cover art and player art by Nicholas Childress
Hello #STLCards fans! Welcome back for the second part of our 2023 projections series, the relievers on the pitching staff. Again this year, I will be looking to give you the Good, the Bad, and The Cerutti projections. The Cerutti is what my system projects for players this year. While the Good and the Bad aren’t necessarily the 90th and 10th percentile projections, respectively, or anything that mathematical. They are kind of the range I see these guys falling into with anything higher than THE GOOD or lower than THE BAD being completely destroying my projection system. So to speak.
This year during my projections, like last year's, I will not be predicting playing time for each individual. Instead, this is what my system spits out for plate appearances or innings pitched, so when you see a guy in the minors (like a Gordon Graceffo) who could likely not even sniff a major league debut in 2022, take it as just what this guy could do given the opportunity in 2023 alone, not that he will get (checks notes) 75 2/3 innings in 2023 with the MLB club. Please don't take this as his ceiling either. Literally only what my system spits out for this year prior to him playing any games in the minors at all.
If you want to read more about my process than that, please refer back to the projections primer from 2021 for more details.
Now, let's jump straight in to what my system says about Ryan Helsley, first. He earned it with last year's performance!
Ryan Helsley turned everything up to 100 last year - including his fastball - and really took on the closer role. The Cardinals, in a fashion not typically them, really enhanced and promoted Helsley in that role by giving him his own walk in (from the bullpen) experience typically reserved for WWE wrestling. It was one of the most shocking developments of 2023 if you follow the Cardinals' typical motus operandi.
Can Ryan Helsley continue his season of ridiculous ascent to one of the top 5 relief pitchers in baseball by doing so again this season?
Well, my projections say that he can be quite good. None of this implies that he's going to throw out another 1.25 ERA or a WHIP under 0.75 or a K:BB over 4.5 again. However, this does speak to how well the projections see him being in the future. A 2.50-3.00 ERA with a WHIP between 0.97 and 1.17 and a K:BB between 2.4 and 3.5? Yeah, pretty darn good. I like it.
Giovanny Gallegos has been one of the easiest players for me to project over the years. I called his breakout and his subsequent dominance because of my projections - which just happened to be right and then he has stayed very consistent. So what do the projections say about him for 2023?
Well, the projections say that he will be great again in 2023. With the more proven track record than Ryan Helsley, they actually prefer him by WHIP, K:BB, HR/9 (barely) and FIP to our closer. That's pretty impressive, if you ask me...which hey, if you're reading this, you kind of are? I guess....
In any case, as always, I believe that Giovanny Gallegos will be somewhere between THE CERUTTI and THE GOOD on these. A WHIP just under 1, an ERA around 3 with a FIP slightly beating that. He won't allow anywhere close to a hit an innings and will likely have 4.5-5 times as many strikeouts as walks. Just a consummate reliever for the back end of a bullpen. I like that we have Helsley because Gio does a great job in the fireman role moreso than the closer role, in my mind.
Next, we're going to make a jump to a player you'll be potentially surprised to see on this list. If you are a consistent watcher of Prospects After Dark with Kyle Reis, then maybe you won't be as he's discussed this player quite frequently. We're talking next about Jake Walsh, who threw 2 2/3 innings over 3 outings last year for the Cardinals, making his Major League debut after dominating AA and AAA and making an Arizona Fall League appearance in 2021 and then dominating AAA again in 2022.
Why Jake Walsh next? Because like Giovanny Gallegos several years ago my projections are calling for Jake Walsh to be a top arm in the pen if utilized this season.
While the projection system does not like his aptitude for walks - leading to a high WHIP - it loves his strikeout totals, keeping his FIP way down. It likes that he's done it at the highest level of the minors multiple times. Hopefully, this Jake Walsh shows up this year (and that the walks are more like THE GOOD).
Chris Stratton is next up on the list. Chris Stratton has been a solid reliever, nothing spectacular but nothing absolutely terrible for his career. 2020 and 2021 were better for Stratton than most of his career and last year was rough until he joined the Cardinals and then it was more like 2020-21.
However, my 2023 projections see him as a more "Cardinals Version Jake Walsh." Let me explain. They see him as a mid-high WHIP reliever who can get away with it due to a strikeout rate that is above average and a walk rate that's not terribly below average. It's just that Stratton's K rate and walk rate are closer to the mean than Walsh's. That means his K:BB is somewhat similar and his FIP will likely beat his ERA in the process - not exactly ideal. The Cardinals pitching staff almost seems to be allergic to strikeouts and walks at times.
In any case, the projections seem to believe that we'll see good Chris Stratton in 2023, no matter if it's THE CERUTTI or THE GOOD. Let's hope we don't see THE BAD.
What the Cardinals wouldn't give to get a GOOD Genesis Cabrera in 2023. Even what they got in 2021 out of Cabrera would be super exciting. I can't believe that he already has 142 games played as a Cardinals and over 150 innings as a Cardinal. I would have never guessed that.
Now, my projections have never portrayed Genesis Cabrera in a positive light. However, if you gave him THE GOOD for 2023, I believe if he's feeling "right," that could just scratch the surface. However, we saw last year how it can go as badly or worse than THE BAD even.
On a side note, this grouping of projections really surprises me on him how tightly they correspond with one another. I don't think I could have told you he even had pitched in 100 games yet, but I don't know why. Maybe it's just me. However, with his variability already it was quite a shock for me to see a 0.86 difference in ERA (and other similar totals) between THE GOOD and THE BAD.
We're jumping back to the right side of the bullpen and to another name that is quite a question mark. It's another name that my projections system is likely higher on than the Cardinals are higher on - as he was just removed from the 40-man roster to add another lefty we'll mention later. James Naile threw 9 mostly mediocre innings in the majors last year over 7 appearances. The job he did in the minors last year was better than that however. What about 2023?
As you can see to the right, the WHIP is not nearly what you want to see out of anyone in your pitching staff. The actual projection (THE CERUTTI) and THE GOOD projection have healthy strikeout to walk ratios and low BB/9 along with FIPs and ERAs that are pretty decent. The problem is that James Naile is likely to get hit around a bit and just does not strike people out like he needs to in order to be the high octane arm this bullpen will likely command based on comments this offseason. We are likely seeing here both the reason Naile is still in the organization AND why he's no longer on the 40-man.
If you don't remember the back story here, Jojo Romero is the lefty reliever that the Cardinals got from the World Series Champion Phillies for backup infielder Edmundo Sosa near the trade deadline last summer. Romero came over and was "fine." He was nothing to write home about and walked entirely too many players. He also struck out 10 guys per 9 innings. That's good.
As with James Naile's projections above, if these were to come to pass for Jojo Romero I would be first lookinga t the WHIP being far too high, like the rest of his career. His K:BB is acceptable but not great. His BB/9 are projected to be a bit lower allowing him to have an ERA and a FIP well below his career averages however. To stick as the lefty in the pen, this might be all he needs to do - or THE GOOD might not be good enough. Who knows?
The next lefty about whom I would like to tell you about is Anthony Misiewicz. He was acquired for cash considerations from the Kansas City Royals this offseason after putting up 103 2/3 innings over the last three seasons between the Mariners and Royals. His FIPs have ranged from 3.04 to 4.08 and his ERAs from 4.05 to 4.61 - so he's a guy who is the opposite of a Pallante or Hudson or Woodford, who hasn't outpitched his FIP but instead has not yet pitched to his FIP.
So he's an upside play here for just cash considerations. He's also signed through the 2026 season and is arbitration eligible starting this coming offseason after 2023. The problem with Misiewicz is that his FIP has grown each season he's pitched in the majors. His HR/9 has similarly gone up. His K:BB has shrunk each season he's been in the majors. His strikeouts per 9 innings has shrunk each season he's been in the majors. His K% and his K%-BB% have similarly gone down. It's just all trending so badly for him.
I think I might save everything else about Misiewicz but the projection for another time if I have any time to give to a full post on him. Maybe after he strikes out the side in his Cardinals regular season debut or something...so instead, I'll just say that these don't look terribly promising for him and would represent the worst season of his career by ERA, by FIP, by HR/9, and by WHIP. His K:BB would be the second worst of his career...and that's just looking at THE CERUTTI projection. Obviously THE BAD is way worse whereas THE GOOD actually gives him what I think is the most realistic if he actually lasts 50+ innings on the Cardinals this year, with all of their options.
Freddy Pacheco is a name to keep an eye out for. He's one of Kyle's chosen relievers in the pen in the minors that he thinks could make a positive major league impact this season (or last for that matter, but that never materialized).
What do the projections say? Well, they like him a lot. They project over 100 strikeouts in not even 70 innings - and that's for THE CERUTTI. That's nearly 14 Ks per 9 innings. Now, they also tell a truly terrible story on the walk rate. Even if you look at THE GOOD, that's nearly 2 walks every 3 innings...and that's the best of the projections when it comes to that. When it's all said and done, though, they expect right around 4 earned runs allowed per 9 innings from Pacheco on the year.
Much like with Genesis Cabrera, my projections have never liked Jordan Hicks all that much. It's guys like these two that make me so much more amazed at projections like Graceffo's...guys that haven't hit the upper end of the minors (like Hicks didn't) and still can have reasonably good to very good projections coming out of AA.
Somehow, despite Hicks being able to be a free agent after this season (WHERE DOES THE TIME GO???), my system still hasn't caught up to him and his 4.05 career MLB ERA or his 1.28 career MLB WHIP or his 3.85 career FIP or his 6.4 career H/9...I just don't get it.
Sorry Jordan, sorry Hicks family. My system just hates you...and I don't know why. Please have an awesome year and stay in St. Louis and stay healthy and become a fantastic back end reliever for the next 10 years.
In the minor league portion of the MLB draft, the Cardinals took RHP Ryan Shreve from the Minnesota Twins this past offsaeason. Blake Newberry wrote up that draft at Viva El Birdos this offseason and I can't do that better than he did then. At one point, Blake wrote the following and I can't agree more:
What I don’t understand is how he struck out 33.8% of High-A batters and earned a 2.70 FIP in 2021 but somehow didn’t get a promotion to Double-A at any point in 2022. But then the Twins sent him to the Arizona Fall League. He pitched well as a repeat High-A arm and his AFL results were okay too as he posted a 1.84 ERA despite a 12-to-8 K/BB ratio. It’s a weird path as he somehow didn’t get a chance to pitch in Double-A but then was given one of a limited number of spots to pitch in the AFL but then wasn’t even protected from the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft. I truly don’t understand it
Despite Ryan Shreve never pitching above A+ (High A), my projections already think he can be a 3.13-4.16 FIP guy in the majors and strike out at least a guy per 9 innings! That's quite good, honestly.
They see him as yet another righty that could sky rocket up this system. He may very well never make a debut in 2023, in fact I think it'd probably be prudent for him NOT to make an appearance in the majors in 2023. However, there's a small chance he will and if he does it's because he's likely projecting at that point to do even better than this suggests.
Guillermo Zuniga is another reliever that the Cardinals somehow found this offseason that looks as if he could be a complement to what they already have in the bullpen - a guy who can sling fireballs, as it were (well, at least metaphorically...as far as I know he's not Hephaestus or anything).
Zuniga was brought over from the Dodgers organization this offseason. He was signed to a major league contract despite never pitching above AA in their system. He has a career minor league ERA of 4.11, WHIP of 1.36, and 258 K over 225 1/3 innings. 90 of those innings have been at AA although not a single one has been at AAA. His first stint in AA in 2021 went much better than his second stint in 2022. The recency of that tougher season has really dropped his projections down from what I think he could do if added to the 26-man roster (as he's already on the 40-man).
If Zuniga is the pitcher in these projections, then he needs the full year at AAA to figure things out.
Rounding out a consecutive trio of right-handed additions to the bullpen, the Cardinals gained Wilking Rodriguez as a major league Rule V Draft selection.
Again, my projections don't see this as a meaningful addition for this year, but this does not take into account his 2016-22 seasons production in the Independent Leagues and Venezuelan and Mexican Leagues because I am unsure of how to quantify that accounting for level of competition (full transparency there).
In the past 7 years, I believe it's quite possible that Rodriguez has become a completely different pitcher. His ERA is 12% lower in the foreign leagues as when he was in the minors. His runs allowed per 9 innings is down 24%. His K/9 are up 20% but his K:BB is down a bit. Because of the walks, his WHIP is slightly higher in the foreign leagues. However, last year in the Mexican League (from which the Cardinals attempted to acquire him and couldn't because his team was so reliant upon him they wouldn't release him from his contract), Rodriguez had a WHIP under 0.87, an ERA of 1.78 and less than 2 runs allowed per 9 innings (earned or not). He struck out over 5 guys per every walk and a total of 73 guys in just 44 2/3 innings. It looks more and more like a high-octane power arm is possible. My system just can't know all this, though, because of where he did it.
Ryan Loutos was signed as an undrafted free agent out of WUSTL (Wash U in St. Louis) after the 2021 collegiate season. His last two years at Wash U, he threw just over 100 innings and struck out 120 guys to 16 walks, allowing all of 69 hits. He threw an additional 22 2/3 innings at Palm Beach in 2021 after being signed and gave up a lot more hits at the professional level but still had a 26:6 K:BB.
Last year, Loutos climbed the charts of right-handed relievers in the organization as he threw at all of High A, Double A, and Triple A in one season. He succeeded quite well at both the High A and Double A level, but the push to AAA might have been a bit early for him. He really struggled statistically at AAA with a WHIP over 2 and ERA over 6.
The projections would expect more of latter than the former out of him this year were he to jump straight to the majors - although they really like his FIP a lot! Unfortunately, they project him to just give up too many hits to be an effective pitcher at the MLB level at the moment. Hope they're wrong and he's able to light it up at AAA and in St. Louis.
Connor Lunn is a guy that I had my radar on entering last season...and then he bombed out a bit last season. I think if I would have done full projections on him last year that they would have been better than this year's, unfortunately.
Lunn's projections here on the left are, well, that of a reliever not a starter - despite his innings pitched totals there being those of a potential starter/swing man.
However, with those numbers there you would not even want him as a swing man to eat innings because he would just lose you games that could have potentially been comebacks.
Speaking of comebacks, I hope that Connor Lunn can have the kind of season to have a bounce back in my projections here in 2023 so that we can look at him starting 2024 as a potential piece in the Memphis rotation "backing up" someone in the MLB rotation.
Lastly, I want to take a look at a player that the Cardinals signed this offseason from overseas. Andrew Suarez is a guy who I believe has a shot at being a reliever in the pen but his projections show that he could even be looked at in a long role or to stretch out in the rotation potentially.
Looking to the right here, his CERUTTI projection is a 3.74 ERA and 3.68 FIP. That's plenty serviceable in either role. His 1.416 WHIP isn't great but the 2.61 K:BB is pretty decent and the HR/9 is good.
Even his THE BAD projection is okay per the ERA, FIP, and K:BB. He could be a surprise guy to get some innings at the MLB level this season.
Here they are all together for easy reference:
Next time, I'll be back with the catchers and outfielders in Part III of the projection series. But until then, have fun discussing any and all projections that you love, hate, or were waiting for with me on Twitter or Facebook!