The So What? Cardinals Rotation, Pollock's Injury (5/23/18)
MLB So What? St. Louis Rotation Analysis/A.J. Pollock's Injury Impact
The St. Louis Cardinals have an interesting problem on their hands. In a league where teams are constantly searching for starting pitching, St. Louis has eight major league quality starters at their disposal. The list boils down to Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas, Luke Weaver, John Gant, Jack Flaherty, and Alex Reyes. Six of those starters are 26-years old or younger, Mikolas is 29, and Wainwright claims the title of oldest member in the rotation (and on the team) at age 36. At the moment, Martinez and Wainwright are both on the DL, and Alex Reyes hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2016 (Tommy John), leaving the other five to man the fort until the reinforcements arrive. However, Reyes is expected to return to the rotation on May 29, and Martinez will likely return in 2-3 weeks, so they'll once again have too many bodies for the five rotation slots. So, who should be included in the rotation? We've taken a look at the best and worst combinations for the Cardinals, and the differences are quite interesting.
Weakest: 85.3 wins, 7.5% division, 25.4% wild card, 0.6% World Series
Best: 89.3 wins, 20.1% division, 39.0% wild card, 4.1% World Series
Current: 86.4 wins, 8.8% division, 31.5% wild card, 1.4% World Series
Weakest: Wainwright, Gant, Weaver, Wacha, Mikolas
Best: Martinez, Reyes, Flaherty, Mikolas, Wacha
Current: Mikolas, Weaver, Wacha, Gant, Flaherty
The solution seems pretty simple when you look at the numbers. With four wins separating the best and weakest group, it's clear who should be locked into the rotation. Wainwright has been a fixture in the Cardinals' rotation for the past 10 seasons, but his performance has declined as he's grown older, as it does for any athlete. The 6'7 right hander has finished in the top three of the Cy Young award race on four separate occasions, but has posted a combined 4.81 ERA over his last two full seasons and appears to be a shell of his old self. Even with the influx of young talent, it would be surprising to see Mike Matheny leave the veteran out of the rotation once he returns from injury, as Matheny places a lot of value in clubhouse leadership and keeping players in their defined roles. But, in a world where numbers always reign supreme, St. Louis would be better off taking Waino out of a starting role and putting in some of the young guns, mainly Alex Reyes and Jack Flaherty, who are currently ranked 1st and 3rd among Cardinals' prospects, respectively.
Alongside Reyes and Flaherty would be Carlos Martinez (current ace), Miles Mikolas (6-0 with a 2.24 ERA), and Michael Wacha (5-1 with 3.08 ERA). Those five starters would drastically improve the Cardinals' potential this season, as their playoff chances increase to 59.1% and their shot at a World Series comes up to 4.1%. Their World Series chances are largely improved thanks to the strikeout upside they add with Reyes and Flaherty compared to Wainwright and Gant. Flaherty has struck out 41 batters in 31.2 innings with AAA (11.65 K/9) and 27 in 23.1 innings in the majors (10.41 K/9), while Reyes has mowed down 31 batters in just 16 innings in his rehab starts and owns a 10.15 K/9 in his big-league career.
The Cardinals certainly don't want to see a rotation without Reyes, Flaherty, and Martinez, as it would leave them with just a 32.9% chance at making the playoffs and a measly 0.6% chance to win it all. The difficult decision for Matheny lies at the end of the rotation, as Mikolas and Wacha aren't too far ahead of Wainwright, Weaver, and Gant. It will be interesting to see how this all unfolds throughout the summer, as Wainwright could very well come off the DL without a rotation spot open for him, possibly sending him back to a place where he started his Cardinals' career: the bullpen. At the end of the day, too much starting pitching is a good problem to have, and the Cardinals will enjoy their depth as the season progresses. If they want a legitimate shot at the World Series, however, they'll need to rely on their young studs to lead the way.
A.J. Pollock's Impact on Diamondbacks' Playoff Chances
This breakdown will be a little more straightforward, as we're assessing the impact A.J. Pollock's absence will have on Arizona's shot at postseason baseball and beyond. Pollock fractured his thumb on a diving attempt in center field last week and is expected to miss 4-8 weeks. The 30-year old center fielder has struggled with injuries throughout his career, averaging just 98.8 games in his five full major league seasons. Pollock has fractured his right elbow twice, broken a hand, and now adds a broken thumb to the list of ailments. He's been extremely productive when healthy, however, posting a career slash line of .287/.343/.475 while also being an above average defender. His absence certainly means a lot for the Diamondbacks, but just how significant is he? Let's take a look.
With Pollock healthy: 86.3 wins, 56.1% division, 3.7% wild card, 5.7% World Series
Without Pollock next 8 weeks: 84.9 wins, 47.2% division, 2.9% wild card, 4.1% World Series
Without Pollock at all: 82.8 wins, 35.8% division, 2.0% wild card, 2.1% World Series
It's pretty clear that Pollock means an awful lot to Arizona at this point in time. Losing Pollock for the entire season would cause our projection to drop by 3.5 wins, 22% in playoff chances, and 3.6% in their World Series odds. Thankfully, Pollock is only supposed to miss a max of eight weeks for the club, but it still hurts their overall chances. The Dbacks are expected to win 1.4 fewer games with Pollock sidelined, and their playoff chances drop by nearly 10% thanks to his broken thumb. The NL West should stay tight throughout the season with four legit playoff contenders, so the 1.4 wins Arizona loses could be extremely important. Pollock's absence will mean even more to the Diamondbacks if Paul Goldschmidt can't reverse his early season woes and lead the offense. The five-time All Star is slashing just .198/.320/.355 after posting an average line of .304/.410/.543 over the last five seasons. Arizona needs Goldschmidt now more than ever if they want a chance at back-to-back postseason berths for the first time since 2001/2002.