Warning Signs? Keep An Eye On The Velocity Drop In the Cardinals’ Bullpen

The Cardinals are nine games into their 162-game schedule, and at the formative stage of a new season it’s always tricky to interpret statistics and turn them into conclusions. More games = more clarity.

Seung-Hwan Oh has a 9.64 ERA through four 2017 appearances.

The STL bullpen has a 7.86 ERA through nine games. In 26.1 innings, Cardinals relievers collectively have allowed six homers, walked 13 (too many), struck out 19 (too few) and are putting baserunners on at a disturbing rate of 18.8 per nine innings.

That’s a concern, sure. But with the Cards having played only 5.5 percent of their regular season, there’s no reason to go crazy here. But there is an early trend that warrants scrutiny.

That would be a noticeable drop in velocity with some relievers.

I’m referring to RH Seung Hwan Oh, LH Brett Cecil, LH Kevin Siegrist, and RH Jonathan Broxton.

This could explain why the early-season strikeout rate (6.49 batters per nine innings) is down from last season’s 8.86 per nine. Perhaps this explains the pen’s ballooning home-run rate.

It could be that the relievers are still building arm strength, adjusting to pitching in cooler weather, or trying to get settled into the season.

Or it could be something else … a problem. It’s way too soon to know.

But let’s take a look, with all of the mph data culled from the valuable Brooks Baseball

Kevin Siegrist

Here are his four-seam fastball velocities, in order, since his MLB debut in 2014:

2013 — 96.0  mph

2014 — 95.2  mph

2015 — 94.9  mph

2016 — 93.9  mph

2017 — 92.1 mph

Siegrist’s strikeout rate — which was 33.3 percent in 2013, and 29 percent as recently as 2015 — is 6.3 percent so far this season. And his walk rate is way up. Seigrist was worked hard in 2015, ranking first in the majors in relief appearances and fourth in most pitches thrown. He hasn’t been the same. Last season Siegrist’s fielding independent ERA jumped to 4.47. Early in the new season he’s been tagged for for a 19.29 ERA. He’s allowed four hits, a homer and four walks in 2.1 innings — with only one strikeout.

Seung Hwan Oh 

Oh was one of the most unhittable, unsolvable relievers in MLB last season — his first in the U.S. after a successful career as a closer in South Korea and Japan. As he second season with the Cardinals gets rolling, Oh has been vulnerable in the first couple of weeks, with a 9.64 ERA in four appearances. In 4.2 innings, Oh has been popped for two homers … and I note this because he gave up only five home runs in 80 innings last season. His ground-ball rate is way down.

Last season Oh’s four-seam fastball averaged 93.5 mph last season. This year: 91.8 mph.

Oh’s slider averaged 86.2 mph last season; it’s clocking in at 84.5 mph so far.

Jonathan Broxton

He’s been in decline for a while now –increased walk rate, decrease in K rate — so I won’t belabor the point.

Last season Broxton averaged 95.3 mph on his four-seamer last season; he’s down to 83.8 mph in his initial outings in 2017.

Broxton’s sinker, slider and splitter have lost some sizzle.

Brett Cecil 

A key offseason acquisition, Cecil has struggled in the opening month with a 13.50 ERA in five appearances. His strikeout rate — which was around 32 percent in each of his last two seasons in Toronto — is 15% right now. I was surprised to see the extent of his drop in velocity so far.

Let’s compare Cecil’s last season with Toronto with his early work in St. Louis:

Four-seam fastball:  93.1 mph to 89.9…

Sinker: 92.5 mph to 88.2 …

Cutter: 89.7 mph to 87.5 …

Even the touted Cecil curve has lost some snap; last year’s average 84.1 mph velocity is at 82. mph now.

To wrap this up: 

Is there a reason for panic and alarm? Nope. Not yet.

But it’s something that warrants scrutiny as the games add up.

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend.


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