The Cardinals probably have the lousiest bullpen in baseball this season; it depends how you look at it. They’re tied for 25th in the majors in bullpen ERA at 4.72, so four other teams are worse. But in the more telling metric, Win Probability Added, the Cards’ relievers are dead last in MLB.
Based on WPA, Jordan Hicks, Sam Tuivailala and Bud Norris are the Cardinals’ only full-time relievers who enhance the Cardinals’ chances of winning the game when appearing.
During the Cardinals’ 3-5 road trip to Chicago and Cincinnati, their relievers labored through 27.1 innings and were savaged for 23 earned runs, a .347 batting average, .944 OPS, 1.32 homers per nine innings and had a pathetically high walk rate (13.2%) and weak 16.8% strikeout rate.
The overall bullpen ERA during the eight-game trip was 7.57. But in the five losses, the St. Louis bullpen had an 11.05 ERA in 14.2 innings and got smashed for a .403 average and 1.101 OPS — and with as many walks (12) as strikeouts (12.) Ugliness. Gruesomeness.
Here’s a sampling of some the earned-run averages on the roadie: Brett Cecil, 81.00 … Tyler Lyons, 22.50 … Matt Bowman, 10.13 … John Gant, 18.00 … Greg Holland, 6.75 … Bud Norris, 6.75 … Luke Gregerson, 5.40,
If the Cardinals’ current 4.72 bullpen ERA stays at the same level, it would be the seventh worst ERA for the franchise in a single season in the last 106 seasons of baseball.
(The STATS LLC data base for relief pitching goes back to the 1913 season — 106 years ago.)
Here are the six previous Cardinals’ bullpens that had a higher ERA than the 2018 bullpen:
Team president of baseball operations John Mozeliak has seen enough, so pass him your bottle of antacid.
Changes are coming to the bullpen.
Coming soon. Maybe later today. Some on Friday. More to follow.
But probably not soon enough.
“I think we definitely need to do something,” Mozeliak said Thursday morning, during a guest segment on the Bernie Miklasz Show on 101ESPN. “I think you’ve heard me say this before. If you continue to do the same thing over and over again and hope for a different result, it’s probably a good sign that you’re headed towards insanity. Clearly where we are, and if you look at our most recent performance, and really it’s something that’s been ongoing for some time now. We want to try to do what’s best for the organization, from a timing standpoint with some of our younger arms but I would imagine you’re going to see some change here in the next couple of days.”
The Cardinals are promoting rookie pitching prospect Dakota Hudson from Triple A Memphis. He should be in place at Busch Stadium for the weekend series against the visiting Cubs. Hudson, 23, is having a terrific season in the Pacific Coast League, posting a 13-3 record with a 2.50 ERA. Will Hudson go into the rotation or the bullpen?
Mozeliak declined to say. Hudson’s promotion evidently will be just one move in a sequence of modifications to the bullpen and pitching staff.
“Before I get into what we’re doing, there’s a lot of moving parts in this,” Mozeliak said. “I’m not very comfortable saying exactly what we’re going to do at this point but as I stated earlier — over the next few days you’re going to see some change.”
What kind of change?
We can only take a few swings through guesswork.
Here are a few possibilities:
+ The Cardinals almost certainly will be turning to younger arms, with Daniel Poncedeleon, Austin Gomber (and possibly) Hudson being repurposed to reinforce the shaky bullpen.
+ The team could promote veteran left-handed reliever Tommy Layne, a native St. Louisan who has pitched exceptionally well in his 14 relief appearances for Memphis. Layne, 33, hasn’t allowed an earned run in 13.2 innings and is averaging 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Another veteran LH relief option is Tyler Webb, who has a 2.10 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 34.1 innings for Memphis.
+ A less likely possibility is RH prospect Connor Greene, was acquired from Toronto in the deal for outfielder Randal Grichuk. Greene, who throws very hard, has been converted from starter to reliever at Memphis. But he’s walking too many hitters and not getting many strikeouts.
+ Given the considerable activity in the MLB reliever market leading into the July 31 trade deadline, Cardinals closer Bud Norris is likely attracting interest from other teams; it would make sense to deal him for a decent return. Norris becomes a free agent after the season, anyway. Toronto received a nice return from Colorado for former Cardinal reliever Seunghwan Oh, with the Rockies giving up two prospects plus a third to be named. The two known prospects are second baseman (and center fielder) Forrest Wall, the 35th overall selection in the 2014 MLB June draft, and power-hitting first baseman Chad Spanberger, who is the Rockies’ No. 24 prospect according to MLP Pipeline.
+ The Cardinals may have a shot at acquiring a reliever from another team. Say, for instance, the Cards can flip future DH Jose Martinez to an American League side for a good relief pitcher who’s under contract for two-plus seasons?
+ We may see the Cardinals begin to clear out some of the rotted wood in their bullpen. Lefty relievers Brett Cecil and Tyler Lyons have combined for a 6.91 ERA in 40.3 innings. Cecil has walked more hitters (18) than he’s struck out (14), and Lyons has been diminished by injuries.
+ There’s RH reliever Greg Holland, a flop after being signed to a one-year deal for $14 million at the start of the regular season. In 25 innings Holland has a 7.92 ERA, 2.21 WHIP, and a wildly inflated walk rate (16.7%). Opponents have zinged Holland for a .312 average, .427 onbase percentage and .431 slug.
+ RH reliever Luke Gregerson, 34, hasn’t stayed healthy enough to get sharp or consistent; in between multiple stays on the disabled list Gregerson has a 7.11 ERA in 12.2 innings.
Payroll considerations are a factor.
Last offseason Gregerson was signed to a two-year contract for $11.5 million; I’d be surprised if the Cardinals gave up on him this soon.
Cecil is in the second season of a four-year deal worth $30.5 million. Cecil is owed $7.750 next season and $7.250 in 2020. Cecil has a complete non-trade clause.
Holland has about $5.4 million left to be paid on this year’s salary, but I can’t imagine why the Cardinals would continue to carry Holland just because of that.
Same with Cecil.
Sure, the Cardinals owe Cecil a lot of money; probably around $18 million as of now.
But as I’ve said on my radio show and “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch, Holland and Cecil have been such extreme liabilities they’re more valuable to the Cardinals by not pitching. They’ll get paid, one way or the other; their contracts are fully guaranteed. So if they’re going to get paid, anyway, it’s best to pay them just to stay at home, playing golf or something. And I’m not being snarky here. I’m quiet serious.
By having Cecil and Holland — and to a lesser extent, Gregerson — around the Cardinals are paying a heavy price in at least five different ways: (1) the wasted money counted against the team payroll; (2) the horrendous pitching that has contributed to making this the worst bullpen in the majors; (3) putting extra strain on the other relievers who will get more of the work load because manager Mike Shildt can’t trust Cecil and Holland and Gregerson in higher-leverage situations; (4) having two or three useless relievers in the bullpen limits Shildt’s tactical flexibility during games; and (5) those pitching-staff spaces could be used for more talented arms — the pitchers with more upside.
So yes: Holland and Cecil (and perhaps Gregerson) are more valuable to the Cardinals if they’re sitting in a boat on a lake, or having a beer on their back deck. rather than having a seat in the St. Louis bullpen.
I asked Mozeliak: Are the Cardinals willing to cut ties with an ineffective reliever — or is the contract an obstacle?
“I don’t think you can answer that in a vacuum,” he said. “I think what you have to do is understand that when those players were signed, there were certain expectations. And in terms of, are we willing to just walk away from something that we deem as a mistake or didn’t work, the answer is ‘Sure.’ But if we feel like there’s some reason for hope or some reason that things can be worked through, we certainly want to exhaust that before we just cut the cord.”
That’s a mixed-bag answer there. We’ll have to wait and see if Mozeliak decides to trim some of the branches in the bullpen.
Mozeliak’s best efforts to build significant bullpen depth this season were torn apart by injuries. As of Thursday, eight Cardinals’ relievers have combined to spend 411 days on the DL so far in 2018. Gregerson (78 days), Matt Bowman (45 days), Lyons (52 days) and Ryan Sherriff (63 days) each have been on the DL twice this season. Dominic Leone (nerve issue) has been missed 83 days and counting since being placed on the 60-day DL May 5. Holland (25 days), Sam Tuivailala (23 days) and Cecil (42) each had one stay on the DL. It’s impossible to have the desired stability with so many injury-related disruptions.
On the flip side, the injuries created opportunities for rookies Jordan Hicks and Mike Mayers, plus young veterans John Gant and John Brebbia. They’ve generally done a solid job, and Hicks at times has been electric.
So it’s been a plus for the Cardinals to make some new discoveries by giving the baseball to younger relievers. And going by the way Mozeliak was talking, it sounds like the bullpen is about to become even younger.
Thanks for reading …