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Cardinals 2024 Projections: Starting Pitching

A year after not getting nearly enough from the starting pitching by any definition (quality or quantity) the Cardinals have attempted to shore up the quantity portion of that this offseason. The Cardinals have signed Lance Lynn, Kyle Gibson, and Sonny Gray to try to do so.

This year, as in the past, 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 my system sees 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 the last couple of 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 Tink Hence) who could likely not even sniff a major league debut in 2024, take it as just what this guy could do given the opportunity in 2024 alone, not that he will get (checks notes) 80 innings in 2024 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 2024 projections primer for more details.


Let's kick it off with the St. Louis Cardinals clear number one starter, Sonny Gray. The St. Louis Cardinals signed Sonny Gray to become their new ace before I even had Christmas break. He has 279 career games pitched and over 1,500 innings pitched in the majors and has a career ERA of just 3.47 (while it's been under 3 in the 300 or so innings he's thrown in the last two seasons combined. His career K% is over 23% and he's walked less than 8.5% of batters faced. Gray has less than 8 hits allowed per 9 innings for his career.

He's faced over 6,500 batters in the majors entering the 2024 season and will now do so as the clear cut number one on a staff for the first time, at the age of 34. Can he continue to face 650+ batters per year at this age? Can he be that ace in more than just 150ish innings? Those are the questions he will need to answer in 2024 through 2026 as the Cardinals inked him to a three year deal that just grows monetarily as we move forward.

Based on the three above lines, my guess is that we'll likely get something more akin to THE GOOD out of Sonny Gray in the first year of his contract. I really do. He has been better than THE CERUTTI in each of his past two seasons. However, so long as Gray hits any of these three projections he will have a great season for the Cardinals. In fact, I'd take the rest of the numbers on THE BAD line if he gives 180+ innings...I'd do so in a heartbeat.


Next we will move on to Steven Matz. Matz is entering his third season with the Cardinals and despite being signed to be a starting pitcher for St. Louis entering the 2022 season, he has not really fully entrenched himself in that position. That said, he will 100% be given the first opportunity to start in that vacated/unfilled 2/3 spot in the rotation along with Miles Mikolas this offseason as the Cardinals have filled the back of their rotation with veterans Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn to eat as many innings as possible to save the bullpen - at least prior to the All-Star Break and trade deadline.

We can discuss whether or not we believe Matz can/will be a #2 or a #3 type pitcher in the rotation this year or not. We will not know until we see it happen or see it not happen or see him on the IL again. What we can tell right now is that it is a risky proposition based on recent past and my projections kinda show that here.

Based on the three lines above, we can see the risk with a projection between 100 innings and 117 innings for someone who you are looking for in the top half of your rotation but would you take that if he's striking out between 21-23% of batters and has a FIP of 3.7-4 or so? I am not sure what I'm expecting here to be honest. Probably a mixture of what's in the projections and what is not. I think I'm expecting less games started with about the same innings pitched. I think I'm on the side of THE BAD in terms of ERA/FIP, but quite possibly a better K rate (with maybe a worse walk rate). In short, I have no idea what to expect with Matz - and I've never been on the Matz train to begin with so maybe I'm just the wrong person to ask. If I had to answer, I'm going to go with THE CERUTTI projection.


My projections have Miles Mikolas being the third best starter in the rotation - unless you think the innings bump over Matz makes him the second best starter in the rotation in your mind. However, the numbers are not terribly far from what we'll see out of Kyle Gibson in the next section. Really it's three guys who could be poor #2 guys through good #4 guys...but aren't world beaters.

Miles Mikolas would be the first to tell you that the projections below would be disappointing to him for at least one reason. Innings pitched.

Based on the three lines above, I would be willing to go on a limb and say that THE GOOD will fall short of the innings total for Mikolas unless we see him have an injury filled season. As a guy entering his age 35 season, I have the probability of that baked in here a bit. If I had to answer, I'm going to go with THE CERUTTI projection again for Mikolas here (but with more innings?).


Kyle Gibson is the third player that I think are the "middle three" starters for the Cardinals this year - based on my projections. There is not a ton of difference in value between Steven Matz, Miles Mikolas, and Kyle Gibson here - who is projected for the most innings of the bunch. Of course, with that comes the worst ERAs of the "middle three" by far. So there's the give and take.

This give and take is what the Cardinals front office seems to be gambling on this offseason. They seem to be saying "we're willing to risk a worse starting pitcher ERA if it comes along with them eating a ton of innings." Why would they want worse ERAs over more innings you might ask? Their thoughts and prayers here seem to be that the bullpen ERA will drastically drop (without having done much to the bullpen other than waiting out the fungibility of bullpens) with having to throw less innings. (I think it's debatable whether they'll cover that innings gap or not, FYI.)

Based on the three above lines, my guess is that we will get THE GOOD out of Kyle Gibson in 2024 pitching for the Cardinals. That'd basically replace Miles Mikolas last year, which is huge. If they can get better out of Mikolas AND replace his 2023 production...yay.


The last of the five starters with whom the Cardinals plan on rolling into 2024 is none other than former Cardinals himself, Lance Lynn. I will always be a huge Lance Lynn fan and Lance Lynn supporter, but I can say that despite the numerous opportunities for Jim "The Cat" Hayes and Lynn to get together on screen and make me laugh my ass of this year, I do not see why the Cardinals made this move over grabbing a #2 starter except that it saves them money. That is the only positive I see in this...except that they then did not go spend that money elsewhere. It was literally a cost cutting (I mean "Leadership") move.

Last season, Lance Lynn gave up 48 homers including the playoffs. Matt Olson hit 54 homers this year but no batters besides him put up 48 homers and Lynn was able to give that up in 822 batters faced. That's one homer allowed for every 17 batters that came to the plate. More than one per two times through the order. The Cardinals are signing him to go through the order 3 times a game and hope he gets through 6 innings in doing so.

Whether good (compared to last year) or bad (for this upcoming year) Lance Lynn's projections contain the first potential 5+ ERA that we've seen to this point. No, it won't be anywhere near the last, but nobody else is being expected to throw >160 innings for the 2024 Cardinals either - although we may see projections that high. Based on the three above lines, my guess is that we will get at least THE GOOD from Lance Lynn in 2024, but I would not put it past the 37 year old to have a season worse than THE BAD either. I'd be betting on THE GOOD if I were a betting man, though.


After those starting five, the Cardinals have about 12 guys that they could turn to - guys that my projection system have as averaging 4+ innings pitched in 2024 (or guys who are going to be given every chance to start anyway this year. Let's take a look at what the projections have to say for these guys. I'm not going to go into much detail with these guys here, just present the information as my system states it.

Gordon Graceffo was drafted in the 5th round of the 2021 draft. He made his way to AAA for a full season last year but threw just 86 innings over 21 games due to injuries. This projects him with 24 games and 110 innings this year with an ERA and FIP that would make him the third best starter on the team in the innings he throws - although all things considered my system likes Mikolas slightly better overall.

Pete Hansen is a third round draftee from the 2022 draft. He spent the season at A ball (the fourth level of the minors) and ended up getting one inning at the AAA level to end the season. He is not likely to see any time at the majors this year but my projection system really likes his ability to limit runs despite his lack of time in professional ball and his young age (will be 23 this year).

Markevian "Tink" Hence is the top pitching prospect in the Cardinals system, but my system is not quite ready to anoint him a stud major leaguer just yet. He will need to pitching more innings at a high level before that happens. However, if Hence were a certainty to meet the system's "THE GOOD" rankings, I would propose we put him at the majors level all year and just piggyback him with Matz (and whomever else if/when Matz goes down with injury). THE GOOD projections believe him to be that good.

Cooper Hjerpe is one of my favorite prospects for the Cardinals. The projections think he is slightly ahead of where Hence is at - which makes sense. While Hence was taken in the 2020 draft, he was taken out of high school. Hjerpe was one of the best pitchers in college at age 21 just two seasons ago. Hjerpe's combination of a lack of hits allowed with a high propensity for missing bats reminds me (statistically) of Blake Snell and I just can't get past thinking about what that could look like in a uniform with the Birds on the Bat. (Note: Hjerpe's statistics come very much from a deceptive delivery, not necessarily the "stuff" Snell has, FYI.)

Adam Kloffenstein was one of two pitchers we will get a glimpse at statistically here that came over from the Toronto Blue Jays in the Jordan Hicks deal. My projections see Kloffenstein as not ready for the majors despite going straight to the AAA level upon his entrance in to the Cardinals' farm system after being acquired.

Matthew Liberatore is seen by my projection system to be a capable if unspectacular piece for the Cardinals this year as a starter - although I believe he'll likely be moved fully to the bullpen in 2024. It has him striking out enough to be okay in the starting rotation as a fill in for Gibson or Lynn at the back end. I bet those K numbers jump if given a bullpen role. Hopefully the walks would come down, too. If we could get him to a ~16% K-BB% instead of the 12% in THE CERUTTI or 13.5% in THE GOOD above as a bullpen piece, that'd be great.

Michael McGreevy's selection in the first round of the 2021 draft was seen by many as a stretch and a safe pick all at once. He seemed safe to progress through the ranks but not necessarily possess a high enough ceiling to be a guy who can make it big in the majors. The hope for him is to develop into a Kyle Gibson-esque guy at the major leagues. Well, my system believes him to basically be there already. Completely unspectacular and someone you hope can just keep enough runs off the board going semi-deep into games if called upon.

Inohan Paniagua has been in the Cardinals minor league system for a bit now - since 2018 to be exact. The Dominican is still just entering his age 24 season, but while that is the case my system has a wide range of possibilities for him. It doesn't know where to peg him and I don't believe the Cardinals know where to peg him either. He's kinda been all over the map statistically and is looking to be more consistent in 2024. I do not believe he'll make a debut until at least 2025 as Arizona Fall League action this fall was the highest ball he's pitched - only topping out at High A previously.

My system absolutely loves 2023 Cardinals Minor League Pitcher of the Year Max Rajcic. I don't know that I'm ready to anoint him as this guy at the MLB level for 2024 just yet personally but my system is all in. If he were to repeat his 2023 numbers at the next level (half year at High A, half year at AA) this season they would basically jump up to #2 starter status over ~125 innings. If he were to do the same thing another year with half a year at AA and half a year at AAA, they would jump to near Sonny Gray numbers over ~130 innings. That's how much they like his 2023 season and his potential for 2024. I hope it's right!

Sem Robberse is the second player that the Cardinals acquired for Jordan Hicks at the deadline from the Toronto Blue Jays. Robberse is seen as yet another capable yet unspectacular fill in at the MLB level for the 2024 season, although he tends to give up a lot more runs than he allows earned runs - making my projections belief that he is one of the last options that they would turn to in the minors (that might be close to ready).

Tekoah Roby might be the highest rated pitcher the Cardinals received at the trade deadline (for Montgomery/Stratton) in 2023. That is going to be due to how much of a strikeout guy he can be at times and his unlimited potential when it comes to his "stuff." My projection system does not yet incorporate minor league (nor major league) Stuff+, Location+, or Pitching+ information. I would like for it to do so at some point in the future, however. As of now, without that information, the projections don't quite see him as ready when it comes to ERA...but his FIP is much better than his ERA.

Drew Rom got a taste of the majors in 2023 and flopped a bit. Much like Roby's projection, Rom is projected to have a bunch of strikeouts, a bunch of walks (moreso than Roby), and a much better FIP than runs allowed or ERA would suggest. His peripherals look better statistically than his projected ERA would suggest he should be in 2024. If he has a much better defense behind him in 2024 it could be quite beneficial for the lefty.

The last guy we're looking at it probably the guy who has the best chance of being the #6 starter in 2024. My projections aren't huge fans of Zack Thompson. They are not big believers in small sample size (we'll see more on that when we get to Keynan Middleton in the relievers post) and Thompson did show some small sample improvements at the end of 2024 to be more excited about than what I see above. I hope his Ks and the hope surrounding him buoy his 2024 to a status well above these projections.


Links to other posts in this Projection Series:


There are the 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.

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


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