Break glass in case of emergency only

Mike Matheny has garnered a little bit of a reputation as a manager who likes to have a pitcher in the bullpen that he only uses in an emergency. Last year, it was Joe Kelly who got buried at the deep end of the bullpen. This year, it seems like Keith Butler is that guy. Unlike last year, while Kelly was a Ferrari in the garage, Butler is maybe more like a Chevrolet. It’ll get you from A to B more often than not, but it won’t be flashy.

Here’s the problem with having a reliever who you only use in an emergency. Do you have a fire extinguisher in your home? I’m sure many of us do. Did you know these should be inspected regularly to ensure that they still have pressure and are in working order? I’m sure the reason why you’d do this makes sense to all of us reading, because you want it to work when you need it.

Same goes for an emergency relief pitcher. Butler hasn’t pitched in 11 days. I get that the last time he was out on the mound didn’t go well. He was tagged for 5 earned runs over an inning of work. His ERA stands at a glorious 45.00.

If anything, that shows that he needs work to diagnose the issues so that he can become a reliable member of the bullpen. He’ll certainly never become one if he never gets an opportunity to pitch. Last night, with a four run lead in the 9th (actually, more ideally the 8th while saving Martinez to get him out of a jam), would have been a perfect opportunity.

The Cardinals have one reliable arm in the bullpen right now, Carlos Martinez. Matheny has to find innings for the other guys in the bullpen to work out their issues or to attempt to execute those things they’ve been working on in side sessions. If you continue to ride Martinez, he could easily join the list of the ineffective bullpen arms or worse, end up on the DL. Then where are we?

I get riding the hot hand, but the other hands can’t get hot if they don’t play.

Trevor Rosenthal and the curse of the closer

As I mentioned last fall when Mike Matheny announced that Trevor Rosenthal would be the team’s closer at the beginning of the 2014 season, there seems to be a curse on official closers. Just look back at Ryan Franklin in 2011. Or Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs in 2013. Now we’re dealing with Rosenthal struggling out of the gate in 2014. It’s a bad track record.

With pitchers who rely on pure speed as a major factor of performance, my concern is always that any slight discomfort or worry about control can affect your velocity and, as a result, your performance. Kevin Reynolds and I spoke about confidence and Boggs a lot last season and how that little extra ounce of confidence can be the difference between a hard to hit 94 mph fastball and a 92 mph easy to hit one. I wondered if that’s what Trevor Rosenthal is dealing with.

Christine over at Aaron Miles’ Fastball wrote today and talked about his velocity. She found that Rosenthal’s fastball velocity so far this April is 96.11 mph. Over two mph slower than last April and last year in October. His fastest pitch of the year? Yeah, it hit a batter.

Rosenthal said post-game that he felt good and, “I’m worried about throwing strikes. I’m not worried about the velocity.” Maybe it isn’t what he meant, but if he’s having to think about throwing strikes rather than just winding up and putting the ball in the catcher’s mitt, that’s all you need to know.

For their part, Mike Matheny and Derek Lilliquist haven’t publicly expressed any worry about Rosenthal’s performance. That might hold some water in most cases, except this is the manager that insisted on running Boggs out there in high leverage situations last season when it was clear to everyone not in the dugout that it was a bad idea. Hopefully Rosenthal can get it figured out before we reach that point.

The magic of baseball

I was sitting at work on Wednesday afternoon loading up MLBtv so that I could watch the game against the Cincinnati Reds. The Cardinals, after winning the first two games of the series, were going for the sweep against Mike Leake. This was a great sign for the Cardinals, against whom Leake had a 5.95 ERA against over 8 starts. With Shelby Miller on the mound and his career 3.24 ERA against the Reds, things were looking positive.

But then the game started. Miller struggled to stop the Reds while Mike Leake, on the other hand, turned in arguably the best start of his career. 8 innings pitched, 4 hits, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts, 0 earned runs. The Cardinals offense was held silent.

Some fans want to call it a lack of effort. Some claim they were just mailing it in. Some bemoan the bipolar offense that gets stymied by a pitcher they’ve destroyed in the past. I doubt it is any of the above. Continue reading

Cardinals have the most loyal fanbase in baseball

Brand Keys, a research consultancy firm, specializes in customer loyalty and what makes it. Hardball Talks, recently posted about the research the Brand Keys did into baseball teams and fan loyalty. The results found the St. Louis Cardinals nabbing the top spot on the ratings. The Philadelphia Phillies were second, the Boston Red Sox third. I was personally surprised that the Chicago Cubs didn’t have a spot in the top-5.

This study is likely to throw some fire on the public hate that’s recently come the Cardinals’ way thanks to their recent success and overuse of the buzz-term “The Cardinal Way.” And don’t forget the other one, the “Best fans in baseball.”

I have two questions about this study.

First, each team in the top-5 has existed for well over 100 years. On the other side of the coin, the bottom-5 were all founded in the last 52 years. A team’s history and tradition were factored into the study, but that means that recent expansion teams are automatically placed a disadvantage before you start measuring anything.

And second, one of the metrics that Brand Keys used in the study was a measure of “Pure Entertainment,” or basically, how well a team performs on the field. Passikoff mentions in the release that “Winning the series can add up to 20% to a team’s loyalty score.” I have a problem using that as a measuring stick. It’s easy to love a winner. If anything, team performance should have an inverse effect and ask the question, do your fans still love you when you aren’t winning? That’s the question they should be asking and is the root of any question of loyalty.

Choate to become not just a LOOGY

The news came out over the weekend in an article by Derrick Goold that the Cardinals want Randy Choate to be more than just a lefty specialist in the bullpen. According to Matheny, the Cardinals can’t afford to use Choate in just a specialist role going forward and the tinkering with his role is in pursuit of what’s best for the bullpen. I would figure what’s best for the bullpen is to put your relievers in the best position possible to succeed, but maybe I’m wrong.

Here’s the problem. Lets name all the Cardinals’ pitchers who were worse against right handed batters than Choate last year. Seth Maness, Michael Blazek, Victor Marte, Maikel Cleto, Mitchell Boggs, and Marc Rzepczynski. See a recurring theme? Only Maness remains with the team (thanks to his double play ability, no doubt). The rest have been traded or released.

Point is, 38 year old pitchers who are 14 year veterans of the big leagues don’t become lefty specialists because teams decided not to let him face right handed batters. No, I’m pretty sure at this point in his career it’s because he’s a heckuva lot better against left handers than he is against right handers and there are usually a pletora of pitchers in a bullpen better against right handers.

With the depth of the bullpen with Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, Seth Maness, Pat Neshek, and Keith Butler there is no need for Choate to be facing right handed hitters unless he’s sandwiched by a pair of lefties. In fact, every other Cardinals’ reliever has faced a left handed batter this year, except Choate. You know how many relievers in the Cardinals’ bullpen were better against lefties last year than Choate? Just one. The other lefty in the bullpen.

For years the Cardinals struggled to piece together a competent left handed specialist out of the bullpen. Lots of cheap failures, lots of failed potential. Mozeliak finally goes out and spends for one of the premier LOOGYs in baseball and the manager decides to not use him in that role. #BecauseMatheny

Offensive woes far from historic

The St. Louis Cardinals have gotten out to an obviously slow start offensively. So I went back to trace the numbers. They have scored 17 runs over the first six games of this season, that is the third lowest total of the last 20 years. The only worse were 1997 (12 runs scored) and 2011 (15 runs scored).

However, on the bright side, the 22 runs the Cardinals have allowed is the third lowest of the last 20 years. The only better starts for a pitching staff were 2008 (13 runs against) and 2012 (17 runs against). 

Their -5 run differential provides some hope as it is just the 7th worst of the last 20 years. There’s something interesting to consider with years that start with negative run differentials too. The Cardinals have seven of them now, in all but two they ended up making the playoffs (1996, 2001, 2005, 2011). That’s the same number of playoff appearances out of the best six run differentials too.

So the point of this was to say that there is no point in worrying about the offensive output over the first six games of the season. There are 156 more to play anyway and it has no visible effect on playoff chances.