Monday, fellow writer John Kern examined the question of who’s been the St. Louis Cardinals’ Most Valuable Player so far this season. Today, I’ll look at the pitching side of things.
Almost 40 percent of the way through the season, we can reasonably say that the Cardinals’ pitching staff has outperformed expectations. Through Tuesday’s action, the group had compiled the fifth-best earned run average in Major League Baseball (3.93), eighth-best fielding independent pitching (4.00) and 11th-best expected FIP (4.11), good for the ninth-best wins above average (7.2).
Their starting pitchers have been even better, racking up the second-best ERA (3.52), fourth-best FIP (3.88), eighth-best xFIP (3.92) and fifth-most WAR (6.2). That’s why the starters have a 25-20 record while the relievers are just 5-13. Regardless, it’s fair to say that St. Louis has put forth a top-third pitching performance in the majors, and possibly a top-notch one.
Luckily for St. Louis, the team has only had to use six starters all season, with the sixth starter, Marco Gonzales, only making one start. That means that, as expected, Carlos Martinez, Mike Leake, Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn have taken on the brunt of the load, combining for 62 starts. In reality, only three of them are worth considering: Wainwright, despite a team-leading seven wins (Who cares?), has a 4.73 ERA, while Wacha is also up there at 4.50 and has only fired 60 innings. To the numbers on the remaining three:
Martinez: 88.1 IP, 2.3 WAR, 2.95/3.14/3.33 ERA/FIP/xFIP, 1.04 WHIP, 28.1 K%, 8.5 BB%, 50.9 GB%
Leake: 80.1 IP, 1.4 WAR, 2.70/3.60/3.69 ERA/FIP/xFIP, 1.04 WHIP, 18.1 K%, 4.4 BB%, 54.8 GB%
Lynn: 73.2 IP, 0.4 WAR, 2.69/4.73/4.35 ERA/FIP/xFIP, 1.09 WHIP, 23.5 K%, 9.9 BB%, 45.1 GB%
Which of the three deserves the one-third-season Cardinals’ Cy Young?
On the surface, if you form your conclusions based on ERA alone, it would appear that Leake and Lynn have been slightly better than C-Mart thus far. But when you look a little closer, it’s clear that Martinez has been the best of the three across the board, with the best marks in FIP, xFIP and strikeout rate. Leake is close, with a slightly better WHIP and ground ball rate, and nearly half the walk rate.
It’s clear that Lynn has the weakest case of the three (his 0.4 WAR is actually behind Wainwright and Wacha, too). I should note that this version of WAR is FanGraphs’s, which is based on peripherals; Baseball-Reference’s, which is based on ERA, has Leake in front at 2.6, Martinez at 2.3 and Lynn at 2.0.
Two more significant notes: Eight of Martinez’s 30 walks came in that one April start in New York. Without those eight walks, his walk rate would be down at 6.2 percent, not far off of Leake’s. Of course, that game happened and you can’t just remove it, but it’s clearly an outlier on Martinez’s ledger. Also, Martinez has recorded an unbelievable 14.5 infield fly ball rate, more than double the major league average (7.0). He’s doing a great job of getting weak contact.
There’s no standout relief pitcher that merits consideration for the Cardinals. Seung-Hwan Oh has the lowest ERA among the crew at 3.00, but he’s only thrown 30 innings. Trevor Rosenthal is doing a fabulous job striking out hitters (42.7 K%) and has an excellent xFIP (1.96) and the top WAR among St. Louis relievers (0.8), but 23.2 innings isn’t nearly enough given his still-too high 3.80 ERA.
So there you have my choice for Cardinals Cy Young: Martinez, who many thought might have a chance to win the National League Cy Young Award coming into the season. And here’s the fun part: He definitely does!
So Martinez has been the Cardinals’ best pitcher. Where does he stand among the league’s elite?
Here are Martinez’s ranks among qualified NL pitchers this season, along with the mark of the guy in first:
IP: 88.1, 5th (97)
WAR: 2.3, 3rd (2.9)
ERA: 2.95, 9th (2.23)
FIP: 3.14, 4th (2.79)
xFIP: 3.33, 6th (2.92)
WHIP: 1.04, 6th (0.85)
K%: 28.1, 8th (35.1)
BB%: 8.5, 27th (2.0)
GB%: 50.9, 8th (58.4)
Martinez isn’t leading any of the categories, but he’s top-10 in all of them other than walk rate. He’s right in the thick of it. His case is very well-rounded, and he obviously has the talent to keep it up, or to go on a hot streak that vaults him ahead of the pack. We’re already seeing it: He has a 2.11 ERA since the start of May after a rough April.
The Washington Nationals’ Max Scherzer and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw have gotten off to typical Scherzer and Kershaw starts, and that will be tough to beat. But Martinez, the Cardinals’ ace, has the stuff to take them head-to-head-t0-head into the dog days of summer.
Image Credit: Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports