So I think, at this point, it has to be painfully obvious to everyone -- even our dear, stubborn managerial staff -- that some changes need to be need in the bullpen area. I pine for the days when Ryan Franklin seemed to be our only major concern. I really do.
But rather than write an angry rant that would doubtless be cathartic but ultimately less than instructive, I'm more interested at the moment in trying to figure out if anyone should have seen this coming. I know I didn't. In fact, I would hazard a guess I went into the season one of the more pessimistic individuals about the bullpen's chances (based on hatred for Franklin and Batista), and I still thought it could be a moderate strength.
Well, guess what? The bullpen has not been a strength. In fact, if the Cardinals don't figure out some way to stabilize the relief corps, it's probably going to end up being the story of the 2011 Cardinals, just as it was the 2009 team. The emergence of Fernando Salas as a viable late-inning reliever and the continued progress of Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs has given the team a troika of potentially plus relievers (and whenever Eduardo Sanchez comes back he should add another outstanding young arm to the mix), but the rest of the 'pen has been so mind-crunchingly awful as to render the whole less inspiring than just about any other group of relievers I can recall seeing.
So let's take us a look into the misty moors of the distant past, shall we? See if we can prise out from this miasma just how bad this bullpen looked going in.
Each of the main offenders is represented here, ladies and gentlemen, and each of them will be given a fair shake here in the Baron's Courtroom of Impending Doom. (Though I suppose calling it that somewhat paints a less than even-handed portrait of my courtroom, doesn't it?) What we will be attempting to discern here today is where the blame for the bullpen's crimes against Cardinanity should fall, and whether it was preventable before said crimes were perpetrated.
First up on the docket is:
The People of Cardinal Nation v. Ryan Franklin
The Defense: Coming into the season, Franklin was the Cardinals' solid, unspectacular closer, an aging veteran who had done a pretty fair job finishing games for the past three seasons. In 2009 he had a brilliant 214 ERA+, for god's sake! Clearly this was a player blessed with the mystical ability to pitch the ninth inning. After wandering in the wilderness for so many years, Franky had finally found a home closing games for El Birdos. When you consider how good he had been, there was absolutely no reason to believe he couldn't do it again this year. The numbers don't lie, and while Franklin might not be the most intimidating pitcher, intimidation is the sort of thing only idiotic announcers use as reasoning for their arguments. The 3.55, 1.92, and 3.46 ERAs tell you what kind of job Franklin has done.
The Prosecution: Oh, come now. Do you honestly expect us to believe Franklin was really as good as his ERA numbers looked? There were red flags all over his stat line; even in that season with the 1.92 ERA you're waving around his xFIP was 4.22. The only times he's really been effective is when he's been propped up by BABIPs in the .250 range. Franklin's only real skill this whole time has been an ability to avoid walking anyone, and that even seems to have deserted him now. High leverage relievers do not post K/9 numbers under 6, and the fact Franklin was able to keep his shit together while doing just that may be a testament to his brains or his balls or anything else you like, but anyone could see this guy was cruising for a regression-related bruising. Trusting him to pitch in crunch time was foolish all along.
The Verdict: I have a hard time deciding what direction to go here. On one hand, I've never been comfortable with Frankling pitching in high-leverage situations, because he's always been just a tiny turn of luck away from disaster. On the other hand, I hate the thought process that made him a closer in the first place, which has always been based on mysticism and veteran love.
In the end, I'm finding both the manager and the general manager guilty here. La Russa is guilty of putting Franklin in a spot he never had the stuff for, and dogmatically keeping him there until abject disaster forced him to change. Mozeliak is guilty of Franklin still being on the roster, when the spot could be used much better on a reliever who's actually capable of retiring hitters, even if it's solely in a mopup role.
The People of Cardinal Nation v. Miguel Batista
The Defense: Batista was the absolute perfect guy to bring in over the offseason who could serve in a bunch of different roles. With an unsettled back end of the rotation and a bullpen which lacked a clear long relief candidate, Batista brought an ideal versatility to the team. Plus, he's been on the Cards' radar for years, which indicates to me that Dave Duncan and TLR must have seen something in him they believe they can work with.
The Prosecution: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Miguel Batista is a flat-out terrible pitcher. The defense would have you believe he brings versatility, but the only sort of versatility he really offers is the same sort Aaron Miles brought, i.e. he's capable of standing lots of different places. Batista hasn't posted an FIP or xFIP below 4.50 since 2005, when he was still serving as the Blue Jays' closer. Bringing him in was a mistake, plain and simple.
Even so, much more problematic than Batista's presence on the roster has been his usage. If he were really serving in the role we all believed he was brought in to fill, that of long reliever or possible swingman, the amount of damage he could do would be limited. Plus, as a pitcher who has started most of his career, he should definitely be capable of absorbing some innings in low-leverage situations. Putting him in close games, though, is just asinine, and damaging to the team.
The Verdict: Guilt on both the GM and manager once again, but in sentencing I'm going to hammer the manager while giving the GM a suspended sentence. We all knew Batista was terrible going in, and the front office should have known as well. Nonetheless, you could do worse as a potential insurance plan, and it looked like a fairly smart bet when Adam Wainwright went down. Unfortunately, rather than being run out in mopup situations, Batista has served as one of the team's primary setup men this season, and we've all paid the price. Mozeliak, count yourself lucky, and I don't ever want to see you bring in a washed-up husk like this again. Tony, you're going to have a good, long time to think about how best to use your resources where you're going.
The People of Cardinal Nation v. Trever Miller
The Defense: Trever Miller has been one of the better LOOGYs in the game for quite some time now, and he's done admirable work for the Cardinals in his time wearing the birds on the bat. He's held left-handers to a .662 OPS over his career, and has been even better than that recently. In 2010 lefties only managed a .551 OPS against him; in 2009 it was an astounding .398. Sure, he gets into trouble whenever he's forced to pitch to many right-handed hitters, but if utilised properly Miller has shown the capacity for not just good, but great performance.
The Prosecution: Sure, Miller has been good the last couple years, but he's also at the age when any reliever could fall off a cliff, and he's looked like a pitcher in decline since 2009. The numbers still looked pretty good last season, but he also had some definite luck on his side. He had a .241 BABIP against lefties last year, and it was .209 two years ago. That's just not sustainable. We all saw at times last season that Trever wasn't right; he had a 5.79 ERA for the month of August and a 5.40 in September. His K/BB ratio wasn't great, either, at just 1.38 in 2010 against 4.18 in '09. This is a guy who is clearly on the downslope, and the team should have done a better job planning ahead for the time when he finally hit the wall.
The Verdict: On this one, I'm going not guilty on both manager and general manager. While Miller wasn't quite the pitcher last season he was his first year with the Cardinals, there wasn't any way I believe we should have seen this absolute collapse coming. At the very least, he was still a pitcher capable of chewing up lefties last year. This year, he can't seem to find the strike zone no matter who it is standing at the plate. While I think the time has come for La Russa to try a different approach to lefties late in the game now, I haven't had a problem with giving Miller a longer leash. By the same token, I haven't called for him to be banished from the team because I had hoped he would rediscover his mojo.
Now, though, I think the time has come for a change to be made. Brian Tallet hasn't exactly looked great either, but Miller is just lefty gasoline on the fire right now. So while I'm ruling not guilty as to either party foreseeing the problems with Trever, I am going to instate an injunction against continuing to go to Miller as the primary lefty reliever, effective immediately. We need to find some part of him that hurts, put him on the DL with a sprained whatever that may be, and see if he can't get himself right. Give Raul Valdes a shot, or just go with the best combination of pitchers possible and learn to make do with one lefty out of the 'pen. Lots of teams manage to make it work.
So that's my ruling for the day. It was easy to see disaster coming with both Franklin and Batista, and the latter should never have been on the roster in the first place. Franklin didn't necessarily need to be dumped from the team entirely, but he was always miscast as a late-inning stopper, and it was misguided to put him there in the first place. Miller I can't blame anyone for not seeing trouble on the horizon; while he wasn't great last year he was still pretty good, and has a long enough track record of real -- not illusory -- success that trusting him was justified.
How do the Cards fix it? Well, to be honest, if they're serious about fixing the bullpen, the Cardinals are going to have to blow it up. Franklin, Batista, and Miller have no place on the roster right now, and if it takes outright releases to get them off it that's what needs to be done. Jess Todd has been strong lately for Memphis, and looks ready for another shot at the apple. Raul Valdes has been good in relief; he can't possibly be worse than what we've seen from the left side of the major league 'pen. (Well, technically he could be worse, but hey, better the devil you don't know, right?) I don't care if the Cards have to bring Bryan Augenstein back to the majors for low-leverage work; something has to change if this team is going to escape having the bullpen sink another season. Personally, I would move McClellan back to the 'pen and bring up Lance Lynn to fill his rotation spot, but I think we've all seen enough of this coaching staff to know they don't admit mistakes easily. Overall this bullpen hasn't been terrible; the good arms have mostly managed to hold things together. But with less than half an effective bullpen the Cardinals aren't going to be able to survive indefinitely trying to cobble together a relief effort.
There's plenty of blame to go around, even though I don't think anyone could possibly have predicted things would get this bad. Mozeliak deserves some for keeping ineffective players on the roster and La Russa deserves plenty for his blind spots in how he uses these guys. Now the question is whether or not they can come together and figure out a way to keep the bullpen from sinking the season entirely.
The Baron's Playlist for the 22nd of June, 2011 (I'll Try to get an 8tracks list uploaded later today; I just don't have the time at the moment.)
"Screws Get Loose" - Those Darlins
"Hung Up On Me" - Those Darlins
"Never Heal Myself" - Cults
"Most Wanted" - Cults (I really love their full-length. Only complaint: I don't like the new version of Oh My God as well as the original.)
"Paradise Knife Fights" - Vampire Hands
"No Fun" - Vampire Hands
"Perth" - Bon Iver
"Minnesota, WI" - Bon Iver