Projecting Wainwright’s Potential Replacements

As unfortunate as the Adam Wainwright injury is for the Cardinals, they can hardly afford to wallow in shame. With all the rest of the talent on hand in St. Louis, the Cardinals are still within striking distance of the NL Central title as well as the Wild Card. How close they can come to a playoff appearance without one of the best pitchers in the game will largely depend on his replacement. The Cardinals look to have a few options. Internally, they can consider, among others, Bryan Augenstein, Kyle McClellan, P.J. Walters, and Ian Snell. Through free agency, they can consider Kevin Millwood and Chad Durbin. For the purposes of this exercise, I would like to avoid speculating on trades. Paul Swydan covered many of these yesterday, but today, I’d like to ask for your help with their projections.

McClellan has functioned completely as a reliever for the Cardinals since 2008, appearing in 68 games each season. In that role, McClellan has a fine 3.23 ERA, but his peripherals don’t look quite as hot. McClellan’s K/9 of 7.2 and BB/9 of 3.4 are nothing special in a relief role, and it’s not like McClellan is a Dave Duncan Special in terms of ground ball rate, although inducing 50% of ground balls is solid. The question for McClellan is how well his .270 career BABIP would translate into a starting role, with hitters seeing his stuff multiple times and fatigue potentially setting in the later innings.

Augenstein and Walters have limited Major League histories, throwing only 63 combined innings in the Major Leagues. Walters was unimpressive in his cup of coffee with St. Louis last year, but he has posted solid peripherals in AAA each of the last two seasons with FIPs below 3.75. Augenstein was plucked from the Diamondbacks organization in the offseason, and is most notable for posting one of the better minor league seasons in the game according to Dan Szymborski’s zMLEs

Ian Snell was supposed to be a reclamation project for the Seattle Mariners, but he was unable to return to the effectiveness he showed with the Pirates in 2007. Given that he is now three full years removed from that 3.5 WAR season, Snell’s MLB career will likely reach an end without a quick resurgence. But Dave Duncan has been able to find that magic with starters before, such as Joel Piniero and Jake Westbrook. Is Ian Snell next on that list?

The external options are less than exciting. Kevin Millwood only managed a 5.10 ERA and 4.86 FIP with Baltimore in 2010. A move out of Camden Yards and into the National League should help, but one has to wonder whether a 36-year-old starting pitcher with 2500 innings already in his right arm can manage to return to competence. Chad Durbin had a good 2010 for the Phillies in relief, with a 3.80 ERA and 3.97 FIP, but could he maintain that kind of success as a starter? Given his overall poor career numbers, chances don’t seem high.

Of course, there are some other options for the Cardinals, including Jeremy Bonderman, Miguel Batista, Adam Ottavino, and Lance Lynn, and you can click on these individual names to project them as well. But I think these first six will be enough work for most.

Click here to tell us how you think the various Cardinal SP replacements will do in 2011.

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Why would the Cardinals be ashamed of Wainwright’s injury?