by Eno Sarris //
Reports of a $17.5 million, two-year contract between Jake Westbrook
mean that the right-hander must like pitching in St. Louis, or at least
enjoy taking their money. If he can continue to put up his late-2010
numbers, the Cardinals and fantasy owners will like him right back.
In twelve post-trade starts, Westbrook bettered his strikeout rate (from
5.15 K/9 to 6.60 K/9), walk rate (from 3.10 BB/9 to 2.88 BB/9),
groundball rate (from 53.3% to 62%), and home run rate (from 1.06
HR/9 to .60 HR/9). His ERA (3.48) and WHIP (1.25) matched his
peripherals, and if it weren’t for the small sample size, the magic
eightball would read “signs point to yes” when asked about Westbrook’s 2011.
But the small sample size is a fact, and it makes for some doubt. Was
the improved performance more Dave Duncan magic? Or was it simply a move
to the weaker, and DH-less, league? Or did Westbrook finally recover
from the Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss much of 2008 and all
of 2009? Finally, was it just a short, fun, 12-start run?
Let’s use the largest sample size possible and compare Westbrook’s NL
work to his career numbers. The first thing that leaps out is that his
post-trade control (career 2.80 BB/9) and groundball work (career 59%) look legit.
He can repeat those aspects of his game, and they will help to limit the
damage when batters make contact. Fewer ducks on the pond and fewer
home runs make for fewer five-run innings.
We are left to wonder about the strikeout rate. Westbrook’s contract and groundball rates look like erstwhile Cardinal Joel Piniero‘s
numbers in those categories, so it’s no surprise that the two pitchers share similar career strikeout rates as well (Westbrook: 5.03 K/9; Piniero: 5.57 K/9). Piniero’s 2009 probably provides us a definition of new Cardinal’s upside. Moving
from the AL to the NL might make for a little boost for Westbrook, but his
best season-long strikeout rate as a starter was 5.51 in 2007, and he’s
now three years older. It would be folly to predict many more strikeouts
than five-and-a-half per nine in 2011.
Still, as he puts more distance between his current self and his
surgery, the likelihood that Westbrook finds his old control increases (from 2004-2006, his walks per nine ranged from 2.34 to 2.55). Paired with a slight uptick in strikeouts, and his always-excellent
groundball rates, Westbrook is a fairly safe bet for fantasy relevance
in most leagues – even if he probably won’t repeat his excellent
late-season numbers from last year.
For more on Jake Westbrook and other late-draft pitching options, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office.
By R.J. Anderson //
Biggest Surprise: Jake Westbrook
Acquired at the trade deadline in a three-way deal, Westbrook excelled in his 12 starts with the Cardinals, following in the footsteps of other veteran pitchers paired with St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan. Lasting 75 innings with a 2.29 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 3.48 ERA, he deserved better than a 4-4 record. A free-agent-to-be, Westbrook may or may not return to St. Louis; his performance certainly may have endeared him to some new potential suitors.
Biggest Bust: Kyle Lohse
Owner of mediocre seasons in the past, this one is on another level. Lohse endured a forearm injury while making only 18 starts. His 4-8 record and 6.55 ERA look bad, but his peripherals suggest his ERA should’ve been in the 4-5 range. Expect Lohse to be better next season, if only because he can’t be much worse.
2011 Keeper Alert: Adam Wainwright
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 24-plus months, then no explanation is required. He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball (7th in Pitching Wins Above Replacement this season) and should continue to be so for the foreseeable future.
2011 Regression Alert: Jeff Suppan
Suppan had a 3.84 ERA for the Cardinals. Let that sink in for a moment. Okay, now consider that Suppan’s seasonal ERA was 5.06. Believe it or not, 70% of his innings came with the Cards, and yet his nightmare performance with the Brewers still capsized his season. He’s not quite as bad as the 7.84 ERA with the Brew Crew, but he’s also not nearly as good as his 3.84 mark. Expect an ERA near 5 over a full season of starts (he’s at 4.69 for his career) with whomever decides he’s worthy of a roster spot next year. Just don’t let it be your fantasy team.
For more on the Cardinals, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.