The Cardinals bullpen is stacked, but one could pitcher could be the most interesting to watch throughout the course of the season.
Heading into the 2016 season, Mike Matheny appears to have a problem on his hands. He has, perhaps, the most loaded bullpen in the league. But, for the time being, it seems as if he might have too many relief pitchers. To the average fan, this might be a good problem to have, but how effectively Matheny uses his bullpen will end up having a huge impact in dictating how many games the Cardinals win this season.
Last year, the Cardinals, statistically, had the best bullpen in the league. Trevor Rosenthal was lights out in the 9th inning. Kevin Siegrist was the most used relief pitcher in the league and had only a 2.17 ERA. Jonathan Broxton was terrific with a 2.66 ERA. With the best pitching staff in the league that consistently threw 6 plus innings and a good bullpen that could close the door, this was the Cardinal’s recipe for a 100-win season. However, this season, it looks as if the Cardinal’s bullpen got even better by acquiring Seung-hwan Oh and getting Jordan Walden back from injury.
Of all the pitchers in the bullpen, Walden, perhaps, might be the most intriguing pitcher for Cards fans to keep an eye on. After sitting out most of last year with a rotator cuff injury on his right pitching shoulder, he is suddenly the odd man out and this season he will have to win back Matheny’s trust for his spot as a set-up man in the late innings.
— Mark Saxon (@markasaxon) February 28, 2016
Walden is known for his unique pitching motion and his knack for getting strikeouts. But, when he is hitting the strike zone, he is a very ideal setup man because he can strike batters out, which takes a lot of pressure off of the defense. He has a fastball that can reach 100 MPH, a crafty slider and changeup in his arsenal, so he is able to strike batters out at a high rate. In his professional career, he averages 10.78 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. That number is absolutely astonishing.
Before his injury, Walden consistently pitched the 8th innings of games in the 2015 season. But, this season, his role will likely be different, especially in the first couple months of the schedule. I predict that early in the season, Walden will have to pitch earlier in the game, perhaps as early as the 6th inning if the starter is in trouble, in order to gain Matheny’s trust back. If he can throw a lot of scoreless innings with a low ERA in the early portion of the schedule, then I think that eventually he will win the 8th inning role back and become the permeant set-up man.
Walden has the stuff to be the perfect 8th inning guy and that is the role he should pitch in this season when everything pans out and Matheny finds permeant roles for every guy in his bullpen. Walden throws with power and he strikes a lot of guys out. If he can show that he has fully recovered from his shoulder injury and can throw with the same velocity he threw in 2014, the back end of this bullpen is absolutely formidable. If the Cardinals are holding a close lead heading into the 8th inning, look for Walden and Rosenthal, the best closer in baseball, to shut the door because they will not blow too many leads.