The Cardinals bullpen has been a victim of much criticism this year. However, a look at the numbers tells us that it should be praised.
The Cardinals implosions come in bad moments. The good stretches often come when games are already decided. Fans were subjected to one too many (maybe more) Trevor Rosenthal outings this year. I get it.
At least for the first two months of the season, the Cardinals bullpen appeared to be a mess. Over the second half of the season, the team’s relievers have pitched much better, but the thought of Rosenthal walking everyone still lingers. The thought of Jonathan Broxton pitching in close games still lingers. Heck, the revolving door that was the last two bullpen spots only stopped because of September call-ups.
Yet here we are with the season coming to a close, and the Cardinals’ bullpen ranks 12th in the majors in ERA. Most fans that I have talked to guessed much worse. Many assumed that the bullpen improved following Rosenthal’s injury. While I wouldn’t necessarily argue against that, check out these monthly ERAs from the pen:
Rosenthal’s got injured on the game played July 24. Looking at FIP and other metrics that are better indicators of good pitching than ERA, I still can’t make a case for August being the bullpen’s best month. July was undeniably the best month, but Rosenthal was there for most of it. Actually, the bullpen has been good all year long despite him, not bad because of him.
@Cardinals hmmm, has anyone ever traded/released an entire bullpen?
— Tom Tanner (@Tmtanner88) September 3, 2016
I don’t want to make it sound like the Cardinals have a world class bullpen. They don’t, but it’s good for the regular season and great for the playoffs.
Ignore the “bad” names for a second and take a look at the good. We all know Seung-hwan Oh is awesome. Alex Reyes and Zach Duke have been major contributors in the second half. And Matt Bowman has logged 62 quality innings. There have been disappointments along the way, but the Cardinals have a diverse and successful group.
What does that even mean?
When I say diverse, I mean that the Cardinals’ bullpen contains many individuals who excel in different areas. The main outcomes that sabermetricians care about are strikeouts, walks, home runs, and ground balls per fly ball. Oh is great at all of the above, but take a look at the rest of these guys.
When the Cardinals need a strikeout, they can turn to Kevin Siegrist. Even though he was better last year, he currently owns a respectable 9.52 Ks/9. He will probably earn a starting spot in the playoffs, but Alex Reyes can do that even better (11.94 in the bullpen). If not him, then Luke Weaver can do that job, too.
Need someone to induce a ground ball? The Cardinals have a guy (or two). Matt Bowman and Zach Duke both generate ground balls at a very high frequency. Bowman gets them on 59.6 percent of balls in play, while Duke induces grounders 62.5 percent of the time. The major league average is 44.7 percent.
Finally, the game is close, nobody is on base, and the Cardinals need to keep it that way. Well, luckily the Cardinals organization breeds pitchers who throw strikes. Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia will almost certainly be in the bullpen for the playoffs. Both of them walk under three batters per nine as starters. That will only get better when they only need to pitch one or two innings.
Sure, I am worried about Siegrist’s home run and walk totals. I wish he was doing what he did last year. I also wish Rosenthal could have put up another stellar season. The fact that those things didn’t happen doesn’t make this year’s group bad. It just means that they needed more contributions from guys they couldn’t initially trust.
Nobody expected Oh to dominate opposing hitters. Nobody expected Bowman to be anything other than some middle reliever to throw into games already decided. People hoped, but weren’t sure, that Reyes and Weaver would contribute in the big leagues. All year long, the Cardinals’ bullpen was contributing to victories. Right now, they are only getting reinforcements.
Imagine a bullpen with Oh, Duke, Weaver, Wacha, and Bowman. Count Siegrist in, too, if you believe that he can recapture his 2015 form. It may not sound as dominant as “Strop, Rondon, Chapman.” It may not have the experience of Mark Melanin or Kenley Jansen. But together, they make a product that is just as good. I probably can’t convince you to trust the bullpen after watching Rosenthal blow it too many times, but when Mike Matheny takes the ball from his starter, it’s pretty likely that his team is in good hands.
Photo Credit: Bill Stretcher – USA TODAY Sports