Things are looking pretty up for our Cardinals, as they’ve clearly been inspired by the creation of StanGraphs and decided to win baseball games at a .700 clip to show their appreciation. In fact, no fewer than three players have been spotted (by us, during dreams) wearing StanGraphs clothing items in the past week! While it might be tempting to assume the team’s success is derived from the performances of its players, we just want to make sure you’re acutely aware of our sizable role in what’s happened during the 2012 season so far. I could go on, but to do so would constitute unnecessary self-indulgence or, um, lying.
The 2012 Cardinals look a lot like we expected in plenty of ways. Offensive outbursts are coming from players up and down the lineup, the bullpen’s throwing hard, and David Freese hurt his finger (presumably while attempting to put on his World Series ring). We’ve touched on this before, but the one aspect of the team that is simply not in the state anticipated is the starting rotation. First off, Chris Carpenter’s life-ending shoulder injury (seriously, as little as we know someone should check to make sure he’s still alive) caused Lance Lynn, a starting pitcher throughout his career until last year’s bullpen escapades, to get bumped into the rotation and Kyle Lohse to accidentally start on opening day. This would be tragic enough if Adam Wainwright didn’t seem somewhat not like Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia didn’t give up annoying singles to every hitter he faces. On the surface all of this sounds terrible, but Lance Lynn’s awesome two starts have buoyed my hopes quite a bit. It’s ridiculous for me to obsess over Lynn’s 12 innings of work as if they’re the definitive word on where exactly his ceiling is, but it’s probably equally ridiculous to worry too much about Wainwright or Garcia. So where does that leave things?
The obvious answer is to assume that Lynn’s recent run is over his head and that Wainwright and Garcia are likely going to be just fine, and I admit that scenario is the most likely one. (The least likely scenario involves Lance Lynn being a covert operative, Adam Wainwright standing 6’7″ because of shin implants, and Jaime Garcia painting on his facial hair). In Wainwright’s case, the issues he’s having with command and velocity seem to be consistent with what we always hear about pitchers recently removed from Tommy John surgery. Hopefully he’ll be back to having more fast on his fastball and more control over his ridiculous curve before mid-season. For this season at least, it’s looking like expectations for Wainwright may need to be adjusted to 2007-2008 settings, not the kind of ace-level stuff the former perennial Cy Young contender was doing in 2009-2010.
So if it’s too soon to tell what the future holds for Adam Wainwright, what about Jaime Garcia? Over the course of his first two solid seasons, Garcia has managed to maintain a strikeout rate above seven per nine while lowering his walk rate and honing his secondary skills in the process. The one truly frustrating thing about Garcia has been his frequent hittability, particularly as the season wears on. His start to 2012 has been less than inspiring, and once again Garcia’s struggles are directly related to the fact that, well, sometimes he just gets pounded even when he looks perfectly fine. Without several seasons of data to mull over, it’s actually a bit difficult to even prove Garcia has the problems leaving balls in the zone (ew?) that he seems to have to the naked eye (Ew again?). His annual BABIP numbers don’t look especially convincing one way or another, and he hasn’t been plagued by the excessive surrendering of homers. Garcia is still a great starter to have, the kind of guy who gives the team a cheap number three starter occasionally bordering on something more. Even more so than Wainwright, whose surgical recovery is the source of the doubt surrounding him, there fails to be a concrete reason to be concerned at this stage in the game.
It’s pretty clear that I’m serving as the PR guy on this one, the smiling face telling you all that everything is just fine with the Cardinals most important rotation members. By doing so, I’m largely taking a stance against all of the panic that ensues near the beginning of each baseball season. The sample sizes are far too small to mean much, and it’s more useful to focus on what a player has done in his career up until this point. My pragmatism and optimism in regards to the team’s top two starters (Carpenter’s dead, remember?) comes from a logical place. The unbridled enthusiasm I have for Lance Lynn does not. Lynn has never been thought of as the kind of starting pitcher capable of striking out a batter per inning or doing more than being wide and reeking of mediocrity, but he also seems to have made some gains on his original prospect status. The Lance Lynn I remember reading about a couple of years ago was most certainly not reaching the mid-90s with his fastball on occasion, and even a slight spike in velocity can make a difference for a pitcher on the fence. I’m not going to go nuts and suggest Lynn is going to turn into an ace (Cy Young 2012!), but that doesn’t mean that he can’t be an important piece of this rotation in the long run. The Cardinals are going to need cheap, young talent with upside to sustain a contending team while balancing a few large contracts in a medium-sized market. If Lynn’s potential shoots from eater of innings at the back of a rotation to three starter, that’s an enormous win for the team. And is it so ridiculous that Lynn could reach such a mark? His fastball was always discussed as a quality pitch, and it’s gotten better. Plus, the rest of his arsenal is large enough to compliment the main attraction. Call me whatever you want (except Bri, that’s unacceptable), but I’m firmly stationed upon the Lance Lynn bandwagon!
Oh, and here’s a fun game: one of the tags I used for this post was “chris carpenter injury.” Let’s all guess how many times that tag makes an appearance on StanGraphs this season alone! If only StanGraphs had been around longer; the number of posts with such a tag would likely have soared into the upper echelons of triple digit territory.