The Cardinals just called up Dean Kiekhefer to replace Seth Maness, but don’t expect him to impress you much.
As Sam Pointer noted, this roster move was much more about getting Maness to the minors than finding a major league spot for Kiekhefer. With that being said, I am surprised that the Cardinals chose to give the twenty-six year old lefty the call up instead of some of their other options. There is a pretty good chance that Kiekhefer will get rocked by major league hitting.
I get some of the appeal with Kiekhefer. He is a control freak who will never give the opposing team free passes. His 47 walks in a little more than 350 minor league innings is absolutely incredible, and he did that without being caught by Yadier Molina. He also generates a lot of ground balls, which is something that the Cardinals often look for in young pitchers. Unfortunately for the Red Birds, the good news does not go much further than that.
The biggest problem with Kiekhefer is that he really struggles in the strikeout department. He makes up for some of it with his command and ground ball rate, but if he struck out just 6.7 batters per nine innings throughout the minor leagues and just 5.6 batters per nine in Triple-A in 2015, how bad does it get in the majors? As the Kansas City Royals showed last year, if you just keep putting the ball in play, good things will eventually happen for the offense. Expect a lot of hits against the twenty-six year old in his relief appearances.
The other issue with Kiekhefer is that he gives up a decent amount of home runs despite his great ground ball rate. The home runs aren’t that bad by themselves, but given that he doesn’t get strikeouts, he needs to keep his home run rate really low. In the high minors, his home run rate was just about average. Because Kiekhefer will give up more hits than most relievers, the home runs could end up being really problematic when he needs to get out of innings.
In his article on Maness, Sam also mentioned that Kiekhefer can be used as a lefty-specialist. The numbers certainly back that up, as Kiekhefer has been knocked around a bit by right-handed batters but lefties haven’t been able to solve him so far. The only problem is that the Cardinals already have one of those in Tyler Lyons. It is very rare that you will need to use two lefty specialists in one game, and this team needs some guys that can give their best bullpen pitchers a rest against both righties and lefties.
— All STLCards (@AllStlCards) May 14, 2016
I’m not on board with the Kiekhefer call up, as I think he will get hit pretty hard by major league batters and is not effective enough against all types of batters to give the Cardinals what they need right now. I think that the Cardinals have a pair of relievers in Memphis right now that would have been better fits in Sam Tuivailala and John Church.
Tuivailala is the more familiar name, so we’ll start there. He has control issues, as he has walked more than a batter every two innings in his minor league career, but he makes up for it by striking out 12.7 batters per nine innings. He also has only given up four home runs in 166 minor league innings, so he won’t get hurt too much by the longball.
When we compare the stuff of these two pitchers, the choice seems obvious as well. Tuivailala has a high 90s fastball with two other average offerings, while Kiekhefer has a high 80s fastball with two other average offerings. Tuivailala did not pitch so well in his first major league stint last year, so maybe the Cardinals thought he wasn’t ready yet and wanted to go with someone else. That brings us to John Church.
Church is a bit of an unknown, as the Cardinals signed him out of minor league free agency this offseason. The twenty-nine year old had spent his entire career with the New York Mets’ organization and never got a chance to pitch in the major leagues. He is now in Memphis and his numbers both this year and throughout the minors indicate that he deserves a big league chance.
Church has struck out 7.6 batters per nine innings in the minors while also getting about three ground outs for every two fly outs. His 3.4 walks per nine innings is not great, but he keeps the ball in the park very well. His home run rate has been above average in his years in the high minors, and he has only given up 26 longballs in 463 career minor league innings.
In the end, I think that Tuivailala should have gotten the first chance to replace Maness, but Church is a defensible choice if the team didn’t think that Tuivailala was ready. Clearing the roster spot would have just meant a transfer to the 60-day disabled list for someone, and then Church would be good to go. Either way, it’s hard to make the case for Kiekhefer when those two pitchers were available.
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