What a difference a year makes.
Together, the 2015 St. Louis Cardinals starting rotation logged an ERA of 2.99, which contributed to the team ERA of 2.94, the lowest mark by any Major League Baseball team since 1988. That success helped power the team to 100 regular season wins.
With Adam Wainwright returning for 2016 after missing most of the prior season, hope remained high for continued pitching domination.
It did not come to pass.
Though there are plenty of reasons the 2016 club missed the playoffs after scuffling to 86 victories, rotation stability was not among them. Four of the primary starting five answered the bell for 30 or more starts each with the fifth making 24. Three youngsters picked up the slack, with the Cardinals winning six of the remaining 14 starts made by the trio of replacements.
Three of the five anchors were returnees from the year before – Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia. Wainwright essentially replaced injured Lance Lynn. Free agent signee Mike Leake assumed the spot of departed free agent John Lackey.
However, while the 2016 starters took the ball regularly, their results individually and as a group were considerably worse than the year before – with the exception of Martinez, our St. Louis Cardinals Starting Pitcher of the Year for the second consecutive season.
In terms of ERA, only Martinez held ground from year to year. Garcia’s ERA was up an alarming 2 1/3 runs and Wacha’s grew by well over a run and a half. The prior ace, Wainwright, who had missed most of the historic 2015 season, limped in with the worst showing of his 11 years as a Major Leaguer, with an ERA almost a run and a half above his career average.
The bottom line for the rotation as a whole was an increase of a run and a third allowed per nine innings from year to year – from 2.99 to 4.33. The Cards fell from the number one spot to the middle of the NL pack at seventh, with the new starters' ERA king at 2.96 being none other than the 103-win Chicago Cubs.
As a group, St. Louis’ rotation made a whopping 24 fewer quality starts in 2016 than the year before, where a quality start is defined by pitching at least six innings and allowing three or fewer runs.
Looking at it that way, it seems mildly surprising the Cardinals managed to win 86 games and came so close to a wild card berth.
This does not mean there were not strong individual performances by St. Louis’ starters, but with the exception of Martinez, the consistency was simply not there.
|Starter||Avg IP||Run Spt||W-L||WL%||Team||Tm%|
As you can see in the table above, Martinez pitched deepest into games on the average and both won the most games and had the top winning percentage. However, despite Wainwright’s off-year, the Cardinals as a team played better when he pitched.
Garcia clearly had an up and down season on the mound, but it is also fair to note that he and Leake received considerably less run support from the offense compared to the other starters.
Martinez led the rotation in quality starts, quality start percentage, ERA, Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and strikeout rate. The 25-year-old’s only really rough area was his rotation-high walk rate of 3.2 per nine innings.
Behind Martinez, Wainwright accrued a respectable 2.9 WAR with hard-luck Leake close behind at 2.6. Perhaps no pitcher suffered from St. Louis’ subpar defense as much as the newcomer Leake, whose FIP was second on the staff, within a quarter run of Martinez.
Among the youngsters, a quick glance at Alex Reyes’ debut numbers indicate why he is expected to become a rotation mainstay starting in 2017. Not unlike Martinez, the walks continue to be the one negative.
Last season, Martinez may have won this award because Wainwright was able to make just four starts due a foot injury that ruined his year. However, over the 162-game schedule in 2016, Martinez has clearly earned this recognition and seems positioned to lead the staff in 2017 and beyond.
Congratulations to Carlos Martinez, The Cardinal Nation St. Louis Starting Pitcher of the Year for 2016.
Prior TCN St. Louis Starters of the Year
Despite Martinez taking the honors in each of the last two seasons, Wainwright has still topped the rotation in four of the last eight years.
|TCN Starter of the Year|
Click here to review the prior decade’s annual award winners in all categories.
Link to master article with all 2016 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. The series will conclude with our selections as St. Louis Player and Rookie of the Year, followed by a season recap.
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