Should fantasy owners be cautious on Cardinal pitchers in 2014?

Elsa

Ray wonders whether some Cardinals starting pitchers may disappoint fantasy owners in 2014 after three seasons of long playoff series.

The San Francisco Giants won the World Series in 2010 and 2012, mainly due to the strength of their pitching staff, bullpen and manager Bruce Bochy who is considered one the best game managers in baseball. In 2012, the Giants beat the Reds in five games in the NLDS, then took seven games to beat the Cardinals in the NLCS, before sweeping the Tigers in four games to win the World Series. In 2010, they beat the Braves in four games to win the NLDS, beat the Phillies in six games in the NLCS, and beat the Rangers in five games to win the World Series. So, over a three year period their starters threw more innings than any other team. They threw plenty of stressful innings in the NLD, NLCS and World Series, and that caught up to some of their starters in 2013.

Last season, the Giants starters struggled to a degree, with the exception of Madison Bumgarner. Tim Lincecum, for the second straight season, put up an ERA north of 4.25. In 2012, his ERA was 5.18, and last season it dropped to 4.37.

Teammate Matt Cain was himself in 2012, putting up a 2.79 ERA with 16 wins. Last season, Cain struggled in the first half, putting up a 5.06 ERA, before putting up a 2.36 ERA in the second half. His 4.00 ERA was his worst since 2006, and his 1.12 HR/FB rate was the worst of his career.

After making 59 starts in 2011 and 2012, Ryan Vogelsong made just 19 starts last season, and had his worst season since his return to the game, going 4-6 with a 5.73 ERA.

On Tuesday, Cardinals beat writer Bernie Miklasz wrote an article titled "The Strain of October Innings", where he asks whether the Cardinals pitching staff will be vulnerable after pitching so many innings last season. Here is an excerpt:

Over the past two seasons the Cardinals have thrown more innings than any pitching staff in the majors. That's what happens when your team makes consecutive extended postseason runs.

Including the postseasons, the Cardinals played 354 games in 2012 and 2013, an average of 177 per season. Their 30 postseason games over the past two years is six more than any American League team, and 14 more than any National League team.

I am not sure why he doesn't include 2011 in his piece, but the Cardinals did win the World Series in 2011, in one of the best World Series in quite awhile, beating the Rangers in seven games. This after winning the NLDS in five games over the Phillies and the NLCS in six games over the Brewers.

In 2012, they lost the NLCS to the World Series champion Giants in seven games after winning the NLDS over the Nationals in five games. And last season they needed five games to beat the Pirates in the NLDS, six games to beat the Dodgers in the NLCS and lost the World Series in six games to the Red Sox.

So, their pitching staff has pitched a ton of stressful innings over the last three seasons. Lucky for the Cardinals, they are pitching rich with plenty of young arms like Shelby Miller who didn't pitch in the playoffs, Michael Wacha who was dominating in the playoffs, Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia returning from shoulder surgery, Carlos Martinez and ace Adam Wainwright.

Speaking of Wainwright and Wacha, the two best Cardinal starters, here is an excerpt from Miklasz's article:

Wainwright: Including the postseason Wainwright has made 74 starts and pitched 490.1 innings over the past two seasons — second in the majors to Detroit's Justin Verlander. Wainwright is a horse, and the weight of all of those innings don't seem to be a problem for him.......Still, there has to be at least some curiosity over what impact, if any, the jumbo two-year IP total will have on Wainwright in 2014.

Wacha: Combining his work at Memphis, St. Louis and the MLB postseason, he ended up pitching 180.1 innings. And at the risk of understatement, his postseason challenges were filled with pressure. We're talking about maximum-intensity pitching, the type that can drain any pitcher. (Ask Chris Carpenter about that.) The overall total of 180.1 IP was slightly more than the Cardinals had Wacha plotted for, and I think we'll see them be careful with him in 2014. Wacha is the prime candidate for the occasional skipped turn/breather in '14.

Waino and Wacha will be the first two Cardinals pitchers drafted this season, and I think I read on FanGraphs yesterday that Wacha's ADP in NFBC drafts right now is 83.39, or the 17th starter off draft boards. 17th? He is being drafted ahead of Alex Cobb, Matt Cain, Homer Bailey, James Sheilds and Mat Latos. Wow.

Anyway, Wacha threw all of 21 innings after being drafted in 2012, and the Cardinals asked him to throw 180 regular and postseason innings last season. That's a huge increase, guys. And that stat on Wainwright is a little worrisome, no?

Finally, Shelby Miller didn't pitch in the playoffs, but there was a reason for that. This from Miklasz:

However, there was a noticeable decline in Miller's stuff later in the summer '13 swelter. After averaging just under 10 strikeouts per nine innings in his first 21 starts, Miller's K rate fell to 6.4 strikeouts per nine innings in his final 10 starts. And his walk rate jumped from 2.6 per nine innings over the first 21 starts to 4 over his last 10.

This could just be a young starter struggling in his first full season in the big leagues. He certainly wouldn't be the first.

There are similarities between the Cardinals and Giants long playoff series over the last few seasons, but it remains to be seen if any of the Cardinals starters struggle in 2014 ala Tim Lincecum in 2012 or Matt Cain in 2013. But, don't be surprised if at least one of them disappoints.

Which Cardinals starter will disappoint in 2014, if any? Let's hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

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