What a relief!

Admit it – how many of you thought, even for a second, that LaRussa might turn to Izzy in the 9th? The Cards were up 1 and Franklin had been pretty bad (of course, who hadn’t?) the night before and Izzy had just been recalled earlier in the day. I thought Franklin would be the choice but it did occur to me that he just might turn to Izzy. We shouldn’t be surprised when it happens, because it will happen – and soon, I suspect. If Izzy has a couple of good outings from the pen, they’ll pronounce him cured and reinsert him into the closer’s role.

 

I’ve been inspired to examine the bullpen today b/c yesterday, while watching the Cards’ game, I was reading The Book -- particularly, the chapter on relievers. The authors’ conclusion, for those who haven’t yet read it, is that teams aren’t using their best relievers enough. Closers can pitch more than 1 inning at a time, for instance, w/o it affecting their ability to pitch the next day or the day after that. The conclusion is similar to one reached in Baseball Between the Numbers where it states that managers should use their relievers in the regular season as they do in the postseason. It’s no big deal to use Mariano Rivera for 2 IP in a postseason game. Therefore, he should do it in the regular season as well.

When the Cardinal game ended yesterday, FOX switched over to the Reds vs. Red Sox game. In this game, BOTH managers managed to misuse their closers and it ended up costing the Reds the game. The Sox had lefty Hideki Okajima on the mound w/ 1 out in the 8th. He was brought in to face a ton of lefties and had allowed 2 to reach base – 1 via single and 1 through a walk. With 5 outs to go in the game, and the Sox up 4-2 w/ runners on 1st and 2nd, Francona decided he’d seen enough. He promptly called on …(drum roll, please) – Manny Delcarmen. Now, Delcarmen’s not a bad reliever and he’s probably the best the Sox have outside of Papelbon, but Francona could have – and should have – called on Papelbon. Delcarmen’s 1st hitter was the estimable Javier Valentin who promptly singled, cutting the Sox lead to 4-3. That Delcarmen managed to get Griffey, Jr. to hit into a DP, and that Papelbon gave up a 2 out homer to Edwin Encarnacion in the 9th doesn’t absolve Francona of his mistake. Papelbon’s the best reliever the Sox have and no situation calls for your best reliever more than that one – 2 on, 1 out in a 2-run game in the 8th. If Francona uses Papelbon and he’s able to get out of it up 4-2, the Sox win in 9 despite Encarnacion’s 9th inning homer.

In the top of the 10th, Dusty Baker made just as big a mistake. He left Mike Lincoln in to pitch to the Sox and he promptly gave up back-to-back homers to Kevin Youkilis and Coco Crisp while his best reliever, Francisco Cordero, languished away in the pen. Cordero never entered the game and the Reds lost 6-4 in 10 innings. What, exactly, was Baker saving his best reliever for – the 11th? If they don’t survive the 10th, they never see the 11th. Why a team would lose an extra inning game w/o ever having its best reliever throw a pitch is absolutely beyond me, but that’s exactly what happened yesterday.

Watching all of this unfold, at least the part FOX allowed me to watch (they switched away to highlights of the Reds game while it was going on but immediately after the back-to-back jacks in the 10th) made me want to examine how the Cards were using their bullpen. Who is our best reliever? I’m not even sure. It’s not Izzy, at least not right now. God help us if it’s Franklin. Could it be Perez? Is it too early to tell? McClellan? Springer’s been pitching well of late. Do you think Tony and Dunc even know who our best reliever is right now?

Did you know – b/c I didn’t – that the Cards’ bullpen’s ERA is 15th in the NL? I had no idea it was that bad. Only the Padres’ is worse. It’s reasonable to assert that bullpen ERA isn’t the best way to evaluate bullpens b/c of the way in which earned runs are doled out. What about WXRL – relievers expected wins added? Last in the NL! Wow! We’re 13th in the NL in inherited runners allowed to score. I had no idea it was that bad. That we’re in the middle of the pack in the NL in ERA is a testament to how good our starters have been. Wainwright, Wellemeyer, and Lohse in particular have managed to keep this team afloat.

The table below details how well our relievers have pitched along with their leverage index -- how important the situation is when the reliever is brought into the game. A higher number reflects a more important situation (i.e.: 2 on, 1 out in the 8th). I’ve already defined WXRL. WPA is win probability added -- the amount that a player has contributed to the likelihood of a Cards’ win throughout the season. FIP is fielding independent pitching -- an ERA-style measurement of how well pitchers have pitched, regardless of defense.

Pitcher LI WXRL WPA FIP
Izzy 2.08 -2.47 -2.90 5.89
Franklin 1.89 1.918 1.30 3.88
McClellan 1.55 1.589 1.28 3.21
Springer 0.92 0.585 0.50 3.43
Flores 1.64 -0.142 -0.22 3.97
Perez 0.95 0.702 0.53 2.53
Villone 0.74 0.100 -0.05 3.84

Naturally, I didn’t include some of the others – the mop-up guys – Parisi, Thompson, Jimenez, Aaron Miles. We know they’re not our best options out of the pen (though Miles may be slowing turning into one). So, what does the table tell us? First of all, it’s important that we understand that WXRL and WPA are counting stats whereas FIP is a rate stat. What that means is that Perez’s WXRL and WPA aren’t lower than some of the others b/c he’s been worse. They’re lower b/c he hasn’t been with the team as long and hasn’t pitched in as many games as the others. The fact that his FIP is the best on the team (though, admittedly, in an EXTREMELY small sample) tells us how well he’s pitched.

The Cards’ 3 most leveraged relievers – the ones Tony has called on in the most important situations – are Izzy, Franklin, and Flores. The first 2 are unsurprising as they’ve been our closers/set up man but 2 of the 3 have been pretty bad on the whole this season. Flores, once again, has a negative WPA, a negative WXRL, and is 6th in the bullpen in FIP, yet Tony continues to turn to him in high-pressure situations. He’s walked 12 and struck out 13 in 18.2 IP. Lefties’ OPS against him so far this year -- .802. He’s not exactly shutting down lefties and really hasn’t his entire career. Granted, he’s generally better vs. lefties than righties, but that’s to be expected. I can’t help but believe that, as bad as Flores is, McClellan or Perez wouldn’t be better vs. lefties.

In fact, it appears as though McClellan, Perez, and Springer are the team’s 3 best relievers right now and, I’ll admit, as the season has gone along, Tony has entrusted McClellan and Perez w/ more high-leverage situations. Still, it won’t be long before Izzy’s back at the end of the pen. I hope he’s ready. I’ve been as big an Izzy-backer as anybody (and more so than many) but I’ve got my doubts. The pen clearly has a hole on its left side. Flores just isn’t good and Villone hasn’t exactly given us reason to believe he deserves a lot of trust in high-leverage situations (though, really, he’s been very good outside of 3 implosions). Aside from 3 games in which he was crushed, including Friday’s thrashing, he’s given up just 4 ER in 22.2 IP. For his career, he’s been better vs. lefties than Flores and, despite a pretty high BB/9, it’s still lower than Flores’. Maybe Tony should turn more to Villone in high-leverage situations vs. lefties and use Flores in more of a mopup role.

Still, it’s reasonable to question whether we shouldn’t be seeing more of McClellan and Perez and a little less Flores and Franklin. When Izzy does resume his closer’s role, I suspect Franklin will slide to the 8th inning role and, if anything, we’ll end up seeing LESS of the 2 rookies. That’s unfortunate. I hope Izzy pitches as he did last year. With Wainwright down and Wellemeyer (possibly) a little shaky, the pen will become even more important over the next month or so.

A couple other notes – first – Carp is set to see Dr. James Andrews re: his elbow. I know next to nothing about this stuff but, apparently, another surgery is a possibility. Yikes! Good thing we didn’t just give him a long-term contract worth $50-60 Million.

Mulder and Clement pitched both ends of a doubleheader for Springfield yesterday. Both got wins. Mulder really pitched quite well. Clement was OK – 3 BB in 5 IP.

Finally, Bernie, like many here yesterday, has begun his overture for Colby Rasmus to be called up from Memphis. Colby’s finally crushing the ball and may be ready + w/ Pujols and Wainer out, maybe it’s time. Is it? NO! The Cards’ problems are not in the OF. If Rasmus were called up, he’d end up in some sort of platoon w/ Ankiel and Schumaker. It’s difficult to say that either one of them should sit and it makes no sense to call Rasmus up to play 3-4 times per week. Nobody on Earth is a bigger Colby Rasmus fan than I am but he shouldn’t be called up until the team is ready to put him in the lineup EVERY DAY! Colby needs to play every day and, if he were brought up, he just wouldn’t. He’s not the savior. He can’t single-handedly keep this team afloat while it recovers from its myriad injuries.

There’s an argument to be made (and Bernie, sort of does) that Rasmus should be brought up and Ankiel should sit. Ankiel’s been slumping, of late. Even so, he’s still carrying an OPS+ of 109 and playing the best CF defense in the NL. Might Rasmus provide a little bit more offense? Possibly but the extra offense he provides the 3-4 days he plays isn’t worth having him sit twice a week so that LaRussa can figure out some LaPlatoon w/ Rasmus. The team should be prepared to play him every day, as the Reds are w/ Bruce, when he’s called up and it’s just not there right now. Unless Tony wants to commit to some strange, lefty-lefty Ankiel/Schumaker platoon w/ Rasmus playing every day, he should stay at Memphis.

I’ll be up w/ a game thread in a couple hours. Hope all the Dads have a great Father’s Day.

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