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Cardinals 2023 Projections: Part I - Starting Pitching

cover art and player art by Nicholas Childress

Hello #STLCards fans! The time is here for my yearly projections. Last year, with the brevity of Spring Training after the league's owners locked out players for quite a bit of time, I wrote the projections all in one post for the first time - but then I didn't really write projections so much as just numbers dump them into a post. This year, I'm going to put them all in four posts - two for the position players and two for the pitchers - because I want to give a bit more detail than last year's images of solely THE CERUTTI projections.

Every year I have done this, I believe, I have started with Yadier Molina. That is…well…an impossibility this year. So do I start with his replacement? Nope! I think for this year, I must start with the next retiring player who spent his entire major league career as a St. Louis Cardinal, none other than Mr. Adam Wainwright. This means, we’ll be looking at the starting pitching staff (and those who potentially could start a game in 2023) first this year.

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 Wainwright 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 Wainwright.

Waino has pitched in 457 regular season games with the Cardinals and I'm hoping to get at least another 30 out of him this season. That's what my projections have him at is a 30 start season. It's amazing how consistent Wainwright has been when healthy in his career and how he's been able to bounce back from various ailments and injuries to be just a workhorse. The projections this year do not seem to treat him any differently.

I would like to point out that I believe that my projections are a bit to high on Wainwright in his age 41 season. Now, maybe that's because I'm too much of a realist and don't have enough tint on my rose colored glasses, but I thought last year was a quite good outcome for him and he basically put up numbers similar to "THE BAD" above, albeit in 40 more innings pitched. If the Cardinals get 180+ innings of sub 3.50 ERA ball from Waino this year, they might be going to the World Series to "win it in 3."

If I had to guess what we get from Wainwright this year, my personal thought is probably more like last year - more of a 180+ innings of THE BAD outcome or slightly worse. Then again can anyone else see Wainwright, knowing he can empty the tank like Albert did last year, just giving everything he physically has throughout the season and post-season and performing phenomenally?

Miles Mikolas turned out a performance last year that was not terribly dissimilar to his 2018 campaign in which he was 6th in the Cy Young Award voting. He actually allowed less people to reach base while getting 4 more outs for his club, facing 3 less batters. He did have a bit of a home runs allowed problem leading to a higher ERA in 2022 when compared to 2018, otherwise the performance was superb. Does my system think he can do it again in 2023, however? This is Mikolas' last year as a Cardinal under contract and this year's performance might dictate if that changes (unless he's getting an extension worked out as I write this).

Simply put, no. It thinks he gives up more hits and walks more while the home run problem persists...that said, it does give him a little boost on the K/9, keeping the FIP about 40-50 points higher than the projected ERA instead of skyrocketing it Dakota Hudson style. However, this is giving a second Cardinals' starter in a row 180+ innings of potentially sub 3.50 ERA ball. If the Cardinals get 360+ innings of sub 3.50 ERA ball from the top two members of their 2023 rotation, World Series or bust with how I think these hitters will go this year.

If it's up to my guess, I'd say these projections are pretty spot on for what he will do in STL this year.

Jordan Montgomery came over from the New York Yankees in a deal that sent fan favorite Harrison Bader out of town. I was as surprised by this trade as maybe I've ever been in my life as a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. However, I could completely understand why the trade was made at the time, even though I am concerned about it potentially being a bit short-sighted with the rule changes in effect this year - that the DeWitt/Mozeliak/Girsch combo knew was coming. That said, Montgomery was fantastic as a Cardinal last year. Maddux and the other staff noticed something that they could exploit better in Montgomery's arsenal and they made the immediate change to do so. It paid off in a huge way and might just earn Montgomery an extension this offseason. What does that say about his 2023 outlook? Nothing. Here that is instead:

I mean...this is looking all too familiar. If Wainwright and Mikolas are #2s, the ERAs would put Montgomery as more of a #3 or #4 but the FIPs would fit him in quite well with that #2s group. If he could drop that BB rate or hit rate even more (or both of course), then he's firmly in that #2 starter camp with the others above. While the Cardinals wouldn't have a true #1 or ACE type, necessarily, they could definitely have 3 second starter types, setting themselves up for success.

If it's up to my guess, I'd say these projections are pretty spot on for what he will do in STL this year.

Jack Flaherty has the potential to be the #1 and/or ACE in this rotation if anyone does. The end of his 2019 season was phenomenal and yet now we're nearly 4 years removed from said season. That's what makes Flaherty hard to project and also why he is simply one of the top questions on everyone's list about the 2023 Cardinals. The rotation looks pretty top third to quarter of the league with a good season from him. With a 2020-2022 injury plagued stretch to his career reoccuring in 2023, the rotation looks much less prominent and middle of the pack.

This projection has him as good as Montgomery, but for barely more than half of the innings. If the Cardinals can get #2/3 production out of him but for 150+ innings instead of 90 innings, that'd be fine. However, I just don't think that's the pitcher that Jack is, personally. If it's my guess, it's either 150 innings of #1/2 starter or more like 40-50 innings of #4/5 injured starter.

Steven Matz is such a polarizing one for me. I'm rooting for the guy because he's on my favorite team and I want him to find success. I want the guys in the front office to be smarter than I am (which they undoubtedly are), but I just hated this signing so much at the time of the signing. I just didn't really get it and still don't - at least not as an answer to our problems than and now.

This is a true #5 starter, honestly. A guy who can't last the whole season. A guy who can't give you innings. A guy who can't give you great performance even when he's on the mound. I haven't wanted to be so wrong since Marcell Ozuna. Please let me get this one wrong.

Following the 5 guys that the Cardinals have pegged as the 5 starters going into spring training, here are the remaining 40-man players who might get a start this year...

Dakota Hudson has seemingly lost his rotation spot that he was clinging gingerly to as John Gant and Daniel Poncedeleon and Johan Oviedo got shipped out of St. Louis. Hudson, like so many others in the rotation, has battled injuries over the last year or two and been unavailable at times when he was badly needed. When he's been in, he hasn't proven to be "badly needed" however, as of late. That said, his line last year was about as good (or better) as Matz's projection above. Here's Hudson's:

Honestly, stick that in my rotation any time over the projections for Matz. Dakota Hudson simply has outperformed his FIP greatly in his career. I'm scared about that moving forward. But if he's healthy, despite just AWFUL K:BB numbers, he's the #5 I think I'd rather have moving forward. This is a guy that threw:

  • 7 innings of 4 hit, 1 run ball against the Padres last year

  • 7 innings of 2 hit, 1 run ball against the Rays last year

  • 7 innings of 5 hit, 2 run ball against the Cubs last year (when they were surging)

  • 6 innings of 2 hit, 0 run ball against the Phillies last year

  • 5 innings of 5 hit, 2 run ball against the Giants last year

  • 4 2/3 innings of 5 hit, 0 run ball against the Brewers last year

Yeah. He got rocked other times. But a 5 starter does that as well. That's why his ERA wasn't 1.51, as it would have been with that line above. As far as a 5th starter goes, gimme 4.9 innings per game of 3.63 ERA / 4.14 FIP of a guy who consistently overperforms his FIP over 4.1 innings per game of 4.43 ERA / 4.04 FIP of a guy who consistently underperforms his FIP.

Jake Woodford is a guy that I would LOVE to see get an actual spot this spring to be the 5th starter. I think he's got it in him. Now...that's my own personal thoughts. My projection system sees a guy who is really going to give the Cardinals about 2 2/3 innings per outing this year because of his usage in the past. Well, let's just get to the projection.

To me, that looks like a Dakota Hudson line above that can actually strike a few more people out and walk a few less people. If that's the case, it all comes down to "Can Woodford put up those numbers over 5 innings an outing instead of 2 2/3 innings an outing?" If Jake can do that, then I think I'd rather have him in the rotation over the other two as the 5th starter - but that's bumping his projection from 87 innings to 165 innings - nearly doubling it. I am in no way, shape, or form going to put my projection's name to that at all.

Andre Pallante joins Jake Woodford and Dakota Hudson on the list of groundballers that has performed well at times at the big league level already and since his has been the most recent of the three will thus likely be given the first opportunity to get the most playing time. Now, whether that's a starter or not is another question.

Eying those projections, he just looks so similar to those other two doesn't he? Maybe a little more Ks than Woodford and quite a few more than Hudson. Maybe a few less walks than Woodford (or a bunch?) and even more walks than Hudson potentially. But about the same ability to keep runs off of the board. They are fairly redunant pitchers, which is why I was suprised the Cardinals did not find a move for Hudson or Woodford, or both, already this offseason. I guess they need to keep these options around as much as possible because of the potential starter problem in 2024.

Allegedly, Drew VerHagen rocking and rolling and rearing to go this spring. He's had a healthy offseason and has revamped some things. Well, he's going to have to revamp some things because so far in his career, he has a 5.26 ERA and 4.95 FIP.

Now, my projections do have him performing much better than that this year - especially seeing the dip in that FIP down to a sub 4.00 FIP. If he can be that guy then the St. Louis Cardinals defense should allow him to have an ERA inside of 4.00 as well instead of the 4.13 ERA shown in THE CERUTTI projection.

If I had to guess, however, I'd guess that VerHagen gets opportunities because he's on a major league contract and is owed money (more than league minimum) - kinda like Paul DeJong. The difference is that DeJong has a) shown a history of being good in St. Louis even if it's been a while, and b) the Cardinals have plenty of guys who can give you innings in the pen who are signed through next year and beyond whereas DeJong is the only shortstop on the roster besides Edman.

Let's hop to a more fun name to talk about now! Gordon Graceffo was taken in the 2021 draft and has quickly risen up the ranks past #1 pick that season, fellow RHP Michael McGreevy. Graceffo made eyes pop last spring when his arsenal was much better than the team thought as he was drafted. Our own prospect guru, Kyle Reis, thinks he could be a Lance Lynn type in that he'd be a power arm that could give you a bunch of innings as well. He may not throw what Lynn does or like Lynn does, just that aspect of his game could be similar - power pitcher who gets you innings.=

My projection system likes this kid a LOT for a kid who has not made it past AA as of yet (although he had an AFL appearance this year, but apparently that's not necessarily the "finishing school" that it used to be. However, AA is the new AAA in terms of how close a guy is to the major leagues, so he's on the cusp (even if he's maybe not quite "ready" to go.)

I mean, this looks as good as Matz through VerHagen on this list. I'm not saying you go to him out of the spring or anything, but I am saying that you don't hold him back if others falter or injuries occur. Deal with the 40-man backlash later (someone would have to be dropped) - if these projections are to come to pass.

Packy Naughton will move us into the heavily left-handed heavy portion of the potential starter / potential reliever / potential AAA fodder list to follow. Naughton came over from the Angels last year. Packy pitched well enough to continue to earn playing time last year when the Cardinals needed a lefty out of the pen as Genesis Cabrera faltered near the end of the year. That said, he didn't pitch well enough to put off the Cardinals doing anything and everything to continue to add lefties to their pen - even acquiring one from the Royals last week.

If my projections are to believed, Packy Naughton will have to be on THE GOOD track in order to even sniff the roster for long. If he's sitting with a 4.85 ERA for long again, he's got enough (minor league )options and the team has enough (both left-handed and right-handed) options in their system to boot Naughton to the curb.

Matthew Liberatore is, of course, the prized pitching prospect that the Cardinals got in the deal that sent Randy Arozarena to the Tampa Bay Rays a few offseasons ago. Liberatore got a cup of joe in the majors last year and was... well, not good.

These projections suggest that we should not expect any different from LIberatore this year, not until he proves us differently. They simply see him as replacement (at best) arm to eat some innings if injuries get us to the point where that is necessary.

Not exactly a glowing model for him, even THE GOOD projection is not enough to get close to breaking the rotation for the Cardinals in 2023.

Connor Thomas is a name that has popped up on a lot of even casual fan radars this winter after last fall's Pitcher of the Year in the Arizona Fall League. Connor Thomas, at the urging of Mike Maddux, Dusty Blake, and others, added a cutter to his repertoire and really took off in the Fall League.

One thing working against Connor Thomas is that he has yet to pitch at the major league level and thus has three option seasons to use if necessary. Thomas does not have to be in the majors, so the Cardinals can utilize that fact to keep him in the minors in order to see if him getting that cutter is really what he needs to turn around his career into something more than minor league journeyman. The projections above do not do him a ton of favors, but his FIPs are actually decent and if he hits a higher percentile projection (like THE GOOD), then there's a chance he could jump on to the roster. Those H/9 are going to have to come down if he's going to be given a chance to start. You just can't pitch with that many people on base all the time. Just pitch to the Cardinals defense and pick up those Ks when you need to.

Taking a break from the lefties to talk about the guy taken ahead of Gordon Graceffo by the Cardinals in the 2021 player entry draft, Michael McGreevy is a control artist that is still trying to add to his stuff to make his repertoire more elite.

In the minors, McGreevy's walk rates have dropped from an already good 2.35 per nine innings in a paltry 7 2/3 innings in 2021 - after he'd already thrown a college season - to just 1.87 last year in 144 1/3 innings pitched. However, his K rate dropped from an already below one per inning 8.22 in 2021 to just a 7.30 K/9 in 2022. He did get pushed by pitching in High A and Double A his first full year in the minors, however. Likely starting at AA again this coming season, he needs to show off a high K rate while keeping his BB rate down and/or get that hit rate (12.59 per 9 innings so far in the minors) down in order to make himself more ready to make this debut in 2023.

Zack Thompson was given a chance to be a part of the St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff in 2022, and for good reason. The dude had a 2.06 ERA and 0.971 WHIP, even though his K:BB was nothing fantastic.

My projections see him as a guy who can throw a few innings for ya here and there, might get a chance to start, and will likely strike out a lot of guys - but didn't show that ability last season in the majors, for some reason.

You would especially have liked him to see, out of the bullpen, a higher K rate to go with that walk rate, but maybe for Thompson it's going to all abe about him simply walking a lot to go with more Ks. Or maybe he'll just go ahead and get some more development in at the AAA or MLB level next year. Who knows, as of yet? In any case, Thompson's projections do not believe he'll repeat last year's success in some important innings. Hope he proves them wrong.

Wilfredo Pereira could be a long ways away from the majors still. He has not pitched yet at the AA level and had an ERA over 5 last year in the minors. That's not boding well for an appearance in 2023 at the MLB level. Well, we're sixteen deep on the starter depth chart, so my guess here may be a bit wonky. However, I believe he's going to major league camp, so I'm rolling with a projection for him anyway.

Per these projections, it's best we do not see Wilfredo Pereira this season. The home run rate alone is a bit stand-outish, and not in a good way. The H/9 is bad. The BB/9 is bad. It's just all around not a good stat line unless they want strikeouts in the rotation and that is simply all they care about at all. I don't believe that to be the case. Especially if they're on the 16th starter, they're probably looking more for innings than anything else. 3 innings an outing - because of 5 guys on base in those 3 innings - is not eating innings.

I like Pereira for the future - but the future need not be 2023, if these are correct.

There are the 16 pitchers I can possibly conceive of the Cardinals have start a game in the majors in 2023 - unless they were to use an opener for some reason, after being so vehemently opposed to it in the past.

Next time, I'll be back with the relievers in Part II. But until then, have fun discussing any and all projections that you love, hate, or were waiting for with me on Twitter or Facebook!


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