How Worrisome is the St. Louis Cardinals Bullpen?

CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 14: Kyle McClellan #46 of the St. Louis Cardinals looks on after giving up a home run in the second inning to Brandon Phillips #4 of the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on May 14, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Reds defeated the Cardinals 7-3. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The first few games of the very young 2012 season have given St. Louis Cardinals fans cause for concern. The bullpen seems to more closely resemble the unit that performed poorly in early 2011 than the remade group that was so instrumental to the Redbirds' Wild Card run and World Series championship. The bullpen's poor pitching during the season's first few games is not an altogether surprising development.

Today we will take a look at how the 2011 Cardinals relievers and the averaged projections for the current and potential members of the 2012 bullpen stack up against the major league average stats for relief pitchers from last season.

The following chart shows the average line for a major league relief pitcher from last season.

MLB RP AVG.

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

ERA

FIP

2011

7.91

3.63

0.85

3.69

3.83

The next chart shows the pitchers who threw 20 or more innings in relief for the Cardinals in 2011. The stats shown in blue are those that are worse than average. The darker the shade of blue, the worse the pitcher was relative to the league average for that stat. Where a pitcher's statistical tally is above average, the stat is shown in red. The darker the shade of red, the more above-average that pitcher's stat.

Pitcher

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

ERA

FIP

Dotel

11.68

1.82

0.36

3.28

1.57

Lynn

11.64

2.96

0.74

2.22

2.45

Motte

8.34

2.12

0.26

2.25

2.48

Rzepczynski

11.12

4.37

0.40

3.97

2.72

Sanchez

10.50

4.80

0.30

1.80

3.03

Salas

9.00

2.52

0.84

2.28

3.16

Boggs

7.12

3.12

0.59

3.56

3.44

Miller

5.17

5.74

0.57

4.02

5.00

Batista

4.91

5.52

0.61

4.60

5.07

Rhodes

6.23

3.12

2.08

4.15

5.68

McClellan

5.59

3.16

1.95

4.14

5.97

Franklin

5.53

2.28

2.93

8.46

6.89


The additions of Octavio Dotel, Lance Lynn, Marc Rzepczynski, Eduardo Sanchez, and Fernando Salas were significant upgrades for the Cards. However, the remaking of the bullpen wasn't entirely positive. Arthur Rhodes did not pitch very well and Kyle McClellan wasn't any better. Nonetheless, in September and October, manager Tony La Russa had his pick of several relievers who were pitching at a level significantly higher than a league-average reliever. It's no wonder that the manager's strategy of keeping starters on a short leash and leaning on the bullpen worked as well as it did in the postseason.

During the offseason, Dotel opted to sign with the Tigers. Walk-happy J.C. Romero was signed to a major-league deal to be the pen's second southpaw. The Cardinals also tendered a contract to McClellan worth $2.5 million. Chris Carpenter's "nerve irritation" and disabled list stint caused the Cardinals to move Lynn from the bullpen to the starting rotation during spring training. The organization sent Eduardo Sanchez to Triple A to work on his mechanics and chose veteran Scott Linebrink as the last man in the bullpen. Before Linebrink threw a regular-season pitch, however, he was disabled with what is being called a lat injury and was replaced by Victor Marté, the closer for Triple A Memphis in 2011.

As presently constituted, the Cardinals relief corps isn't very good.

I averaged together the publicly available projections for the current members of the St. Louis bullpen as well as those players that might join it. I compared the players' 2012 averaged projections to the league-average reliever line from 2011 and color-coded the chart in the same manner as the one above.

Pitcher

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

ERA

FIP

Motte

8.81

2.78

0.71

3.11

3.17

Lynn*

8.16

3.26

0.74

3.58

3.48

Rzepczynski

8.67

3.94

0.70

3.00

3.59

Salas

8.78

3.01

0.94

3.23

3.56

Sanchez

9.17

4.33

0.71

3.55

3.61

Boggs

7.00

3.43

0.71

3.98

3.79

Linebrink

7.43

3.21

1.08

4.18

4.15

McClellan*

5.95

2.92

1.06

3.98

4.30

Romero

6.87

5.30

0.75

4.40

4.46

Marte

6.60

3.96

1.08

4.83

4.57


*Please note that both McClellan and Lynn have projections that include starts and relief so they are a mixed bag. Feel free to take them with as many grains of salt as you see fit.

The current bullpen has a fair number of below-average projections. By FIP, McClellan, Romero, and Marté all project to be below-average. Linebrink does, as well.
Boggs is roughly average, just like he was in 2011. In the current bullpen, only Motte, Rzepczynski, and Salas project to be above-average. While this is disconcerting, there is the potential for the bullpen to improve with players already in the Cardinals organization.


Even with a forecasted 4.33 BB/9, Sanchez projects to be above-average by FIP due to his high strikeout rate. If he is able to work out the mechanical issues that relegated him to Memphis, he would be a clear upgrade. The projection systems including starts drive up Lynn's ERA and FIP numbers; nonetheless, Lynn projects to post the second-best FIP in the bullpen. If Carpenter is able to return, it seems likely that Lynn will slide back into relief. This would help to bolster the unit significantly.


The current members of the Cardinals bullpen give it the potential to be as bad as the 2011 unit that required wholesale changes. A healthy Carpenter would strengthen both the starting rotation and bullpen by bumping Lynn to relief. A mechanically sound Sanchez would further bolster the relief ranks. Hopefully the gods of baseball smile on Carp's health and Sanchez's mechanics because the St. Louis bullpen could use the help.
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