As I’ve mentioned several times, I’m not at all comfortable w/ our right-handed relief. Franklin’s been stellar in the closer’s role and I doubt that there’s been a lefty in the game better than Trever Miller, but our righties leave something to be desired. I was hoping that John Smoltz could come in and fill that role but he’s been too good in the rotation, particularly in light of the injuries to and ineffectiveness of Kyle Lohse and Todd Wellemeyer, so we still have that hole in the pen. Now some will argue that we don’t need a 4th starter in the postseason so Smoltz can immediately fill that role once we get there. I’m not sure I agree with that. We may or may not need a 4th starter in round 1, depending on off days and how quickly we’re able to dispose of our opponent, but we’ll need a 4th starter in the NLCS and World Series. There’s no way that La Russa’s going to let Carp make 3 starts in either series. That means that our 4th starter pitches game 4 in both series. That said, it still might make sense for Smoltz to be moved to the pen and have Lohse make those game 4 starts. Normally, of course, you’d have your 4th best starter – and right now that’s Smoltz – make the start in game 4 and have Lohse pitch out of the pen. But the drop-off from Smoltz to Lohse in the rotation may be much smaller than the drop-off from Smoltz to Motte or McClellan in the pen. Moreover, if we save Smoltz for those game 4 starts, we’re basically limiting him to 6 innings or so per series. If we move him to the pen, perhaps we could use him for 1-2 innings in every game – or in 3 out of 4 or so – b/c of off days. I think it’s possible that we could get more innings out of Smoltz out of the pen, in the postseason, than we could from the rotation.
The reason moving Smoltz to the pen in the postseason must be considered is b/c I have no faith whatsoever in our righties in the pen, Franklin excluded. Some will point to KMac’s 3.21 ERA and tell us how good he’s been this year. Unfortunately, his FIP is just 4.44 – just 61st among NL relievers. He still gets a good number of ground balls but he’s walking more than 5 batters per 9 innings. He’s benefiting from a lot of good luck as his BABIP is just .272, despite a 19.1% LD rate. His BABIP should be about 40 points higher than it is. His HR/FB is just 7.5% which is 2% less than it was last year and lower than league average. His WPA is 0.27 – 35th among NL relievers – and he’s 0.5 runs below replacement this year according to fangraphs – 60th in the NL among relievers. His WXRL is 1.019 – 43rd in the NL among relievers. And he’s our setup man.
I think we’ve probably all come to the realization that Jason Motte isn’t the solution, at least not this year. His 5.64 FIP is 2nd to last among NL relievers, ahead only of Phils’ closer (?) Brad Lidge. He’s actually been better in higher leverage situations than in lower leverage situations this year as his WPA is just minus 0.11. It’s not great but it’s 51st in the NL, as opposed to his 75th ranked FIP. Most notably, he’s more than 7 runs below replacement level this season, according to fangraphs. BP has him slightly above replacement level, w/ a WXRL of 0.644, but that’s still 58th among NL relievers.
I’d like to see more of Blake Hawksworth, though I’m not sure I’m ready for him to take over the 8th inning. Some will point to his .258 BABIP and say that he’s benefiting from a lot of good luck as well but his LD rate is just 14.9%. Maybe that’s a result of a relatively small sample – he’s faced just 113 batters this year – but a .258 BABIP isn’t that far out of line when batters aren’t squaring up his pitches. He doesn’t strike anyone out – just 3.49 K/9 – but he’s getting a ton of ground balls. His FIP is 3.76, his WPA is 0.69, and he’s 1.5 RAR. All those numbers are better than both KMac and Motte. His WXRL is 0.706 which is just slightly below KMac’s, despite facing fewer than half as many hitters as KMac has. Still, I don’t see him getting the ball in the 8th in the playoffs in a tie game.
At this point the likelihood of us adding a reliever is next to none. It won’t be Justin Speier and we’re not going to call up Eduardo Sanchez. I really don’t trust Josh Kinney. He hasn’t pitched well w/ the big club and he’s only been OK w/ Memphis, though he’s pitched pretty well of late. At least Kinney can get a K and has only given up 4 walks in his last 12 innings. If he throws strikes he’s pretty good. Anyone trust Wellemeyer in relief? Me neither.
All in all, assuming he’s healthy, I think my preference is to move Smoltz to the pen in a couple weeks and move Lohse into the rotation to have Lohse take that game 4 start. Hell, if we only use Smoltz for an inning or 2 in games 1-3, we could use Lohse for 3-4 innings, or as long as we trust him, and then have Smoltz take 3-4. To me though, I’d like to have the ability to use Smoltz more than once. We can’t depend on Carp, Wainer, and Pineiro to get 8 innings per start. If we have Smoltz in the pen, we can pinch hit for one of the starters if we need to. We’ll be facing tougher starters in the playoffs and may need to pinch hit in the 6th or 7th if we’re down 2-1. Would you rather bring in Motte, McClellan, Hawksworth, or Smoltz? Considering the leverage, the versatility of having him available in more than 1 game, and the possibility that he could pitch more than 6 innings from the pen, I’d rather have Smoltz coming out of the pen in the playoffs, even if he’s pitching exceptionally well, than having him take those 4th starts.