2016 Outlook: Considering Martinez had already tossed almost 80 more innings than he did in 2014, it wasn't a completely bad thing a shoulder injury cut his season one start short, along with missing the playoffs. Before shutting down, Martinez solidified his front-of-the-rotation potential, parlaying his 95.3 mph fastball (sixth best in MLB) into more than a whiff an inning. The righty's other strength is avoiding home runs, aided by a groundball rate over 50 percent and a home venue, Busch Stadium, that squashes power. The only thing separating the 24-year-old from ace status is a slightly above-average walk rate and a few more innings. The innings are a good bet. While his minor league history doesn't portend a huge drop in bases on balls, recent trends suggest you shouldn't bet against it. Chances are we'll be talking about an ace this time next year.
2016 Outlook: Everyone remembers Wainwright missed most of last season with an Achilles injury but forget he began the season coming off of minor elbow surgery, not to mention an abdomen pull which cost him some of spring training. Wainwright's strikeout rate was already on the decline before last season, though it didn't seem to affect his performance in 2014. However, from a fantasy sense, despite strong ratios, fewer whiffs drops him down at least a tier, especially since he's not likely to come anywhere near the 230 innings or so he routinely racked up a few years back. That said, Wainwright's excellent control, along with his ability to induce groundballs while being supported by a strong defense in a great pitcher's park should again result in a near-elite ERA and WHIP. Just realize fewer innings not only lowers strikeouts but also lessens the impact of ratios.
2016 Outlook: On the surface, Wacha's 2015 season looks much like his 2014 one. He made 30 starts for the first time in his professional career, but was still limited to 181.1 innings. Moreover, Wacha faded in September, posting a 7.88 ERA over 24 innings in the season's final month. It's reasonable to think that fatigue set in late in the year with the increased workload, but Wacha should be better equipped for a run at the 200-inning threshold in 2016. Working with four quality pitches, Wacha has flashed the potential for elite control (5.5 BB% in the first half) and the ability to miss bats at a steady clip (career 21.2 K%). An increased groundball rate (45.8 GB%) last season was offset by the highest home-run rate (0.94 HR/9) of Wacha's career, but it's worth noting that seven of his 19 home runs allowed came during his September struggles. If everything comes together, Wacha could take another step forward in his third full season with the Cards.
2016 Outlook: The 130 innings that Garcia worked in 2015 was his highest total in the past four seasons. When healthy, and that's always a big caveat, the skills are good. He can miss bats, and the ones he doesn't miss beat the ball into the infield at an extreme rate for a starting pitcher. He also doesn't walk many batters and is typically stingy with the long ball. He has everything you'd want from a starting pitcher on a fantasy roster except for the one thing that holds it all together -- health. Set your projections to 20 starts and count each one above that as a bonus. The number one indicator of a pitching injury is a previous injury, and Garcia has plenty of those.
2016 Outlook: The best way to describe Leake is to call him a right-handed Mark Buehrle. While Leake may use a little more than .0001 seconds Buehrle needed between pitches, they're essentially the same guy. Lots of innings? Check. Low walk rate? Check. Low strikeout rate? Check. After six seasons in the big leagues, we have a great idea of who Leake is, because he's been the same guy all six seasons. He generates plenty of ground balls, yet has a problem with the long ball when he doesn't keep the ball down in the zone. Pencil in 12 wins, a mid 3's ERA, 1.20 WHIP and work from there while paying respect to the #CardinalMagic factor that could lead to a career year.
2016 Outlook: Lyons was sharp in 17 appearances (eight starts) for St. Louis last year, with a 3.75 ERA (106 ERA+) and 60 strikeouts against 15 walks. However, the Cardinals' rotation is full heading into 2015, and Lyons is likely destined for a bullpen role as a result. He has occupied a swingman role for the Cardinals since coming up for the first time in 2013. He has been far superior as a reliever (1.91 ERA, 44 K in 42.1 innings) than as a starter (5.20 ERA, 95 K in 107.1 innings), so even if he does make it into the rotation somehow, it's hard to expect much fantasy value coming from Lyons.
2016 Outlook: Once regarded as one of the top pitching prospects in the Cardinals' system, Gonzales has fallen back in the pecking order of the young pitchers in St. Louis. The left-hander spent the bulk of 2015 with Triple-A Memphis, but couldn't manage better than a 5.45 ERA and 6.6 K/9. He also had trouble with the longball, as he allowed 1.3 home runs per nine innings with the Redbirds. Things weren't better in his single start in the majors, as the former first-rounder was shelled for seven hits and four earned runs in 2.2 innings. With the signing of Mike Leake, Gonzales will need an injury to have a shot at cracking the rotation out of camp, and even then he'd be competing with Tim Cooney and Tyler Lyons, both of whom had more success in the majors than he did last season.