The St. Louis Cardinals have a problem. But it is a good problem to have. They have too many quality pitchers.
In 2013, the Cardinals pitching depth was tested with numerous injuries and an extended playoff run. The Cardinals continuously tapped into their young talent pool and pulled out unproven pitchers who came through amazingly in a season that ended just two wins short of a world championship. Now that many of those pitchers have proven themselves and veterans like Jaime Garcia and Jason Motte are returning from last season’s injuries, the Cardinals might have more pitchers than they know what to do with.
Unprecedented pitching depth may call for an unorthodox plan to maximize that strength. The St. Louis Cardinals should seriously consider a starting pitching rotation that includes six pitchers, rather than the traditional five.
Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, and Joe Kelly all have made strong cases for their inclusion in the Cardinals 2014 starting rotation. Wainwright is a no-brainer, he is the ace. After Wacha’s finish to 2013 it would be silly to not include him in the rotation.
Garcia is returning from injury, but he is the only lefthander of the group and he has been very good when healthy. Lynn has certainly had his struggles, but he has won 33 games over the past two seasons, tied with Wainwright for the most in the National League during that span. Miller had a great rookie season, and he was mysteriously shelved for the postseason, presumably to save him for future seasons such as this upcoming one. Kelly started last season in the bullpen, and stepped up tremendously when asked to be a starter, so demoting him back to the already-crowded bullpen would be demeaning.
Traditionalists would counter that it is always a good idea to have a starting pitcher in reserve in case of any possible injury (or in the Cardinals’ case, for when Jaime Garcia gets injured). But in that event the Cards can turn to the ultra-talented Carlos Martinez who is a starter by trade but was phenomenal in the Cardinal bullpen during the postseason. If he is not quite ready, or if there are multiple injuries, they also have Tyler Lyons who pitched pretty well for a rookie when filling in last year.
Adam Wainwright is a Cy Young caliber pitcher and the Cardinals obviously do not want to take starts away from him by having a longer rotation. They should create a system where he pitches every fifth day, and still implement the other five starters in the rotation. The advantages of this could be more rest for the other five. Miller and Wacha are still developing, so if the Cards want to limit their total innings, this could be an effective way to do so without having to shut either of them down late in the year or during the playoffs. Garcia and Lynn have both shown signs of fatigue in the later stages of previous years, so this plan could keep them fresher for when the games matter most. Additionally Joe Kelly has never gone through an entire major league season as a starter, so this plan could curb the big jump in innings he might otherwise get.
The Cardinals are playing for October, barring a catastrophe they should win the division and secure a playoff spot. Recall that Garcia missed most of last season, Allen Craig missed a month, and Yadier Molina missed two weeks, and they still won 97 games. The Cards have the depth to withstand a few injuries. They have every reason to try an experiment such as a six-man rotation; even if it costs them a couple of regular season games, it will all be worth it if it gets all the pitchers ready for the postseason.
If the worst case scenario occurs and the six-man rotation is not working, or there are too many injuries to keep it going, they can always reset back to a traditional five-man rotation. But it is at least worth a try at the beginning of this 2014 season so that the Cardinals can maximize their young starters’ effectiveness towards the end of the season and into October.