Palm Beach tandem starters done

2009 marks the third year of the St. Louis Cardinals’ use of the tandem starter system at Class A, implemented by two full-season clubs, Palm Beach of the A-Advanced Florida State League and Quad Cities of the A-level Midwest League.

The primary benefit is to enable the organization to develop eight starting pitchers rather than five by pairing four groups of pitchers. The two in each pair take turns starting every fourth day, with the other following in relief. The starter might go five innings or 70-80 pitches, with the second starter scheduled to take over in the sixth.

Just as in 2008, the system has first been abandoned at A-Advanced Palm Beach, though this time around it occurred 19 games or about three weeks earlier than last season. The flash point was the promotion of ace Lance Lynn (pictured) to Double-A Springfield last weekend, but as one Cardinals official explained, “it wasn’t working as well this season as last.”

At the time the deployment of the tandem starters ended last season, the Florida State League club had played 40 games. The club’s record was a stellar 25-15 (.625), the second-best mark in the league and a major contributor to their four-game lead in the FSL East Division.

This season, the final game of the approach occurred on May 1, or about three weeks into the season. The club had a losing record, at 9-12 (.429). In all fairness however, it is difficult to assess the amount of blame for the decline to be placed on the tandem system itself. Clearly the club was looking for a change as when the switch was made, the Cardinals had lost 11 of their previous 13 games.

As the following table shows, the 2009 tandem starters did not earn a single win, in significant contrast to 2008. They had just five decisions in 21 starts. The piggyback starters managed a .500 record but blew four of five save opportunities this season, not performing as well as in 2008. The true relievers are doing slightly better in 2009 in terms of wins and losses, but do not seem to be the difference-makers in terms of this year-to-year comparison.

Looking at the offensive support provided helps to confirm the problems are not all pitching. The hitters’ scoring is down year-to-year between a half and three-quarters of a run per game. The Palm Beach offense is in the bottom third of the league in scoring this season despite them being third in batting average.

2008 40 games Won-Loss No-decisions Saves/opps Runs/game
Tandem starters 9-8 23
Piggyback starters 10-2 6 of 8
Relievers 6-5 not avail
Offense 4.28
2009 21 games
Tandem starters 0-5 16
Piggyback starters 5-5 1 of 5
Relievers 4-2 5 of 6
Offense 3.67

In terms of the pitchers themselves, here are the initial pairings from the start of the season:

Mark Diapoules / Ryan Kulik

Brian Broderick / Lynn

David Kopp / Nick Additon

Shaun Garceau / Richard Castillo

Thomas Eager was the first starter candidate to move into relief as he was the odd man out from the nine potential starters coming out of spring training. Eager has been very busy out of the pen with a dozen appearances since.

This starting group remained intact until April 27 when Kulik was called up to Springfield. Scott Gorgen, coming off minor shoulder surgery, was promoted from Extended Spring Training to replace him.

Next was Lynn’s promotion on May 2. Chuckie Fick, who had been starting at Quad Cities, was the replacement. However, he went directly into relief upon joining Palm Beach.

The other tandem starters now moved to the bullpen are Garceau and Diapoules, leaving Gorgen, Broderick, Additon, Kopp and Castillo as the five-man rotation going forward.

Looking at the following table, sorted by ERA, one can understand how the decisions were made, as the two pitchers with the highest ERAs were reassigned to relief. Kulik’s ERA was not tidy, but check out his strikeout to walk ratio – same as Lynn’s 17-to-3 when he was promoted.

Those currently starting are denoted with an “S”, those promoted with a “P” and the pitchers moved to relief are labeled with an “R”.

The remaining guys really need to cut down on the free passes. As a team, the Cardinals currently lead the FSL with 107 walks, a bloated total that is 26% higher than the second-worst team and 41% above the league average.

Scott Gorgen S 0 0 1.29 2 1 7 2 1 1 3 6 0.71
Lance Lynn P 0 0 2.30 5 2 15.2 16 4 4 3 17 1.21
David Kopp S 1 2 3.18 6 4 22.2 25 8 8 9 17 1.50
Brian Broderick S 2 1 3.65 6 4 24.2 22 10 10 3 10 1.01
Nick Additon S 0 1 4.82 6 3 18.2 16 17 10 13 12 1.55
Richard Castillo S 0 3 5.14 6 3 21 26 17 12 11 8 1.76
Ryan Kulik P 1 1 5.25 4 2 12 15 7 7 3 17 1.50
Mark Diapoules R 1 1 5.79 6 3 14 18 10 9 14 11 2.29
Shaun Garceau R 0 2 6.16 6 3 19 15 14 13 9 12 1.26

It remains to be seen if the change can help right the Cardinals’ ship, but at least most of the way the first time through, it hasn’t yet helped the bottom line.

Since the tandem system was scrapped, four more defeats have ensued on 18 total runs allowed. That has extended Palm Beach’s skid to seven in a row and 15 losses in their last 18 games.

Hopefully, the Cardinals brass can come up with a way to tweak the offense too, as they scored just 11 runs in the four games, or fewer than three runs per, a trend that is not heading in the right direction.

For current rosters and up-to-date transactions at all levels of the Cardinals minor league system, don’t forget to check out the Roster Matrix.

Note that Future Redbirds has also posted a Palm Beach “Club Check” in the last 24 hours with additional information on the team worth checking out.