Joe Maddon set a roster for the one-game Wild Card Playoff Game in Pittsburgh that emphasized the versatility of his bench and the depth of his bullpen. Maddon had that luxury because, as a single game, he only had to carry two starting pitchers, even though Maddon elected to carry Kyle Hendricks anyway.
The Division Series is a different beast. In making out his roster for the Division Series, Maddon has 21 spots to fill beyond the starting pitcher quartet of Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, and Jason Hammel. With the information we have available, let's take a look at who those 21 players are likely to be, starting with a look at what the Cardinals' probable starting pitchers can tell us.
Although the Cardinals' pitching has been very strong all year, they are certainly not a perfect group. The Cardinals have announced that the starters for Games 1 through 4 will be, in order, John Lackey, Jaime Garcia, Michael Wacha, and Lance Lynn.
The handedness splits for that quartet are incredible.
Lackey's FIP versus left-handers is nearly twice that of his FIP against righties (4.84 v. 2.59). All of his rate statistics support the notion as he walks lefties more than twice as frequently, strikes out half as many lefties, and allows nearly twice as many homers to lefties. The average righty against Lackey is like Matt Szczur; the average lefty is like Miguel Montero.
There's no beating around the bush: Jaime Garcia has been marvelous this season despite missing time with a couple of injuries. His 2015 splits have been very similar with the gap largely explained by the superior BABIP of left-handed hitters. Righties have hit a dreadful .215/.266/.292 off of Garcia in 2015; lefties have been only a bit better at .248/.304/.327. It's basically the difference between Jonathan Herrera and Mike Baxter. However, that basically-insignificant gap has held true for his entire career at this point. Garcia tends to be a hair better against righties than lefties.
Wacha is the most interesting case as he has shown a pronounced reverse platoon split this year with lefties coming in at just .212/.284/.333 and righties hitting a solid .248/.313/.404. The platoon has been eerily consistent thus far in his short career.
That said: much of the platoon advantage is driven by a large BABIP gap that favors right-handed hitters. Wacha has struck out fewer lefties while walking them more frequently. However, right-handers have hit for significantly better power against Wacha, specifically of the home run variety.
Lynn is very much a traditionalist like Lackey. Whereas Lynn has largely kept right-handers at bay (.241/.302/.321), lefties have mauled him to the tune of a .269/.362/.447 line. Basically, the average lefty against Lance Lynn is the midpoint between Kyle Schwarber and Chris Coghlan. You can drool now.
Lynn has struggled mightily against the Cubs this year. In four starts, two in September, he threw just 17.2 innings while allowing 16 runs (15 earned), 21 hits, and 11 walks while striking out 19. In both September starts, Joe Maddon loaded up the lineup with left-handed hitters before heavily substituting right-handers later in the game.
BONUS: Kevin Siegrist
The Cardinals non-Trevor Rosenthal relief ace, the flamethrowing southpaw has one of the most pronounced reverse platoon splits that you'll ever see for a relief pitcher. Left-handers have absolutely annihilated Siegrist (.259/.406/.405) while he has completely shut down right-handers (.163/.236/.275).
DOUBLE BONUS: Tyler Lyons
The other lefty in the St. Louis 'pen, Lyons showed almost no platoon split whatsoever, with his FIP and xFIP both actually a bit worse against lefties than against righties.
What Does It All Mean?
As you can see above, of the Cardinals projected starting pitchers, two have extreme splits that favor the presence of left-handed hitters (Lackey, Lynn) while another is basically split-proof (Garcia) and the other struggles a bit more with righties (Wacha). As for the Cardinals relievers, both Siegrist and Lyons both showing reverse platoon splits and with the lone viable LOOGY, Randy Choate, left off of the Division Series roster.
You can probably see where this is going. With limited roster spots, I think that there's a very good chance Joe Maddon will leave a right-handed hitter off of the Division Series roster who we otherwise would expect to make it. Let's take a look at the roster projection with the above information in mind.
C Miguel Montero
C David Ross
1B Anthony Rizzo
2B Starlin Castro
SS Addison Russell
3B/OF Kris Bryant
OF Chris Coghlan
OF Dexter Fowler
OF Kyle Schwarber
SP Jon Lester
SP Jake Arrieta
SP Kyle Hendricks
SP Jason Hammel
RP Hector Rondon
RP Pedro Strop
RP Justin Grimm
RP Travis Wood
That gets us to nine position players and eight pitchers. Based on what we've seen above and on Wednesday night's lineup, 2B/3B Tommy La Stella is going to make the roster, too, leaving seven additional spots. I suspect that Maddon wants to keep his seven-man bullpen, meaning three additional relievers are needed. Again, based on last night's roster and their usage, I suspect that this trio will be Clayton Richard, Trevor Cahill, and Fernando Rodney. In fact, any other relievers making the roster would be a big surprise at this point, though its worth noting that Carl Edwards, Jr., Tommy Hunter, and Neil Ramirez could be in consideration if Maddon wants that eighth reliever.
More likely, there will be four additional spots for this group of seven:
OF Chris Denorfia
OF Jorge Soler
OF Austin Jackson
OF Quintin Berry
OF Matt Szczur
2B/SS Javier Baez
2B Jonathan Herrera
Herrera is only on that list as an homage to his intangible contributions this year and Szczur clearly lacks the trust of the coaching staff, meaning that the final spots come down to four of Denorfia, Soler, Jackson, Berry, and Baez.
Now it's really interesting.
I suspect that Baez makes it on the strength of his glovework and given his presence as the only remaining infielder on this list. That said, it wouldn't be stunning if Baez doesn't make it.
I think Berry makes it as a running specialist. That just makes sense.
It leaves two spots for Denorfia, Soler, and Jackson.
I'm not going to pretend that this is an easy decision. The best defender of the trio, Jackson, also happens to be the worst hitter against right-handed pitchers. The guy who the team has relied upon the most this year, Denorfia, has struggled mightily in the second half before a BABIP-fueled run in September. And the best hitter of the group, Soler, is basically unplayable in the outfield and had limited reps in his return from an oblique injury.
In the end, I think that Maddon will keep Soler and a defensive caddy. Whether that's Denorfia or Jackson is basically a coin flip, but for the sake of prediction, I'll say that it is Denorfia.
Just don't be surprised if Soler is the odd man out.
One thing is abundantly clear at the end of this exercise: the Cubs have enough playoff-caliber talent on their ballclub that they're going to leave someone on the outside looking in. What a delightful problem to have!
Who do you think will make up the final 25-man Division Series roster?