Nick Cafardo writes that the Cardinals and Roy Oswalt have expressed a mutual interest for the 2012 season. In turn, Joe Strauss postulates (despite admitting that the front office is hush) that the organization would only be interested in using Oswalt in a relief role given that the rotation for 2012 is “set.” Never mind the fact that I am less than committed to the belief that the 2012 rotation is set when you’re hearing Kyle Lohse trade rumors and your fifth starter is Jake Westbrook. Given the indecision, I’d like to take a look at the 2011 rotation and our potential 2012 rotation.
In 2011, we had a rotation that looked like this:
|Pitcher||2011 GB%||2011 K/9||2011 BB/9||2011 WAR|
As for the 5th Starters, this is a category that includes Edwin Jackson, Kyle McClellan, Lance Lynn, Miguel Batista, and Brandon Dickson. Edwin Jackson had the most substantial impact in the rotation, starting 12 games for the Cardinals. I made sure to utilize only the pitchers’ numbers in games where they played the role of Starter so we’re not looking at stats which include Lynn’s and K-Mac’s bullpen time.
(Also, in looking at Lance Lynn, one thing that I must point out is how exceedingly strong his GB% was last season as a starter – but it’s such a small sample size (just ten innings) that I can’t put much stock in it. There will be more coming on Lance Lynn in the next day or two as a follow up to this post. There’s a good case to be made for Lance Lynn and this 5th spot in the rotation.)
Getting back to the meat of this particular topic, let’s take a look at Roy Oswalt. Literally just six months ago NBC Sports Hardball Talk was talking about Roy Oswalt’s career potentially being over. It’s entirely possible that he’s not fit for a rotation slot at all, and that’s where the idea that the Cardinals would eye him for a bullpen spot. However, given the nature of our bullpen in the latter half of 2011 and how well-constructed the crew is based on their cost-effective contribution, it makes little sense to invest this money in Roy Oswalt as a reliever.
Oswalt’s recent health issues aside, what is important to look at is his potential to fit within the Cardinals’ well-established doctrine of first-pitch strikes and groundballs… by the plenty. Over his career his GB% has averaged out to 47.3% which isn’t so bad and almost right in line with where the Cardinals have sat over the last 5 seasons. Under Dave Duncan’s oversight (which as I’m learning at the writing of this article on this Thursday evening will come to an end for the 2012 season) the Cardinals have put together a GB% of 48% since 2006. Roy Oswalt would fit within that mold for the Cardinals, but the staggering statistic of this inquiry is Jake Westbrook’s impeccable ability to induce the groundball. Westbrook has, over his career, averaged out to a 59% groundball percentage. That is, along with Westbrook’s relative health and durability, his primary bright spot.
Let’s take a look at some comparisons of Roy Oswalt and Jake Westbrook for the 2012 season:
As you can see and could easily suspect from the outset, Oswalt projects very well in comparison to Jake Westbrook next season. James is very optimistic towards Westbrook’s number of stars versus both the ZiPS projection and his own expectation of Oswalt. One interesting note is how low Oswalt’s actual 2011 HR/9 was in comparison to his career averages despite playing in such a favorable hitter’s park last season and it was in fact his second-lowest HR/9 he’s ever posted. James HR/9 projection on Oswalt seems the most likely as it’s most in line with his career average and you could expect – were Oswalt to pitch for the Cardinals – Busch Stadium would play a role in suppressing his HR totals at least a bit.
Oswalt is definitely the better pitcher, injury concerns or no, and the fact of the matter is the Cardinals are very well-situated to sustain any possible injury if they were to sign Oswalt to take the fifth spot in the rotation. Westbrook will still be on the team, Lance Lynn has shown a lot of upside, Shelby Miller continues to improve and posts a nearly above-league average projection via ZiPS for the 2012 season as a 21-year old (94 ERA+, league average being 96). The Cardinals can afford to take a risk for a potentially big return on a guy like Roy Oswalt right now.
Wainwright is coming off of a surgery from which pitchers recover very well these days so I feel fairly strongly that there’s no lack of confidence in Wainwright’s ability to pitch a full season in 2012. Chris Carpenter, however, is a bit of a concern with his age and the number of innings put on his arm last season. Given that, the possibility of another starter in the mix – if Oswalt is healthy enough to reasonably expect him to perform next year – makes enough sense to me to take the risk. He projects out well and if he feels good then he’s a good enough pitcher to see what he can do. If his injury turns out to be more of a factor than the team or Oswalt himself expected, then we have a few solid options to fill the void.