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HRABE: For Shelby’s Sake, Deal At The Deadline

By Chris Hrabe
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UPI/Bill Greenblatt

UPI/Bill Greenblatt

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I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the Cardinals need to trade for another starting pitching. Wednesday night’s game against the Astros didn’t change my thinking one bit.

What’s the main reason behind my thinking? Shelby Miller. It isn’t QUITE as simple as that, but it’s a good start.

(DISCLAIMER: This column assumes that Chris Carpenter’s return is not a viable option for the Cardinals rotation. If it is, that’s gravy, but right now the name of the game should be cautious, cautious, cautious, EXTREMELY CAUTIOUS optimism. With that being said, let’s continue.)

I’ve talked about the need for the last month or so, and as we have seen numbers and performances for the most part regress to the mean as innings and pitch counts pile up, I think it continues to be pretty clear.

You can’t argue with the success the entire staff (especially the starters) has had this season.  The Cardinals are (and have been all season) just about the best staff in the National League, according to most of the numbers. Per Fangraphs (as always, all following numbers are per Fangraphs):

  • ERA:             3.35 (3rd)
  • FIP:               3.23 (1st)
  • K/9:               7.86 (3rd)
  • BB/9:            2.43 (1st)
  • HR/9:           0.66 (1st)
  • GB/FB:         1.58 (2nd)
  • WAR:            11.8 (1st)

Sure, the numbers are great. But performance isn’t necessarily the chief concern when advocating for adding an arm to the rotation. It’s if you’ll be able to count on that performance down the stretch, especially from your young arms. The young arm that we will focus on today belongs to Shelby Miller.

It has always been the plan to give Shelby Miller some extra rest when it would be possible as the season wore on. The Cardinals will do so out of the All Star Break and also be mindful of the rookie’s workload down the stretch.

Last year, Miller threw 150 1/3 innings in Memphis and St. Louis combined. Miller will enter the All Star Break with 104 2/3 innings under his belt, and threw more than 103 pitches per start.

That may not seem like a ton of pitches, but it’s almost 18 an inning, and more than 4 per plate appearance (among the worst in the National League.) What does that project to if he pitched the rest of the year?

If Miller pitched on normal rest the remainder of the year, he would start (most likely) 32 total times this season. If his numbers remained consistent as far as innings and pitches, that would put him at around 180 IP by the end of the regular season.

Most people around baseball would tell you that an increase of 25 to 30 innings for a pitcher like Miller this year would be fine, but then what does that mean for his realistic usage when the regular season comes to a close?

Miller being a part of a deep playoff run means that you need to find ways to get him rest and keep his innings down in the second half of the season. A second half that includes only four total off days in the months of August and September combined.

So, how do you get Miller that rest?

Sure, there have been plenty of young arms that have filled in for the Cards this year, but that poses the same problem – the need to control innings and pitch counts for those guys. Is that something that can happen in a pennant race?

Add those factors to the pitching available at this year’s deadline and the Cardinals loaded farm system, and I think it’s pretty clear that picking up a starting pitcher solves a lot

I’m not suggesting that a deal needs to be swung for Cliff Lee. I think you can satisfy the back end of the rotation and some extra rest for Miller with a quality (you guessed it) back end of the rotation guy.

I’m talking about names like Bud Norris, Jason Vargas, Kyle Kendrick, Joe Saunders or Kevin Slowey. Vargas and Norris have been mentioned before. Kendrick and Slowey intrigue me because their contracts are up after this year. Saunders has a mutual option for 2014.

Not only would the price for a guy like that be reasonable (wouldn’t take a top prospect) but you’d be able to satisfy the rest Miller needs with an arm that can handle it. When the postseason rolls around, you could even slide that guy into the bullpen and go back to Wainwright-Lynn-Westbrook-Miller.

It just makes sense. Don’t let the numbers fool you. There is (and should be) concern about Miller’s workload. And this is a perfect way to solve it headed towards a postseason run that everyone in the organization hopes is very deep.

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