Take the Lynn, Leave the Oswalt

by on March 27, 2012 · 6 comments

It’s not personal.  It’s business.  The St. Louis Cardinals do not need Roy Oswalt right now.  They may need him sometime down the road, but they really don’t need him right at this very moment.  Some people would have you believe otherwise, but it’s always easier when spending other people’s money.  Consider the pitchers that the Cardinals used in starts on a team that reached the 90 win plateau.

Basically, the starts provided by Jackson, McClellan, Batista, and Dickson are being replaced by Adam Wainwright this season.  Carpenter’s injury does not come complete with a solid timetable for his return, but let us assume that he won’t be available until July 1st as a practical worst case scenario.  Oswalt is already on record stating that he is content to hold out until the midway point of the season before signing with a team.  Even if he accelerates his schedule, it is unlikely that he would be ready to pitch at 100% effectiveness without something that resembles spring training for him.

Is it worth spending $5-7M for a pitcher that may plug a hole that will likely be open only a month or so?

Nope.  No way.  Not a chance.  It would be reckless to simply assume that the version of Roy Oswalt currently available is substantially better than the current options the Cardinals have.  The current version finished 2011 with a 3.69 ERA, a 105 ERA+, a 1.338 WHIP, 9.9 H/9, 6.0 SO/9, and a 2.82 SO/BB ratio.  He also turned in a .321 BAbip, and his splits vs RH hitters and LH hitters were arguably about even.  Keep in mind that the WHIP and hits per 9 innings were career highs for a season while the 6.0 strikeouts per 9 innings was a career low.  Maybe he just needed a good offseason to rest, but how much does he really have left?  Look closely at his monthly splits from last season.

  • April/March (5 starts) – 3.33 ERA, 1.037 WHIP, 7.0 SO/9, 3.00 SO/BB. .250 BAbip
  • May (3 starts) – 1.50 ERA, 1.500 WHIP, 4.0 SO/9, 2.67 SO/BB, .358 BAbip
  • June (5 starts) – 5.81 ERA, 1.519 WHIP, 4.4 SO/9, 1.63 SO/BB, .315 BAbip
  • August (4 starts) – 3.71 ERA, 1.613 WHIP, 6.8 SO/9, 4.00 SO/BB, .407 BAbip
  • Sept/Oct (6 starts) – 3.51 ERA, 1.171 WHIP, 6.8 SO/9, 3.10 SO/BB, .285 BAbip

Timely reminder: Oswalt is a ground ball pitcher, and he benefited greatly the last few years from having one of the best defenses in baseball behind him.  I’d argue that the trio of Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Shane Victorino was quite possibly the best middle defense combination in all of baseball.  The middle defenders for the Cardinals just might be the antithesis of J-Roll, ChUtley, and the Flyin’ Hawaiian.  There is no combination of Tyler Greene, Skip Schumaker, Rafael Furcal, Daniel Descalso, Erik Komatsu, Shane Robinson, Adron Chambers, and Jon Jay that comes even close (unless you allow 4 of them to play 3 positions, and even then…).  Just how much would Oswalt’s numbers suffer?  Maybe someone is motivated enough to do a scientific study involving timing batted balls and a 10×10 box.  I am not that man.

I’ll just unscientifically guesstimate that Oswalt would probably not be able to keep his BAbip below .300 even if he is at 100% for 2/3 or 1/2 of a season in St. Louis.  Maybe he can keep his WHIP below 1.200, but I doubt that as well, although I wouldn’t expect it to push up against the 1.300 mark.  Still, the point here is that Oswalt represents a likely upgrade over the likes of Kyle McClellan and Brandon Dickson, but he may not be all that much better than Lance Lynn (if at all).

Lynn started 2 games last season, and the Cardinals went 1-1 in those 2 starts.  If you told Mike Matheny that he could have a .500 record in games started by Lance Lynn until Chris Carpenter returns, would he take it?  Bet on it.  Sure, Lynn’s numbers are skewed by relatively short relief appearances, but he still turned in a 3.12 ERA, 1.038 WHIP, 6.5 H/9, and 10.4 SO/9.  Even if his ERA goes up a run, and his WHIP jumps to 1.250, would you take it?  I would, and I would take it in a heartbeat.  His BAbip last season was .275, and he absolutely owned right handed hitters (.187/.238/.267/.504).  Of course, his line against lefties wasn’t too shabby, either (.229/.327/.396/.723).  Considering that the division just lost a couple of big left-handed boppers in Prince Fielder and Carlos Pena, and Lynn seems to look viable on paper.  While his postseason work consists of a relatively small sample size, it is still worth noting that he pitched 5 1/3 innings against the division rival Brewers and surrendered exactly 0 runs in 5 appearances.  It’s not that I’m pointing to that as a harbinger of the future, but it shows that the moment is not too big for Lance Lynn.  Once again, I believe it’s time to “Give Lance a Chance!”

TIDBIT:  Just a friendly reminder that the NL Central may be a bit more crowded but weaker at the top than last year.  Why panic now, if the Cardinals didn’t panic in the face of the Wainwright news last year?

Follow gr33nazn on Twitter for more nonsense about BAbip!




Cardinals fan since I could hold a fishing pole steady. Accidental blogger. Opinionated. I could care less about what you think of me. Constantly confounded, bemused, and confuzzled (ie I'm a pc and a mac). I'm an IT infrastructure analyst with a penchant for breaking tech toys. I ate a sabermetric primer for breakfast. I love playing "All-powerful GM of MLB". The 2010 Cardinals represented a good, practical definition "cognitive dissonance". The 2011 version got by on duct tape and a prayer, and I'm fine with that. They just need new tape for #12 in 12.
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HitTheCutoff March 27, 2012

For what it’s worth, here are the ZiPS projections for Lynn and Oswalt:

Lynn: 29 G, 20 GS, 126 1/3 IP, 128 H, 54 BB, 93 K, 93 ERA+
Oswalt: 25 G, 25 GS, 154 IP, 150 H, 39 BB, 114 K, 108 ERA+

I’d bet the over on Lynn’s numbers. But in any case, there are practical considerations that can’t be ignored, namely that Lynn is ready to go right now and Oswalt isn’t, and Lynn is much more likely to hold up himself, while Oswalt would be liable to replace Carp, then join him on the DL soon enough. If Carp’s return gets delayed and other injury problems hit the rotation, it would make sense to check on Oswalt again mid-season, but for now, I think you’re right: Lynn is the right call.

Dennis March 27, 2012

I did look at ZiPS, but I really wasn’t so sure about how many games to factor into the equation. However, the primary practical consideration I have is the “millions of dollars” one which would impact flexibility later in the season.

Sir Sci March 27, 2012

I definitely think that Oswalt is a better pitcher in the short term than Lynn, but having part of a season as a #5 starter could really help his development as a long term member of the Cardinals’ rotation that features Waino, Gracia, Miller, Lynn, +1. I like seeing the playing time going to a Lynn in this situation.

Dennis March 27, 2012

I tend to agree about Oswalt, but the fact that he isn’t “game ready” is a huge issue for me. Besides, I would bet that Shelby Miller will be ready by the time Carp is ready, and that possibility mitigates any concerns I have about the Cardinals having enough starting pitching. The Cardinals can start with Lohse, Wainwright, Garcia, Westbrook, and Lynn, but they could possibly be choosing from Lohse, Wainwright, Garcia, Westbrook, Lynn, Carpenter, Miller, and Oswalt by midseason. That’s not exactly a bad situation to be in.

OtherScreen March 28, 2012

The other significant bit that works in Lynn’s favor is that he’s an asset we can cultivate now and benefit from in the future while Oswalt is just a rental.

The Mozeliak / DeWitt approach of moving towards younger, cost controlled, homegrown assets (Freese, Craig, Jay, the bullpen, Greene) plus a handful of big stars (Holliday, Yadi, Waino, Carp) and augmented by strategic rentals (Furcal and Beltran) makes a lot of sense.

Adding Oswalt without giving Lynn a shot would just be antithetical to the way we’re rolling these days. Give Lynn the shot. If he struggles, check with Carp. If 29’s not ready, see how Dickson (or Miller?) feels.

If, on the other hand, Lynn emerges as a quality back of the rotation starter, we’ve got yet another pitching asset on hand as we build for the next decade. There will be quality rentals available later in the summer if we need them. I, for one, think we won’t end up needing one anyway.

Dennis March 28, 2012

The cultivation part is probably a bigger factor than most of us realize or will every fully understand. In addition to a philosophy regarding who to structure a roster, I believe that the organization has a pretty solid blueprint for turning raw talent into more polished pitching help. I also think that there may be an aspect of the maturation process that they are hoping to deal with by promoting players in their mid-20s. Let the players sort themselves out with a little extra time in the minors in order to avoid as much stupidity as possible later on.

If for some reason Carp is out longer than just June, then I could still see the team using Shelby Miller to bridge the gap. He may only need a small number of starts to be at least a reasonably decent pitcher at the major league level. If they don’t want to go that route, there is still McClellan in addition to Dickson as well.

I’m still more inclined to think that Lynn will work out just fine. I was actually in attendance at his major league debut, and he his stuff was good enough, but he hadn’t figured out how to actually pitch to major league hitters. He’s learned enough to go out and give the team 5-6 innings per start on most days, and anything more would be pure gravy.

Thanks for reading.

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