The annual Winter Warm-Up is set up, in part, to get the fans fired up about the coming season. The players are in a good mood, management uses the occasion to spin a positive message, and fans in attendance are mostly happy. It is a time for optimism. It all goes down smoothly, like a comforting mug of delicious hot chocolate.
In line with this convention of pleasantries, I’m offering 10 reasons why you should feel better about the 2024 Cardinals. But I’ll also include a Yeah, but! caution after each bright-side outlook.
Please note: This isn’t about what I think the Cardinals should have done. It isn’t about what you believe they’ve failed to do. This is about assessing a reasonable amount of optimism based on what the Cardinals have right now.
Over the coming days I’ll do these one-by-one for easier reading absorption. One of my goals for 2024 is to present shorter written pieces for your enjoyment.
The No. 1 Reason For Cautious Optimism
Reinforced starting-pitching insulation.
President of baseball operations John Mozeliak got off to a quick start this offseason by signing starting pitchers Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson to free-agent deals. The three additions should produce more innings and quality starts and that’s important.
We agree that the 2023 Cardinals were terrible, right? But when a starting pitcher gave them 6+ innings in a start last season, the Cardinals went 35-25 for a .583 winning percentage. When a starter lasted fewer than six innings in a game the destruction was severe: 36-66 record for a .222 winning percentage.
Last season Gray, Gibson, Lynn and Cards starter Miles Mikolas combined for 69 starts of six innings or longer – and their teams had a .579 winning percentage in those games.
Let’s include 2022. When Mikolas, Gray, Gibson and Lynn covered at least 6 innings in a start over the last two campaigns, their teams had an 88-48 record for a .647 winning percentage.
There should be more rotation stability in 2024. Over the last two seasons only 44 major-league starters threw 300 or more innings. And in Gray, Mikolas, Lynn and Gibson the ‘24 Cardinals will have four of the top 43 for most innings pitched since the start of 2022.
Gray, Gibson, Lynn and Mikolas logged a combined 61 quality starts in 2023. That’s a solid, healthy amount. Despite what you may hear from the uninformed, quality starts are meaningful. Last season the Cardinals were 33-15 (.687) when benefiting from a quality start. Without the boost of a quality start, the 2023 the Cardinals were a horrific 38-76.
Last season the Cardinals received only 48 quality starts, the lowest number in a full season since the Bill DeWitt Jr. Era of ownership began in 1996. In fact, the three lowest quality-start totals in a full season by the Cardinals since ‘96 were registered over the last three seasons.
Quality starts really matter. Starts of six-plus innings really matter. The statistics are conclusive on this. And Mozeliak has attempted to strengthen a hazardous situation by putting together a more capable rotation for 2024.
Last season Cardinal starting pitchers collectively had 9.6 Wins Above Replacement, and that included four months of pitching by Jordan Montgomery before his trade to Texas at the deadline. To this point of the offseason the Cardinals’ projected for starting pitching is 12.1 Wins Above Replacement.
— The average age for Mikolas, Gray, Gibson and Lynn is 35.5 years.
— Steven Matz, the other planned starter, has been dogged by injuries and ineffectiveness in his two seasons with St. Louis. As a Cardinal he’s been limited to an average of 13.5 starts in his two years with a starting-pitching ERA of 4.58. His fielding independent ERA (3.94) was better.
— The Cardinals appear to be short of established starting-pitching depth – even if there is hope for Zack Thompson to emerge as a potential solution. The minor-league pitching depth was improved at least season’s trading deadline but it’s too soon to know if Tekoah Roby, Adam Kloffenstein, Sem Robberse, Drew Rom, Gordon Graceffo and others are ready to help as a starter in the big-league rotation.
Thanks for reading …
A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 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 grab the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
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All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible. Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions and Cot’s Contracts 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.