How Bad is the St. Louis Cardinals Bullpen?

August 12, 2012; Philadelphia, PA USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Mitchell Boggs (41) reacts after allowing a game tying three run home run in the bottom of the 8th inning during the game at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies defeated the Cardinals, 8-7 in 11 innings. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

On Sunday, the St. Louis Cardinals lost another game in which the bullpen surrendered late-inning runs. The relief corps has been one of the primary reasons behind the Cardinals finding themselves in third place, seven games behind division-leading Cincinnati, despite owning the best run differential in baseball. The Cards bullpen has been quite bad and continues to struggle.

The St. Louis relievers don't strike very many opposing batsmen out. Their 7.70 K/9 ranks 24th in MLB. They also have a tendency to give up homers, with a 1.16 HR/9 that is the second-highest in baseball. The Cardinals bullpen ERA of 4.24 ranks 24th and their 4.34 FIP ranks 29th behind only the Cubs. It's no surprise then that the Cards relievers are below average in nearly every statistical category.

2012

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

ERA

FIP

xFIP

BABIP

LOB%

MLB

8.29

3.50

0.91

3.68

3.84

3.95

.290

74.6%

Cardinals

7.70

3.49

1.16

4.24

4.34

4.07

.281

74.4%


A look at the individual performances of the Cardinals relievers in colored chart form after the jump.

A bullpen is the sum of its parts. The Cardinals relievers have struggled quite a lot this season. These struggles have led to a game of reliever roulette in which general manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny attempt to find someone who can deliver good results. Trevor Rosenthal, Brandon Dickson, Sam Freeman, Maikel Cleto, J.C. Romero, and more have thrown innings in relief for the Cardinals this season. Often, these pitchers have only logged a handful of innings before they are swapped out for the next potential bandaid.

We have looked at the Cardinals in comparison to the league average using this chart before. The same premise applies as usual. Red is above average. The darker the hue of red, the better. Blue is below average. The darker the hue, the worse. I left some of the farmhands who spent little time with St. Louis in the interest of avoiding clutter as their stats over four or ten innings are not particularly telling. The chart shows stats through Saturday, August 12, 2012.

Pitcher

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

ERA

FIP

xFIP

LOB%

Motte

10.29

2.76

0.92

2.57

3.11

3.10

82.5%

Boggs

6.80

2.57

0.55

2.20

3.41

3.76

81.8%

Salas

9.30

4.43

0.66

4.65

3.53

4.06

71.4%

Mujica

5.65

1.88

1.26

3.98

4.34

4.14

69.0%

Browning

4.70

2.35

0.59

4.11

3.67

4.08

58.8%

McClellan

5.30

4.34

0.96

5.30

5.07

5.49

66.1%

Marte

7.75

3.05

1.41

4.46

4.57

3.92

79.1%

Sanchez

7.80

7.80

1.20

6.60

5.89

5.82

63.1%

Fuentes

7.20

4.50

1.80

7.20

5.69

4.86

64.2%

Rzepczynski

5.73

3.11

1.67

4.54

5.26

3.90

77.7%

As was the case last year, Jason Motte has emerged as the Cardinals' top reliever. He is well above-average across the board. And the stat where he isn't, HR/9, is one in which being average is not necessarily a negative. Yesterday's results notwithstanding, Mitchell Boggs has been very good this year even though he is striking out even fewer batters this year. How a player with his repertoire is unable to strike out many opposing hitters is beyond me.This chart also very clearly illustrates Fernando Salas's biggest problem this season: walks. He is issuing a lot of free passes, which has hurt him. The high BABIP hitters have put up this year hasn't helped, either.

Edward Mujica fits this bullpen very well. He doesn't strike out many batters and is slightly below-average in HR/9, ERA, FIP, and xFIP. His miniscule walk rate is integral to his success. Mujica barely walks anyone, which makes the hits he allows less damaging than they might be. With his underwhelming line, any uptick in walks would be rather damaging. Oddly enough, I'd say Victor Marte is probably at least as good a bet going forward as Mujica.

Marc Rzepczynski has been quite bad this season, even as his HR rate has shrank a bit and brought down his ERA. The near-halving of his K/9 from his 2011 numbers with the Cardinals is worrisome even as the reduction in walks is heartening. If Rzepczynski had a league-average home run rate, he'd be slightly above-average, as his 3.90 xFIP reflects.

Even though Browning was the goat yesterday and received a pitching "loss" on his record, he's been okay during his few innings pitched. The foundation of his success is a low number of walks, a skill he hasn't displayed at any level in the minors. His career 4.1 BB/9 in the minors is actually lower than the 4.3 BB/9 he has posted over three Triple-A seasons. When the walks start sprouting up, it will be difficult for whichever reliever Matheny calls on to earn a hold.

The current group of relievers seem likely to finish out the month as the Cardinals bullpen without major changes. It will be interesting to see who the club calls up in September to further bolster what has been a frustrating unit during the 2012 season.

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