Stretching Trevor Rosenthal Opens Multiple Possibilities For the 2017 Cardinals

The Cardinals’ decision to have Trevor Rosenthal “stretch out” to condition himself for a possible new role is interesting if not unexpected. I’m not sure why this became a source of instantaneous arousal across interwebs, but … whatever.

trevor rosenthal
Rosenthal has a 12 percent walk rate over the past three seasons.

Obviously there’s nothing wrong with having Rosenthal physically prepare to pitch more than an inning at a time and go beyond the basic job requirement for a major-league closer or setup reliever.

The theory: if Rosenthal can extend beyond his standard innings capability, he’ll give the Cardinals another option for their starting rotation.

And with Cleveland Indians’ Andrew Miller being all the rage, the hot fad — the dancing sensation that’s sweeping the nation! — perhaps Rosey he can evolve into a super-duper reliever that slays opposing-team hitters for several innings at a time.

Three things about this:

1. The Cardinals have at least eight starting pitchers on their roster.

Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, Lance Lynn, Mike Leake and Alex Reyes are the first five. Next in line are Jaime Garcia, Michael Wacha, Luke Weaver and possibly Marco Gonzales.

If you want to throw Tim Cooney into this pool, go ahead and make it an even 10. Rosenthal would be 11. The depth offers protection against stress, injuries, slumps, or even a trade or two that would ship a starter to a new address. That’s good.

Question: If Rosenthal looks good in a starting audition, then what? Who gets bumped? The wrong answer is Mike Leake. He’s got an $80 million contract. And he’ll be a starter, period. If the Cardinals actually put a defense behind Leake, he’ll be better starter than what we saw in 2016.

Second question: if Rosenthal pitches well enough to earn a rotation gig and the Cardinals send him back to the bullpen, will he be OK with that? You may say it doesn’t matter, and you are probably right. But Rosenthal was developed as a starter, got converted to reliever, and has never let go of his desire to start again. So now the Cardinals are inflating Rosenthal’s hopes again.

Again, that probably doesn’t matter. But tell that to his agent, Scott Boras, who was absolutely thrilled by the news of the Cardinals’ experiment with Rosenthal … which means that Boras will probably make some noise if or when his guy gets transferred back to the bullpen. As a setup man. Not a closer. (Seung-hwan Oh is, after all, The Final Boss.) In free agency, the big money goes to starters and closers. Boras won’t be happy to see Rosenthal as a member of the rank-and-file, working the seventh or eighth inning.

2. Rosenthal isn’t Andrew Miller.

Only Andrew Miller is Andrew Miller. Rosenthal walks too many hitters. Over the past three seasons Rosenthal’s walk rate is a too-high 12 percent; Miller’s walk rate is 6 percent. Rosenthal has a sharp knockout punch, with a strikeout rate of 28.5% over the past three seasons; Miller’s strikeout rate over the same stretch is 43 percent. Yes … 43 percent.

Rosenthal does not have a secondary pitch to keep hitters off balance. He pumps four-seam fastballs on about 78 percent of his pitches. He throws a changeup about 14 percent of the time. He’ll occasionally float a curve ball or fling a slider. But that’s it. He struggles to control his fastball. He falls behind in too many counts. He walks too many hitters. The fastball is often unruly, and it’s become more hittable, with Rosenthal giving up a .291 average and a .380 slugging percentage on the four-seam over the last two seasons.

Miller is a different beast. He throws that famous wipe-out slider 61 percent of the time, and backs that up with a crackling four-seam fastball. Only two pitches … but they are lethal pitches that Miller commands very well. In 2016 hitters batted .165 against his fastball, .170 against his slider. And they struck out more than FIFTY percent of the time against his slider. And Miller, a lefty, is more effective against RH batters than Rosenthal, who is a righty.

3. Postseason baseball isn’t regular-season baseball.

During the 2016 postseason Indians manager Terry Francona was able to take advantage of the built-in off days to set up a system in which three pitchers — starter Corey Kluber and relievers Miller and Cody Allen — supplied around 50 percent of the innings. Three guys coming through with 50 percent of the innings during an entire postseason? That formula wouldn’t work during a 162-game season. No explanation is necessary.

Having Rosenthal stretch out is fine. If he gets on a starter’s schedule in spring training and gradually builds to a starter’s share of innings, it may help him develop secondary pitches. That would be positive. And if Rosenthal goes back to a short-relief role, no problem. Maybe he’ll go back to the bullpen as a more well-rounded, less one-dimensional pitcher.

Rosenthal as a starter is intriguing because the rotation needs more firepower. But again, I don’t know if he can cultivate the secondary pitches necessary to become a good starter.

If the idea here is to slot Rosenthal into a role that would have him go two or three innings in a game two times per week, well, OK … as long as manager Mike Matheny can do that without scrambling up a big sloppy mess in the bullpen … and in his own brain.

If the thought is to have Rosenthal serve as a long reliever, that would be a waste of his talent. Matheny rarely uses his long reliever. It’s been an empty roster spot that hurts the team’s chances of winning.

There’s another way to go here: Reyes and Rosenthal, working in tandem.

If as expected the Cardinals put Reyes in the rotation they’ll have to limit his innings. Rosenthal can be an important part of the plan by being the designated Part Two in Reyes’ starts. Reyes goes four or five innings. Rosenthal follows with two or three innings. And then it’s onto the short relievers and Final Boss. That’s one sensible scenario.

Another possibility — which I briefly mentioned earlier — is Rosenthal emerging as a legitimate option for the rotation, which would give GM John Mozeliak the flexibility to part with a starting pitcher (or two?) in deals.

Or … perhaps trade Rosenthal to a team that’s desperate to fill a rotation void.

So stretch it out.

It’s nice to have options, choices, alternatives, flexibility, and insurance.

Stretching out makes sense now, even if nothing comes of it later.

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend …

–Bernie

More: Miklasz – A Look at Ian Desmond, a Potential Cardinals’ Free-Agent Candidate for 2017