A Little Heat for 2012

Could Fernando Salas be the 2012 "soft tosser" out of the Cardinals bullpen?

Yesterday was a reminder that the Phillies, despite looking a bit lost at the end of the regular season are still a powerful and competent team in virtually every aspect of the game. Yesterday's loss, as danup noted, was attributable to the pitching.  It's rough when you can put up a six spot on a Roy Halladay start and still come away the definitive loser.

The Cardinals will start Chris Carpenter on short rest in Game 2 of the NLDS and he'll go up against Cliff Lee.

I continue to be fascinated by the bullpen transformation that happened this year in St. Louis.  Removing some pitchers that were vocally supported by the coaching staff is uncommon even if utterly necessary after Ryan Franklin lost his command and Miguel Batista proved he'd never find his at age 40. Still, what seems most interesting to me is the conversion from a command oriented bullpen to a stuff oriented bullpen. To that end, I dug up what I think is the starting bullpens for the last three years.

2009 FB mph 2010 FB mph 2011 FB mph 2012 FB mph
Ryan Franklin 91.2 Ryan Franklin 91.2 Ryan Franklin 91.0 Fernando Salas 91.2
Brad Thompson 87.4 Blake Hawksworth 93.0 Miguel Batista 92.3 Eduardo Sanchez 93.5
Kyle McClellan 91.4 Kyle McClellan 91.3 Brian Augenstein 88.5 Kyle McClellan 91.7
Josh Kinney 90.3 Mitchell Boggs 96.1 Mitchell Boggs 95.2 Mitchell Boggs 95.7
Jason Motte 95.8 Jason Motte 95.8 Jason Motte 96.0 Jason Motte 96.0
Dennys Reyes 90.0 Dennys Reyes 90.2 Brian Tallet 88.7 Marc Rzepczynski 91.3
Trever Miller 87.0 Trever Miller 87.7 Trever Miller 87.0 Arthur Rhodes (?) 89.0
(Average) 90.44 (Average) 92.19 (Average) 91.24 (Average) 92.62

 

I used career averages or career averages in years when they were exclusively a reliever to project the 2012 FB mph.If you replace McCllellan with Lance Lynn next you you get an average FB velocity of 92.71 coming out of the Cardinals pen. Eduardo Sanchez's injury brought his FB mph down 1-2 mph from it's regular minor league velocity. The next true reliever in the minors is, potentially, Adam Reifer, who was out this year with a knee injury, and has an average fastball in the 94-95 mph range.

Whether this is a conscious decision by the Cardinals or coincidental with an improved minor league farm system, I don't know. What I do know is that in 2 years the Cardinals have added an average of 2 mph to their bullpen fastballs and that number is probably low.  Those players with a better fastball also appear to be the ones getting the most innings. They also throw their fastball with a higher degree of frequency. The Cardinals bullpen has become a pen of hard throwers who rely on dominant fastballs as a major part of their arsenal.

Despite the improved fastball velocity, the Cardinals pen has not proven to be consistently better on a yearly basis. I'm not particularly enamored of WAR for relievers (chaining value, in particular, really bothers me), WPA is intended to provide an account of when players are making positive contributions versus negative ones. Here's the Cardinals' full relief corps' WPA for the last three years.

2009 +1.52
2010 +2.36
2011 -2.09

 

If you think you've got a bead on the bullpen, think again. Bullpen's are always volatile because relievers are always volatile. Still, if you left this regular season with the sense that the Cardinals bullpen was worse than recent seasons, by this measure, you'd be correct. I for one am looking forward to the 2012 Cardinals bullpen: may it be faster and better than its predecessors.

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