A Look At The Early Success of St. Louis Cardinals Reliever Mitchell Boggs

March 21, 2012; Jupiter, FL, USA;St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Mitchell Boggs (41) throws in the seventh inning against the New York Mets during a spring training game at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Mitchell Boggs has always been something of a riddle. With a repertoire that includes a mid-90s fastball, a diving sinker, and a "wipeout" slider, the 6'4" righty has the stuff to make it as a big-league reliever. The problem has always been his results. Despite a collection of nasty individual pitches, Boggs has never been an elite swing-and-miss pitcher. This combination of a pedestrian strikeout rate and erratic command eventually prompted the Cardinals organization to shift Boggs to the bullpen, where he earned a roster spot for the 2009 NLDS and has spent nearly all of the last two seasons.

Boggs spent most of 2010 as the janitor of the bullpen, mopping up in low-leverage situations and posting the second-lowest Average Leverage Index in the St. Louis bullpen (behind Fernando Salas, oddly enough). In the wake of the bullpen meltdown of 2011, manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan turned to Boggs as closer. Boggs would not last long in the role or in the big leagues. The Cardinals optioned him to AAA to work on his secondary offerings as a starter after a messy blown save.

With a new manager and pitching coach, this spring marked a fresh start for several St. Louis organization warriors, Boggs among them. Boggs reported to Jupiter with a newly manicured beard (that is perhaps inspired by General Ambrose Burnside). With the Best Shape of His Life narrative applied to the twenty-pounds-lighter Jake Westbrook, another spring training narrative was applied to Boggs: a reworked repertoire.

It was reported by several sources that Boggs was working on a split-finger fastball to complement his fastball-slider combination. Jennifer Langosch wrote for stlcardinals.com that Boggs had resurrected his changeup, a pitch the righty has used sparingly since his move to the bullpen. In Langosch's excellent piece, she explains that Boggs altered his changeup grip on the advice of Adam Wainwright so that the pitch now has "more depth." Boggs shared with Langosch that he hopes to use his slider and changeup more to keep opposing batsmen off his fastball.

Success in spring training with the changeup was encouraging to Boggs, as he shared with Langosch.

It is good for me to have another weapon, and I certainly have seen the benefits of it. That just reinforces that it can be a big-time pitch for me.

Boggs has carried his new approach from spring training into the regular season with success. Using the Brooks Baseball player card data for Boggs, here is a look at Boggs's pitch selection over the last few seasons, with the 2012 numbers through play on Saturday.

YEAR

FA TOTAL

FA %

SI TOTAL

SI %

SL TOTAL

SL %

CH TOTAL

CH %

2010

173

17%

574

56%

267

26%

9

1%

2011

195

19%

596

57%

231

22%

16

2%

2012

27

28%

35

36%

27

28%

9

9%

Obviously, it is very, very early in the season. That being said, Boggs has already thrown his changeup as many times in 2012 as he did in all of 2010. Boggs is also mixing in a higher number of four-seamers than he has in the past.

In another article by Langosch on stlcardinals.com, Boggs explained the need to stick with the changeup.

"It's something that I'm going to have to commit to [throwing], which I haven't done in the past," Boggs said. "But I think if I can do that, it'll make all the other stuff that much better. If it wasn't already a good pitch, I wouldn't bother with it. But I think it's something I can compete with."

Compete, Boggs has.

The right-hander has managed a 15.2% swinging-strike rate in the infant 2012 season, up from 9.0% last season. Given the higher number of swings-and-misses, it's no surprise that his K/9 has risen from a subpar 7.13 in 2011 to an exceptional 10.13 so far in 2012. Coupled with his newfound control--Boggs has not yet walked an opposing hitter in 2012--it seems that Boggs may be poised to shed the concerns about his low strikeout rate and erratic control that have dogged him.

With a bullpen that includes Kyle McClellan and Victor Marte, Boggs has emerged as a late-inning option early this season. Manager Mike Matheny's trust in Boggs is reflected in an Average Leverage Index in 2012 of 1.157, up from .730 and .763 in the last two seasons. It will be interesting to see if Boggs continues to deploy his changeup at an increased rate and if he can maintain a high K/9 and a reduced BB/9 as the season passes.

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