Willie's Bodacious Bonus BlogIt's tempting to do a regular blog entry, especially after the Cards thumped the Brewers 8-0 as Adam Wainwright pitched a two-hitter, Colby Rasmus hit a bomb off lefty Randy Wolf (Colby's first off a lefty this year) and Matt Holliday continues heating up. But no, I shall resist to take a break and discuss past Cardinal pitching rotations. Let's take a walk down memory lane.
Cardinal Pitching Staffs in the La Russa EraI’m a stat fiend – I also am quite partial to nostalgia. I love baseball because it so often allows me to combine the two. For example, I have recently been thinking this has been the most effective starting pitching we’ve seen from the Redbirds in quite some time. The Cards currently lead the league in ERA at 2.97. Our pitchers are allowing the lowest on-base percentage in the NL as well (.304).
I decided to look back on the La Russa Era at how effective Cardinal starting pitching has been. I chose a cutoff of 14 wins – nice and simple. Sabermetricians will laugh, but I don’t care – I also thought the Cy Young winner should have been Adam Wainwright last year. Wins DO count for something.
Anyhow, a borderline starting pitcher can get 10-13 wins with some luck, a lot of offense, or both. But at 14+ wins, I would have to say a pitcher probably has a good idea of what he is doing. So in the past decade, roughly, how many “effective” starters (14+ wins) have the Cardinals had each season and what place did the team finish in? I'll also throw out the team's ERA that year and the ERA in relation to the league average, which is ERA+. 100 is the league average. This year's club is #1 with an ERA+ of 137. In 2008, we were barely above average with an ERA+ of 102. Let’s take a closer look:
Year - Quality Starters - Finish - ERA - ERA+
2010 – 3 – 1st place - 2.97 - 137
This year, is mirroring last year closely: Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter are co-aces. We have an effective ground-ball machine (Jaime Garcia this year instead of Joel Pineiro). Kyle Lohse is injured/ineffective. So does that mean Brad Penny is this year's Todd Wellemeyer? As harsh a comparison that is on Penny's behalf, it's actually pretty accurate, unfortunately. I was hoping we were getting the nasty Penny that pitched for the Giants at the end of last year, but instead we appear to have a Wellemeyer clone - a very hard throwing, flyball-pitcher prone to giving up home runs. Maybe during this downtime on the disabled list, Penny is able to soak up more of Dave Duncan's teachings before climbing the mound again.
But all in all, three effective pitchers should be enough to win the division and, again, a three-man rotation is fine for the playoffs in a short or long series, because, seriously, who really wants to see Penny in there against the Dodgers or Phillies? Uhh...not me. They can pay Lohse $10 million to cheer from the bench - again.
2009 – 3 – 1st place - 3.66 - 113
You will soon see having at least three effective starters is pretty good and fairly uncommon. Last season, those three were Joel Pineiro, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. They fueled our 91-win season. But the 4th and 5th starters were awful (Todd Wellemeyer and Lohse combined to go 13-20). But we have to remember it was a fickle offense that went cold in the playoffs as we got swept by the Dodgers.
2008 – 1 (2) – 4th place - 4.19 - 102
Lohse won 15 games. Todd Wellemeyer actually went 13-9 with a very nice 3.71 ERA. The bullpen cost him a game or two and he could have easily had 15 wins. The Cards finished 10 games over .500 but a disappointing 4th in the division where the Cubs and Brewers were both strong and the Astros finished a half game ahead of the Redbirds.
2007 – 1 – 3rd place - 4.65 - 95
Waino was 14-10 and that’s all we had to work with. Kip Wells was 7-17 and Anthony Reyes was 2-14. I remember this season well (no pun intended) because Kip Wells was stellar in spring training and I bet a buddy Wells would have an ERA under 4.00 at the end of the year. Um, yeah, I was wrong.
2006 – 2 – 1st place - 4.54 - 98
Chris Carpenter was our only effective starter, going 15-8. Jason Marquis somehow won 14 games with a hide-your-eyes-bad ERA of 6.02. Can someone say "run support"??? Mark Mulder, Reyes, and Sidney Ponson were terrible. If I was a Detroit Tigers fan, I would be throwing myself in front of a train to think that Anthony Reyes won Game One of the World Series that year. How on Earth did he pull that off?
2005 – 4 (5) – 1st place - 3.49 - 122
The last “scary good” Cardinals team. Three starters won 16+ games. Mark Mulder had his only effective season with the Cards, Carp won the Cy Yound award, and Jeff Suppan was at his peak. Matt Morris was our 5th starter and was good enough with 14 wins. Marquis somehow went just 13-14 despite having a respectable 4.13 ERA. He had some tough luck and lack of offense on his behalf, or we would have had our “perfect” starting rotation of 5 effective starters. In reality, that is what we had.
2004 – 4 – 1st place - 3.75 - 115
What a fun year this was. We actually had four 15 game winners that season. ERAs were not especially good, but they didn’t have to be with the MV3 offense and the superb bullpen. Carpenter was the 5th starter going 15-5 with the best ERA on the team at 3.46, the only starter under 3.50. This was the closest we had to an AL team in recent memory.
2003 – 1 – 3rd place - 4.60 - 90
Woody Williams enjoyed his 18-9 All Star-caliber year, but that was it. Brett Tomko somehow won 13 games, despite a 5.28 ERA. Team ERA was 4.60, 11th in the NL. Honestly, looking at Williams’ career numbers, I still don’t know what Walt Jocketty saw in him, when he traded for him from the Padres. He morphed into an ace as soon as he put on the Cardinal red.
2002 – 1 – 1st place - 3.70 - 109
This was the year we lost Darryl Kile. Matty Mo was still elite going 17-9. Jason Simontacchi came out of nowhere to go 11-5. The club had to be creative bringing in Chuck Finley who was good, going 7-4. I had always wished we had resigned him.
2001 – 3 – 2nd place - 3.93 - 110
Ah, the roid-fueled offenses were still beating up pitching staffs as the Cards 3.93 ERA was 3rd-best in the league. We were “co-champions” with the Houston Astros. Morris had his best season ever going 22-8. The immortal Bud Smith threw a no-hitter going 6-3 and getting some Rookie of the Year votes out of it. Woody Williams was acquired by Jocketty and coolly went 7-1.
2000 – 3 – 1st place - 4.38 - 107
Kile was 20-9 and was my favorite Cardinal that year. What a curveball. Rick Ankiel had the best ERA in the rotation at 3.50.
1999 – Kent Bottenfield was the only bright spot on a terrible pitching staff going 18-7 and making the All Star team. The bullpen was a horror film.
1998 – The staff “ace” was Kent Mercker, who was only 11-11. We had the Mark McGwire home run show, but the team, overall, stank.
1997 – Rookie Matt Morris went 12-9 and gave Cardinal fans some hope for the future despite a fourth-place finish.
1996 – Andy Benes was a horse going 18-10 as the Cards made the playoffs in La Russa’s first year as manager.
One of the fascinating things is seeing how the evolution of the starting rotation continually has an impact on the entire roster. Careers are forged and ruined by who is pegged to toe the rubber.
In 1999, the starting pitching situation was so desperate, the club decided to try middle reliever Kent Bottenfield in the rotation – with smoke and mirrors he won 18 games and made the All Star team. The next year, the club traded Bottenfield and Adam Kennedy for Jim Edmonds, a borderline Hall of Fame center fielder and major cog in the Cards dominance in the 2000s.
In 2000, rookie Rick Ankiel was the most effective starter the Cardinals had (in terms of shutdown talent). He led the club in ERA which led to the decision for him to pitch game 1 of the playoffs against Atlanta which led to his famous meltdown of wild pitches on the mound which put him on the road to never again pitching in the majors. Now he’s a borderline outfielder for the Royals. Did that one rash decision spell his doom?
In 2002, little Bud Smith was a key piece in the trade that brought Scott Rolen to St. Louis. His six wins and no-hitter his rookie year were still fresh on the Phillies' minds. Sadly, he was out of the majors by age 23 as he won just one more game and finished his career with a 7-8 record. But as with the Edmonds trade, this one fueled the Cards offense for years and gave us ever-sparkling defense at third base in Rolen.
In 2006, the rotation was in shambles, which led to the club picking up a pitcher left for dead, Jeff Weaver. One could argue his acquisition was the primary reason the Cards won the World Series that year.
It’s also amazing to see how many mediocre pitchers found great success as Cardinals: Bottenfield, Garrett Stephenson, Jeff Suppan, Joel Pineiro, Todd Wellemeyer, Braden Looper, Woody Williams. The team doesn’t have much success drafting and grooming pitchers (hopefully Shelby Miller will change all that) but they sure know how to take rejects and turn them into winners.
For now, we can enjoy this brilliant rotation knowing it's one of the finest we've seen in a while.
Thanks for reading.