April Showers Bring Bullpen Madness for the Cardinals

UCB_11

Wow, it’s been a while. Apologies to my readers for my absence, I will try to get this thing back on track assuming my schedule cooperates. What have I missed? Well, since I last wrote, the CBC Cadets became MSHSAA Class 5 champions, Mizzou basketball suffered 4 arrests and a 2nd round exit in the NIT tournament, the Cardinals began their season, and much more. I also became a part of the United Cardinal Bloggers (UCB) so I hope that you will check out stuff from all of my fellow bloggers at unitedcardinalbloggers.com

Bullpen struggles are here yet again, I mean its April isn’t it? It is easily ignored that the Cardinals bullpen struggles early nearly every season because John Mozeliak is good enough to have it fixed by year’s end, but through seven games this year seems no different than years past.

Much like the April showers delaying seemingly every Cardinal game, bullpen struggles are here again like clockwork. It became pretty apparent the bullpen would be an issue when the Cardinals gave a contract to veteran righty Pat Neshek and then later David Aardsma. Only Neshek made the team, and started off the year by issuing a walk and a three run homer to the first two batters he faced. Since then Neshek has settled in, but for what seems like the 100th April in a row, the bullpen is a cause for concern. Jason Motte will be back to provide stability at some point, and hopefully that will be enough. Right now it’s obvious that the club has very little confidence in Seth Maness after his awful spring. Keith Butler probably doesn’t belong on a major league roster, and as for Neshek, I’m not sold.

Much has made about the turnover the Cardinals have had in the middle infield over the last decade, Jhonny Peralta was the 8th shortstop in eight years on opening day. What about closer? It has gone unnoticed but Trevor Rosenthal marked the fourth different opening day closer for the Cardinals since 2010. A list that also includes Ryan Franklin, Jason Motte, and Mitchell Boggs and excluding Fernando Salas and Edward Mujica who also spent time in that role. Volatility in the bullpen is a problem league wide, but it seems to bite the Cardinals hard every April.

Here is a breakdown of the Cardinal bullpen ERA in April each of the last 5 seasons.

Year – April ERA – League Median – Final ERA

2014 – 6.50 – 3.52

2013 – 5.80 – 3.52 – 3.45

2012 – 2.70 – 3.56 – 3.90

Credit: Post-Dispatch

Credit: Post-Dispatch

2011 – 3.83 – 3.71 – 3.73

2010 – 2.46 – 3.97 – 3.73

After looking at the Cardinals’ numbers compared to the league median each year it would seem that my claim about the Cardinals struggling “every year” is a bit of a hyperbole on the surface. In only three of the five years did the Cardinals numbers exceed the median including 2011 when it was close, and this year only seven games in. Looking deeper though, the 2012 team that posted a 2.70 included JC Romero and Victor Marte. After throwing four scoreless innings in April, Romero was released next month after allowing nine earned runs over his next four innings. Marte spent the majority of the season with the big club but finished the year with his ERA hovering near 4.90.

That 2010 team that looked spectacular featured Blake Hawksworth, who tossed nine scoreless innings in April before giving up 12 runs over his next 11 innings and finishing the year flirting with a 5.00 ERA. A scoreless inning from utility infielder Felipe Lopez also contributed to that spectacular April. All of these things are major contributors to the drastic rise we see from April to final ERA in those two seasons.

Here is some research I did about bullpen turnover in each of those seasons. I took a look at each bullpen in April and then again in August (September would have skewed the numbers due to late season call ups). Listed below are the April bullpen arms used each year, in bold are the arms still around in August.

2010 – Hawksworth, Boggs, Motte, Reyes, Miller, McClellan, Franklin, Lopez (infielder), Mather (outfielder)

2011 – Batista, Salas, Motte, Sanchez, Boggs, Tallet, Miller, McClellan, Augenstein, Franklin

2012 – Romero, Boggs, Marte, Rzepczynski, McLellan, Motte, Salas

2013 – Mujica, Choate, Rosenthal, Salas, Kelly, Boggs, Rzepczynski

This is where things get interesting. It would appear that there is actually no correlation in bullpen turnover and bullpen ERA. The 2010 team had no turnover and a 1.31 climb in ERA, 2011 turned over six relievers and saw a -.10 fall in ERA. 2012 turned over three and climbed 1.20 while 2013 turned over two and fell 2.35. There is also no correlation between bullpen ERA or turnover and winning baseball games.

That 2010 team finished with 86 wins and missed the playoffs despite maintaining stability, yet inconsistency, in the bullpen. The 2011 team saw the most turnover of any of the bullpens studied, which brought them nothing short of a World Series championship. The 2012 team made it to the NLCS despite their bullpen situation, and the 2013 team nearly won another World Series after Mozeliak straightened out the worst April bullpen to date.

So what does all this actually mean? To put it simply, nothing, and that’s the whole point. Fans are going to panic because of the early struggles of Maness, Neshek, Siegrist, and even a blip on the radar of Trevor Rosenthal, but it all means absolutely nothing. We know for sure there will be some turnover in this bullpen because Jason Motte will recover from his Tommy John surgery to join the ranks. Sam Freeman will probably make his way up from Memphis during the season, and I would be shocked if Mozeliak didn’t acquire outside help in some capacity, whether it be via trade or free agency.

Stop the panicking Cards’ fans, take a deep breath and trust in the organization as a whole. I was semi panicked about this too until this post, but fear no more. What the bullpen does today, tomorrow, or the next day will mean zip, zero, and zilch in the grand scheme of the 2014 season. Either the current guys get it figured out, or they will be gone, and new guys will, it’s as simple as that.

Thanks for reading, it feels good to be back. If you aren’t already please follow me on twitter at GSC_AJ

It’s not crazy, it’s sports

AJ

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