These 3 NL Central Pitchers Can Rebound in 2024

Will these arms bounce back in 2024?

The NL Central was, yet again, a strange division in 2023. While the Brewers were the lone team to reach the playoffs, four of the five teams were in contention to win the division throughout the year, and the Cardinals, the lone team that struggled from the start, led the division the year prior.

This was primarily the result of solid pitching, as the Cubs and Brewers both had a team ERA+ of over 110. While other teams had some weaker pitching results last season, some acquisitions were made by these teams to bolster their pitching expectations for 2024.

Additionally, some younger pitchers regressed after a solid first “cup of coffee” in the majors in 2022. Some pitchers matching this criteria are Roansy ContrerasLance Lynn (acquired by the Cardinals after a split season with the White Sox and Dodgers in 2023), and Hayden Wesneski.

While these three had poor 2023 seasons, with some adjustments, I believe they can have a successful 2024 season for their respective teams.


Roansy Contreras


Contreras pitched in his first semi-full MLB season in 2022 after a single appearance in 2021, generating a promising 3.79 ERA and 4.38 FIP over 95 innings. However in 2023, Contreras had an abysmal 6.59 ERA and 5.19 FIP, splitting time between the rotation and bullpen.

Acquired by the Pirates in the Jameson Taillon trade with the Yankees, Contreras was a rare prospect success story in 2022 for the Pirates, as they have had trouble developing solid pitching prospects in the past. Instead, in 2023, Contreras regressed sharply, as his strikeout and walk numbers dropped from solid to below average.

While his hard-hit numbers stayed relatively the same, Contreras was punished much more frequently when batters reached base.

Some of this lack of success could be attributed to mechanical issues. Contreras struggled to keep consistent with his mechanics throughout the season, leading to problems with command and velocity. This led to a few trips to the minors throughout the season, yet Contreras still got worse as the season progressed.

A fresh start in 2024 could also help Contreras mentally, while a clean bill of health entering spring training could help set him up for more success.

Another problem with Contreras’s lack of success as a starter would be his pitch arsenal.

Data via Baseball Savant (dotted circle = league average)

Contreras heavily relies on two pitches, as his slider and four-seamer were thrown a combined ~85% of the time in 2023. His curveball and changeup are still used occasionally, although starters typically succeed through a wider, more consistently used variety of pitches.

Neither of Contreras’s primary offerings were excellent either. His four-seamer was crushed in 2023, with hitters slugging .598 against the pitch and its Whiff% dropping from 17.9% in 2022 to 9.7%. It dropped about a tick in velocity from 2022 as well, likely stemming from his mechanical issues.

His slider was his best pitch again, generating elite whiffs while mostly limiting damage.

As mentioned earlier, it’d be difficult for Conteras to succeed as a starting pitcher with a relatively weak arsenal. Instead, the Pirates recently announced they plan on using Contreras out of the bullpen in 2024.

At this point, it’s probably the best move for Contreras. He can focus on his two best pitches in smaller appearances while making the most out of his slider’s high whiffs and four-seamer’s good potential.

Conteras likely still has the talent to succeed as a starter long-term. If his changeup and curveball were to become more solid offerings, or if a new pitch is introduced, Contreras may have the depth to succeed multiple times through the order. Until then, Contreras can become a valuable piece of a surprisingly solid Pirates bullpen in 2024.


Lance Lynn


Lynn is by far the most experienced pitcher in this article, entering his age-37 season with 1,889 major league innings under his belt.

Lynn had a solid 2022 campaign, posting a 3.99 ERA and 3.82 FIP over 22 starts. Lynn had even better numbers the year before, with a 2.69 ERA/3.32 FIP in 28 starts while finishing 3rd in Cy Young voting.

In 2023, Lynn was awful. He had a 5.73 ERA and 5.53 FIP, allowing an insane 44 home runs in 183.2 innings. Lynn allowed more walks, fewer strikeouts, and obviously more home runs, leading to an ugly season across the board.

At 36, Lynn saw the worst numbers of his career, yet was still pursued by the Dodgers at the trade deadline. The offseason after, the Cardinals sought his services in free agency, becoming one of the first pitchers off the market for a solid $11 million.

A pitcher having the numbers Lynn had in 2023 would never normally get that kind of money. Instead, the Cardinals likely saw the biggest problem with Lynn’s performance in 2023: luck. As a fly-ball-oriented pitcher, Lynn saw 20.5% of fly balls leave for home runs, while only 67.8% of batters that reached base were stranded.

Being that Lynn has mostly gotten “lucky” with his fly ball results thus far in his career, the outlier numbers of 2023 would likely not continue in such an extreme way in the future. Still, as a 37-year-old with declining stuff, it would be difficult to project success coming off such a poor season.

Lynn still had some solid peripheral numbers, however. His Whiff% stayed at an above-average 28.7%, consistent with years prior, and he continued to allow roughly a hit per inning.

Walks were a big problem, as they contributed greatly to the damage Lynn allowed via home run. After a career-best 3.7% BB% in 2022, Lynn regressed to 8.3% in 2023, resulting in more batters reaching base.

When home runs/extra-base hits took place, extra runners scored more frequently, thus inflating his ERA. If Lynn can limit walks like he has in the past, while continuing to show solid command, Lynn can limit the damage to his ERA in the future.

Data via Baseball Savant

Instead of focusing on Lynn’s velocity, his command should be highlighted. As he throws 7 pitches, Lynn has a uniquely diverse pitch arsenal that allows him to attack hitters in various parts of the zone.

Still, Lynn’s four-seamer allowed an insane 21 home runs in 2023, nearly half of all allowed. This comes after allowing only 8 on the pitch in 2022, while he still threw it 45.9% of the time.

Lynn has always relied heavily on his four-seamer, although after the insane damage it sustained in 2023, it might be time to drift away from the pitch. His great command of the cutter and sinker, along the edges of the zone, could play up with an increased usage of his slider, changeup, and curveball.

With this, it should be noted that Lynn is a historically “stubborn” pitcher. He has succeeded in the past with his current approach, and has not really made significant changes to it to adjust as he ages.

Either way, Lynn is a smart, veteran pitcher who likely knows how unlucky he was in 2023.

After such a rough season, Lynn has likely worked hard in the offseason to fix his problems. He has also been given the vote of confidence by the Cardinals to pitch their home opener, where he began his career. With some better luck, along with a familiar environment in St. Louis, Lynn can bounce back to vintage form in 2024.


Hayden Wesneski


Wesneski debuted in the Majors in 2022, pitching to a 2.18 ERA and 3.20 FIP, albeit over only 6 games and 33.0 innings. In 2023, his first “full” season in the majors, Wesneski had a 4.63 ERA and 5.48 FIP, split between starting and relieving over 89.1 innings.

After being traded from the Yankees to the Cubs at the 2022 trade deadline, Wesneski quickly joined the major league team and showed excellent promise.

Instead, in between trips to Triple-A, Wesneski struggled mightily with the big league club in 2023, as lefties crushed his pitching, home runs and walks both increased drastically, and strikeouts dropped. To read more about why lefties crushed him, as well as some mechanical issues that caused trips back to the minors, be sure to check out Miles Schachner’s article “Don’t Write Hayden Wesneski Off Yet.”

Similarly to Lynn, Wesneski allowed an insane 24.4 home-run-per-fly-ball%, meaning some positive regression basically has to take place.

Data via Baseball Savant (dotted circle = league average)

Wesneski has a diverse pitch mix, relying heavily on his sweeper while a bevy of fastball varieties (four-seamer, sinker & cutter) back it up.

His sweeper has always been his best pitch, being used most heavily in 2023 while generating an excellent 37.6% Whiff%. It also resulted in batters having an abysmal .231 SLG against, making it great for limiting extra-base hits.

Those instead against his four-seamer, along with his other fastballs. While his most used pitch, his sweeper, only allowed 3 home runs, his fastballs allowed a combined 16 homers, while opponents slugged at least .540 against all three. His four-seamer has a mediocre 4.88 average PLV and gets hit hard, with a 93.3 average exit velocity. While his sinker and cutter aren’t excellent, their unique movement through high horizontal break makes them reasonable complements to each other.

Overall, his pitches collectively average an elite 5.21 PLV, with a mistake-pitch rate of only 3.4%. If Wesneski can get the most out of his fastballs, he can definitely establish himself as a solid pitcher.

Wesneski is currently set up for a bullpen role in 2024, where he can get the most out of his sweeper’s excellent stuff. While still open to a rotation spot in the future, the Cubs should let Wesneski get comfortable in the majors in a bullpen spot before making it through the order multiple times as a starter.

As his arsenal continues to develop, Wesneski could certainly bolster his reputation in 2024 and set himself up to join a young Cubs rotation down the stretch of the season. He certainly has the skillset and the stuff to succeed long-term.

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