St. Louis Cardinals Promote Cleto, Demote Dickson & Fick In Attempt to Upgrade Bullpen

ST. LOUIS, MO -SEPTEMBER 5: Reliever Maikel Cleto #63 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitchers against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on September 5, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Brewers defeated the Cardinals 4-1. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

DanUp's post from this morning is an excellent one on how the St. Louis Cardinals are hurting themselves via bullpen construction. On the morning after a 2008-esque bullpen meltdown, it was well-timed. Due to the Cardinals' excruciating tendency to lose close games generally and one-run games in particular, Cards fans are in that horrible mental place where wincing is the knee-jerk reaction to any pitching change. Ours is a sense of dread brought about by being shell-shocked from the drubbing the relievers have taken recently. We hear the crack of a bat striking game-winning homers and improbable go-ahead doubles even when there is not an opposing batsmen in the box.

Having grown up in the era when late-inning relievers were known as "firemen" because they put out the blaze of rally with a blazing fastball a la Steven Seagal in "On Deadly Ground", the fact that I currently feel like each Cardinals reliever takes the mound with a can of gasoline is not lost on me. Stretches like these bring a whole knew meaning to the term "reliever volatility." Volatile chemicals can explode; volatile relievers often do. So it was during last night's game. Kyle Lohse provided the early fireworks and the bullpen was lit up for some late-inning explosions.

Last night's was the type of game that induces such sentiment and makes one take stock of the Cardinals bullpen. It did DanUp and me, too. John Mozeliak seems to have done the same. The Cardinals have optioned both Chuckie Fick and Brandon Dickson to Triple A Memphis and promoted Maikel Cleto to St. Louis. Cleto, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound righty, has a fastball that touches 100 MPH and has posted an 11.88 K/9 to a 3.24 BB/9. His 2.92 FIP is betrayed by a 4.32 ERA due in large part to a mere 58.8 LOB%. Jenifer Langosch tweets that another move will be made on Friday; the most logical upgrade would be to recall Fernando Salas.

In the wake of last night's game (and now the reconstruction of the bullpen), I attempted to put the 2012 Cardinals pen in perspective. I went to Fangraphs and looked at the 2012 MLB averages for relief pitchers. The following is a table with those averages.

MLB AVG.

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

ERA

FIP

xFIP

BABIP

LOB%

2012 RPs

8.28

3.57

0.88

3.62

3.75

3.86

.286

74.4%


Using the Fangraphs league averages for this year, I made a color-coded chart for the Cardinals relief corps in 2012 through play last night. I included everyone who has pitched out of the bullpen this season for the Cardinals even though Brandon Dickson and Chuckie Fick barely threw at all.

Pitcher

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

ERA

FIP

xFIP

BABIP

LOB%

Boggs

8.34

3.57

0.00

1.99

2.49

3.31

.270

74.1%

Motte

8.57

3.00

1.29

3.43

3.98

3.60

.212

77.4%

Sanchez

8.10

5.40

0.00

2.70

3.02

4.09

.125

66.7%

Rzepczynski

6.52

2.79

1.40

4.66

4.52

3.39

.246

69.2%

Marte

8.10

2.31

1.16

3.86

3.79

3.40

.258

74.6%

Salas

12.06

5.17

0.57

6.32

2.90

3.61

.458

68.6%

McClellan

5.30

4.34

0.96

5.30

5.00

5.36

.237

66.1%

Fick

0.00

5.40

0.00

5.40

4.82

8.23

.375

75.0%

Dickson

3.86

0.00

0.00

0.00

2.17

3.38

.300

66.7%

Romero

5.63

2.25

3.38

10.13

7.77

4.85

.367

62.5%

As you can see, there's a whole lot of folks in the neighborhood of average and not many hurlers throwing at a high level. The reliever who has thrown the best this season for the Cards has been Mitchell Boggs and it really isn't that close. Boggs is the only pitcher around average or better in every statistical category.

I don't take issue with DanUp assertion that "the bullpen is a tough place to shout 'small sample size!' and wait for a few weeks" because it is. Nonetheless, I'm going to give it a try. Small sample size! Victor Marte leads the relievers with 23 1/3 innings pitched this season. His scoreless two innings of work on Tuesday night lowered his ERA from 4.22 to 3.86. On the flip side, Scrabble's three runs allowed in one inning last night raised his ERA from 3.44 to 4.66. Keep in mind that Marte and Rzcepczynski have both been in the big-league bullpen since Opening Day. The relievers are clearly still at the point where they have thrown so few innings that one outing can have a significant effect on their stats.

With the promotion of Cleto and presumably another arm for the bullpen, Matheny will no longer be fighting with two relievers tied behind his back. Each of Boggs, Sanchez, Salas, and Cleto could emerge as the shutdown righty setup man. Their potential suggests that they could also be deployed effectively in earlier innings, as well, meaning that the bullpen will be stronger from the middle innings to the ninth. On paper, the bullpen will be better on Friday than it was on Wednesday. To calm the angst of fans, however, the new-look relief corps will need to produce some positive results.

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