since April 12 he’s batting .179 with a .233 ONP and .321 slug. And he has two homers in 56 at-bats over that time. Burleson wasn’t optioned to the minors Friday, but at least the Cardinals are summoning outfielder/DH Juan Yepez from Memphis.
DYLAN CARLSON: He’s making progress, hitting .292 with a .357 OBP and .458 slugging percentage for a .815 OPS in his last seven games. I’m curious to see if this recent performance is a blip, or something he’ll continue.
WILLSON CONTRERAS: He’s fifth among MLB catchers in batting average, sixth in OBP, 10th in slugging and sixth in OPS.
According to the catching metrics at Baseball Prospectus, Contreras is tied for the third-best pitch-framing percentage and ranks second in blocking errant pitches.
Those rankings are among the 39 catchers that had received at least 1,800 pitches this season. The ratings are based on standard deviation – in other words, comparing an individual catcher’s work to the overall league standard.
WELCOME BACK, ADAM WAINWRIGHT: I’m not sure what to expect from him. His rehab-assignment statistics weren’t good, but that’s meaningless. The only proper way to evaluate Wainwright is to see what he does against big-league hitters in regular-season games. He can give a sickly team a boost by pitching well to set the foundation for a win. Wainwright can do that when he makes his season debut on Saturday against the Tigers. This much is certain: Cardinal fans are happy that he’s back.
Thanks for reading … have a great weekend.
Pardon my typos …
Bernie invites you to listen to his 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 in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Bill James Online and Baseball Prospectus.
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.