Saint Louis Rotation: Fantasy Potential

St Louis Cardinals LogoThe Cardinals are in hot water for stealing scouting information. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the organization does a great job of building a pitching rotation, and that comes in handy when you’re looking for fantasy value. As it turns out, I’m a bit more concerned about the 2016 staff than I have been in previous years, so if you’re not a gambler, it may be best to steer clear. But if you can stomach a bit of risk, then you’re going to enjoy the Cards for yet another season. Here they are, in the order I value them for 2016.

Michael Wacha

After a nice showing in 19 starts from 2014, many of us hoped for the next step forward from Wacha. As it turns out, he did much of the same when you look at the season stats. In fact, there’s only one metric that I rigorously follow that he improved upon, and that was GB%. It was a tale of two halves for Wacha, where he was great early (2.66 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) and then mediocre late (4.28 ERA, 1.38 WHIP). He did improve his K/9 and velocity in the second half, but his BB/9 spiked and he lost his better GB%, which made it a bit of a wash. He’s still a young pitcher who’s figuring out where he’ll go from here. That said, his skills are consistent enough from the last two seasons that if he figures out a way to improve, or gets a little lucky, he could jump to the next tier of SP ranks. The likely downside is that he can be overvalued in leagues, so he won’t come cheaply. If the price to acquire him is already factoring in a sub-3.00 ERA and higher strikeouts, then there’s no room for profit. If you can get him at a reasonable cost, then he should return that value, with the potential for more.

Carlos Martinez

This may shock a few readers, but Martinez is the second SP I want from the Cardinals. Why do I take the younger risk versus the veteran risk of Waino? First, there’s the strikeout ability. After a decent showing in the bullpen from 2014, Martinez moved to the rotation and managed to improve both his K/9 and BB/9. He attacked the zone more, and even though his swinging strike rate dropped from his days as a reliever, he was more effective overall. His strand rate was a bit lucky, but that’s at least partly due to his strong strikeout ability and ground ball tilt. Speaking of GB%, I love any starter who can stay above 50%, and Martinez’s rate was 54% last season. His walk rate is only average, or poor for today’s pitching-rich era, but a 3.2 BB/9 isn’t bad, and his 2015 K/BB (2.9) sat right in the middle of the staff. He reached 180 innings last year, so he’s pretty well stretched out. A slight improvement in his walk rate will result in a very solid #2 SP who could flirt with being a #1 SP.

Adam Wainwright

He’s a great ace who’s fought back from injuries before, and his track record is strong enough that some fantasy managers will overlook the missed 2015 season. There are two major red flags for Waino. First, will he be fully recovered? Sure, he made it back for a small stint at the end of 2015, but I would like to see him pitch before I commit to him as my #2 SP. The second cause for concern is the dropping K/9. After posting 8.2 or 8.3 for four straight seasons, he dropped to 7.1 in 2014, and in his short 2015 it fell further to 6.4. Can we write off 2015 and hope that a healthy Wainwright can maintain the 7.1 K/9 from 2014? I don’t think so, because his ability to miss bats the last four seasons has declined. After five straight seasons under a 20% LD%, he has seen a three-year rise in line drive rate. When you combine that with his dropping swinging strike rate, it indicates hitters are squaring up better. His ace status is certainly gone, and given you can’t count on 200 IP or a good K/9, his future value is limited. His saving graces are his elite walk rate, his (usually) ground ball tilt, and his veteran experience. But at this point he’s no more than a #3 SP, and you shouldn’t pay any more than that for him.

Jaime Garcia

Another starter with great control, but another injury risk with iffy strikeout rate. Most managers were actually happy that Garcia managed 20 whole starts in 2015, because he couldn’t manage even 10 the previous two seasons. He has missed time due to his throwing shoulder for the last four years, and he threw in a groin strain just for fun in 2015. How can you expect 20+ starts in a season? You really can’t, so you have to take that into consideration when you calculate his value. Garcia’s strikeout rate has never been amazing, and you really can’t go off of his 8.0 from 2014 because it’s a clear outlier. Aside from posting his lowest K/9 since his rookie season, his swinging strike rate plummeted from previous seasons, and his first pitch strike rate has dipped a little too. He shows elite control, but without a strong K/9 his value is capped — see Doug Fister or Phil Hughes. The career best ERA won’t likely hold up given a career best BABIP and his second best strand rate. He’s good, but he’s not amazing, and he can’t stay healthy. If you get him as an endgamer  he’ll provide some value when he pitches, but don’t assume he’s capable of anything more than his career stats, and don’t assume he’ll ever reach 30 GS.

Mike Leake

The final slot of the Cardinals rotation goes to a pitcher I like in real life, but whose fantasy value has always been limited. The Cardinals seem to have a trend going on with ground ball pitchers, and Leake is another GB guy who can keep his rate above 50%. After spiking in K/9 in 2014, he dropped to a career low of 5.6, but that isn’t too far off his career level (6.1). He does have great control with a career 2.3 BB/9, but he doesn’t miss a lot of bats, and his velocity isn’t high. In 2015 he had a very lucky BABIP, which resulted in his best WHIP. He can work as a bench SP, but we’ve seen what he can do, and there are no indications that he’ll ever improve and shock you with a breakout. His reliability can have value as an endgamer, and because you know his highest value, you  can quickly pass if his cost rises too much. I don’t begrudge him as a real-life player, but I’m highly unlikely to select him for fantasy purposes unless there are 18+ teams.


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Kevin Jebens

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Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.