Looking ahead to 2013, Part 1: The Pitchers (SPF 162 required)

Since being recalled from Memphis a second time this season, Trevor Rosenthal has been used sparingly.   In those precious few outings, he has been all that Cardinals fans could have imagined.  To be fair, he was pretty spectacular in his first round with the big club too.   You name it, short relief or long relief, he has done it all (with a small sample size warning).  Last night might have been an audition for the most important role, backup closer to Jason Motte.

Since August 18, Rosenthal has appeared in 4 games for the Cardinals.  He has given up just one hit in those 6 2/3 innings.   He has 7 strikeouts to go with 2 walks.   The only runs he has allowed were in a blowout where he relieved Adam Wainwright and walked the bases loaded.  Two of those three runners would come home when Marc Rzepczynski gave up a single to Bryce Harper.

You might want to be seated when you see this next stat.  I’ll wait.   Comfy ?

In those last 4 outings, Rosenthal has an OPS against of .170.   That’s not a batting average friends, that’s on base percentage (.125) plus slugging (.045).   Even if you include his first time up, the numbers are still pretty impressive.   His OPS jumps to .425.   By comparison, Mitchell Boggs OPS is .545 over the same period.  Boggs also has 25 appearances to Rosenthal’s 8, and Boggs has certainly appeared in much more stressful situations.   That could change going forward.

What does all of this have to say about 2013 ?   Tough to say with the trading season still two months away, but we can at least project most of what the 2013 pitching will look like.


Adam Wainwright – even though he was roughed up by the Nationals in his last start (and again today against the Mets), all indicators say that Wainwright has returned to his Cy Young contending form of 2009 and 2010.  That will be one wicked name to pencil in the lineup every fifth day.

Jaime Garcia – the enigma of Jaime Garcia continues.  He can be mesmerizing at times, and other times he can get a granny to swear like a sailor.   All of that points to a maturing process that continues for the young left hander.   Remember it was in Steve Carlton’s sixth professional season, at age 26, that he became the dominating pitcher we all thought he could be.  Garcia will turn 26 next season.  For Carlton, the key to success was the development of one of the league’s nastiest sliders.   Garcia already has one, albeit not of Carlton’s level, but good enough.  For Garcia, he just has to learn to pitch as well on the road as he does at home.   That might be easier in the coming years as the Cardinals look to be improving their defense behind him.

Jake Westbrook – as a precautionary measure, the Cardinals essentially exercised the mutual option for next season and offered a similar option for 2014.   This move was more about the front office’s ability to resign Kyle Lohse than Jake Westbrook, but the veteran right hander has pitched well enough this season to welcome him back for 2013.

Shelby Miller – unless he does something ridiculous or totally falls apart in the off season, the Cardinals will break camp in 2013 with their top prospect in the starting rotation.  Let’s take a closer look at Miller’s performance since Joe Kelly was called up in mid June.

Date W/L IP H R ER BB K P Str
Jun 27 ND 5 1 1 1 3 8 87 50
Jul 2 L 4 5 5 5 5 5 84 46
Jul 7 L 2 1/3 3 3 3 4 4 68 36
Jul 14 ND 5 1 0 0 3 4 86 54

These numbers reflect some early struggles with a new approach to the young right hander’s development.  On June 18, the Cardinals placed a constraint on Shelby Miller – he cannot shake off a call from his catcher.  The thought was that Miller was favoring his comfort zone (fastball in the 94-96 mph range) and he was becoming a bit predictable.  More important, he was not developing the kind of secondary pitches he will need to pitch in the major league.   The no-shake rule forced him to use his off-speed pitches, specifically a curveball.

At first he had trouble spotting it over the plate, but all of that changed in mid-July.   Perhaps some of this was also the Memphis catchers learning how to effectively mix in Miller’s pitchers, but something changed after that fourth start.  From that point on, Miller pitched as a top prospect should – maybe even a bit better.  Let’s take a look.

Date W/L IP H R ER BB K P Str
Jul 20 W 6 4 0 0 0 3 98 66
Jul 25 L 4 7 5 5 0 2 88 61
Jul 30 W 7 8 2 2 0 8 95 69
Aug 5 W 7 4 2 2 0 8 84 62
Aug 11 W 5 2/3 7 3 3 0 10 94 66
Aug 16 W 6 5 3 3 1 7 87 59
Aug 21 L 7 5 2 2 0 12 87 71
Aug 26 W 5 2/3 2 1 1 3 7 108 67
Aug 31 W 6 5 1 1 0 9 84 62

Let’s add up a few of these things up, shall we ?    In Miller’s last nine starts, he has a record of 7-2 with an ERA of 3.14.   His WHIP is a mind boggling 0.939.   He is also striking out more than one batter per inning (nearly 11 per 9 innings) and his control is unbelievable (16.5 K/bb).

To put these numbers in perspective, John Ely of the Albuquerque Isotopes is the pitching leader in the PCL, and Miller’s numbers over this period are all better than his.   Remember that Ely’s numbers are over a full season and he pitches in a very hitter friendly park (and league), but Miller’s performance over the last two months tells us that he is ready to make the next step.   That should happen next April.   We may get a preview in the last month of the regular season.

Since I’ve started writing this piece, Shelby Miller has made his major league debut.  What an impressive a debut it was: two scoreless innings with 4 strikeouts.   The last of those was an effortless 93 mph fastball perfectly placed in the lower outside corner of the strike zone. He couldn’t have placed that pitch any better if he had walked it down and handed it to Tony Cruz.

Chris Carpenter/Joe Kelly/Lance Lynn – Who knows if we will ever see Chris Carpenter on the mound again.   I would never bet against the big right hander, but that is a distinct possibility.  If he does make it back, the entire pitching outlook improves significantly.  Even if we have seen Chris Carpenter’s last pitch, both Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn have shown us enough to welcome either of them back into the starting rotation in 2013.

If you are curious about possible free agents, you can find a list of potential free agents, courtesy of our friends over at MLB Trade Rumors.   Spending a few minutes in the right handed starters, you will see why Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly will be taking Chris Carpenter’s spot, if needed.

The Bullpen

The Cardinals currently have 14 pitchers that will compete for 6 or 7 spots in the 2013 bullpen and that’s before the free agent market opens in November.  Let’s start with the fixtures.   The number in parentheses is the year in which the player becomes a free agent.

Jason Motte (2015) – The closer. Fin.  Motte will be due a nice raise in the offseason, and the Cardinals may be wise to preempt that and buy out his last two years of arbitration eligibility.   The ninth inning is safe for the time being.

Marc Rzepczynski (2016) – The lone lefty at this point, his return is a mere formality.  All he needs to do is regain the confidence in his slider, and that will happen.

Mitchell Boggs (2016) – Mitchell Boggs strikeout rate does not look right for a pitcher that can throw in the upper 90s, but he has improved his hits allowed and walks, which has combined for a career best ERA (so far) of 2.18.  The only pitcher better is Jason Motte.  For the first time in his career, fans can relax when he takes the mound, which is unfortunate as Boggs may be one of the Cardinals most valuable trading options this winter.

Fernando Salas (2017)  – Salas got off to a rough start in 2012, so much so that he was sent down to Memphis to regain his 2011 form.  Whether it was the alleged kidney stone or he just found where he had left his mojo, Salas has been great since being recalled in early June.   In 38 appearances since the callup, Salas is 1-1 with a 2.60 ERA.    That compares with 5-6 with a 2.28 ERA last season.   Batters are hitting an anemic .190 and Salas is striking out nearly a batter per inning and his K/BB ratio is approaching 3.    This all adds up to a WHIP of 1.010, compared to 0.947 last season.   In other words, the first month of the season was the outlier for Salas, and he is back to his 2011 form.  There is no reason to expect anything different in 2013.

Edward Mujica (2014) – what a pleasant surprise.   Mujica has been brilliant since coming to the Cardinals at the non-waiver trade deadline.  He is currently making $800k and will be due an increase in his final arbitration year.  Even with that, he should prove to be a very cost effective right handed arm in 2013, especially compared to the current 2.5M salary of Kyle McClellan.

Joe Kelly (2019) – Joe Kelly is the Lance Lynn of 2012.  He was called up in an emergency and pitched well enough to stay with the big club.  So well, in fact, that they moved him from the bullpen into the rotation when Lance Lynn struggled in late August.  I think it is safe to say that the next time Joe Kelly sits down on a minor league bus will be in an injury rehab assignment.

There is still a question of whether the Cardinals are best served with Kelly in the rotation or the bullpen.   That is certainly a nice problem to have.   The best case scenario for the Cardinals will be a return of Chris Carpenter and Kelly to the pen.   His versatility and offensive skills makes him a perfect long reliever.

Lance Lynn (2018) – Lance Lynn’s future is still in the rotation and he should be the one taking Chris Carpenter’s spot in 2014 – under better circumstances than this year.  Lynn’s struggles since early July remain an enigma.  He still has swing-and-miss stuff and frequently gets to two strikes on a batter and two outs in the inning.  He just has a problem finishing them off.  Perhaps it is mechanical or maybe the strain of a long and relentless major league schedule has worn the big guy down.  Either way, he will get this turned around and should be a fixture in the rotation for many years.

That’s already seven relievers (six if Chris Carpenter doesn’t come back), and we still have several others to consider.  Let’s briefly take a look at them.

Kyle McClellan (2014) – The St. Louis native is something like a tech stock that you have held onto just a bit too long.  The emergence of Fernando Salas, Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly, combined with the improvement by Mitchell Boggs seems to make McClellan the odd man out for 2013.  Add to that, he is an expensive option, making $2.5M in this season.   Even if his salary goes down significantly though his last arbitration before free agency, the Cardinals have more effective lower cost alternatives.   Unfortunately, his early season injury leaves a dark cloud over his future.

Barret Browning (2019) – With a lack of left handed pitching depth in the farm system, the Cardinals really need to bring Barret Browning back next year.  He showed an ability to pitch to major league batters, but also showed a vulnerability that can be worked on with another year in Memphis.   Starts the season at AAA and is an emergency callup should something happen to Rzepczysnki or Freeman.

Trevor Rosenthal (2019) – An effortless 100 mph with just enough break to make major league hitters swing and miss ?  Like Joe Kelly, Rosenthal may have taken his last minor league bus trip.  As with Sam Freeman, I am having a hard time seeing the Cardinals break camp without the young flame thrower.

Eduardo Sanchez (2018) – Sanchez has been something of the anti-Kelly in 2012.  Last year, he dazzled us with a slider that seemed to defy the laws of physics.  He also had a mid-90s fastball with late sharp break.   Since returning from injury at the end of 2011, Sanchez has had all sorts of control issues.   In fact. he is beginning to look a lot like Jim Cosman, a Cardinals pitching prospect in the late 1960s.  As with Sanchez, Cosman had electric stuff.   He also developed a bit of wildness that eventually became dangerous as he hit several batters, breaking one hitter’s arm.

Cosman never regained his control and his major league career was done before it really got started.  I hate to think that Sanchez will meet the same fate.    If he can find his control in the off season, he will make it difficult to keep a pitcher such as Kyle McClellan or Mitchell Boggs.

Sam Freeman (2019) – Sam Freeman is almost exactly what the Cardinals need: a hard throwing lefty.  In some respects, he has become the left handed Silvio Martinez.  Freeman has an electric arm but can have control issues.  He’s also run into injury troubles.  If the Cardinals are unable to find a left hander via an offseason trade or free agent signing (that cupboard is barren), they may be hanging their late inning hopes on Freeman’s ability to stay in the strike zone and off the disabled list.  I can’t see the the Cardinals breaking camp with just one lefty next spring, so let’s pencil in Sam Freeman’s name.  That means one of the above has to go.

John Gast (TBD) – Of all the pitchers competing for the last bullpen spot, left hander John Gast may be the most intriguing.  Gast has moved through the farm system at a frightening pace, going from low A to AAA in just over two years.  His greatest strength is the ability to throw inside to right handed hitters, which makes you think he is destined for something more than just a LOOGY (Left handed One Out GuY).   If that’s the case, Gast will start the 2013 season in the Memphis rotation, gobbling up valuable innings while waiting for the inevitable phone call.

Maikel Cleto (2018) – Cleto continues to get better with each season.   He will turn 24 next year, so there is still plenty of time for him to turn into a legitimate major league talent.  2012 was his first full season in the bullpen, which suggests that’s where his future lies.   His strikeouts are way up, his walks are down (but could be a bit lower).  He’s keeping the ball in the ballpark for the most part.   If he develop some change of pace pitch (curve, split finger, circle change), he could be a force in the bullpen.   I still believe he has Lee Smith type upside, but needs another quality pitch to get there.  One more return to Memphis for the hard throwing right hander.

Taking Cleto, Browning, Sanchez and Gast off the list as long shots, that still leaves 10 pitchers for a maximum of 7 spots.   That means three of them will not be back with the club next year.   The first one is easy, Kyle McClellan.   His injury makes him less attractive as a trade option, so the Cardinals may have to take the long view and not to offer him arbitration.   That might sound cold for a player who has contributed as much as McClellan has, but the other right handed options are less expensive and are performing at or above his most recent levels.   Hanging on to McClellan another year is like holding on to that Facebook stock, hoping it will get back to $30 per share.

Mitchell Boggs is a possible offseason trade piece.  Going with the Bing Devine philosophy that it takes good talent to obtain good talent, this might be a good time for the Cardinals to lock Boggs up to a reasonable contract and try to move him to another club.   The question is what to get in return.  Clearly, a right handed reliever is not the answer.  With Kolten Wong turning heads at AAA, the front office should hold out for a quality lefty reliever.   In that case, Freeman could return to Memphis and work on his consistency as well as adding some bulk to his slender frame.

That still leaves one pitcher, and it may come down to keeping Edward Mujica in St. Louis and sending either Joe Kelly or Trevor Rosenthal back to Memphis, or hoping for bad news from Chris Carpenter.  I don’t like either of those two scenarios.   If it looks like Carpenter will really return in 2013, I would like to see the Cardinals try to move Mujica in spring training, preferably for some minor league players, filling in some of the holes in AA and AAA

There is a lot of baseball still left to be played in 2012, but a quick glance in the direction of 2013 suggests that the pitching will be at least as good, if not better than we have seen this year.  With most of the big bats returning next year, Cardinals fans have reason to be optimistic about next season.

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