The St. Louis Cardinals Turn to Mitchell Boggs at Closer

Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE

Mitchell Boggs has long had the repertoire of a closer, if not the results.

On Saturday morning the St. Louis Cardinals announced that incumbent closer Jason Motte underwent an MRI that revealed what Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com reports to be a "mild strain of the flexor tendon in his right elbow." Consequently, Motte is likely to start the season on the disabled list. Lnagosch also writes that, rather than hold a competition or play coy, manager Mike Matheny promptly announced that the club's fill-in at closer would be righthander Mitchell Boggs.

In many ways, Boggs is a prototypical closer. The 6-foot-4 Georgian boasts a repertoire that features a good ol' fashioned country hardball. His powerful sinker was amongst the speediest pitches in baseball last year. Using the Pitch F/X leaderboard at Baseball Prospectus, we can sort by those relief pitchers who threw 200 or more sinkers in 2012 and see that Boggs's sinker was the fourth-fastest of its speedball breed. If we lump sinkers and fourseamers together, Boggs's sinker comes in as having the 24th fastest average speed in MLB last year.

MLB TOP 25 PITCHES BY AVERAGE VELOCITY 2012

Rank

Reliever

Club

Pitch

Count

Avg. Velocity

1

K. Herrera

KC

Fourseam

693

99.41

2

C. Capps

SEA

Fourseam

345

99.02

3

A. Chapman

CIN

Fourseam

1,069

98.78

4

T. Rosenthal

STL

Fourseam

293

98.71

5

A. Cashner

SD

Fourseam

296

98.51

6

N. Jones

CWS

Fourseam

762

98.39

7

H. Rodriguez

WAS

Fourseam

366

98.38

8

J. Motte

STL

Fourseam

645

97.90

9

B. Villarreal

DET

Fourseam

721

97.77

10

A. Ogando

TEX

Fourseam

599

97.76

11

P. Strop

BAL

Sinker

555

97.76

12

K. Jepsen

ANA

Fourseam

429

97.64

13

C. Kimbrel

ATL

Fourseam

619

97.62

14

S. Pryor

SEA

Fourseam

283

97.52

15

T. Willhelmsen

SEA

Foursean

649

97.14

16

T. Scheppers

TEX

Fourseam

266

97.11

17

B. Parnell

NYM

Fourseam

286

97.07

18

J. Axford

MIL

Fourseam

981

96.96

19

J. Walden

ANA

Fourseam

560

96.86

20

B. Parnell

NYM

Sinker

532

96.82

21

J. Hanrahan

PIT

Fourseam

742

96.68

22

G. Holland

KC

Fourseam

626

96.67

23

F. Rodney

TB

Sinker

496

96.65

24

M. Boggs

STL

Sinker

564

96.53

25

J. McGee

TB

Fourseam

771

96.45


As you can see, the Cardinals have an embarrassment of fastball riches. Motte's fourseamer had the eighth-fastest average speed amongst big-league relievers last season. Higher still is postseason bullpenning phenom Trevor Rosenthal's fourseamer, which was the fourth-fastest speedball in the majors at an Ardolis Chapman-esque 98.71 mph average. With an average speed that of 96.53 mph, Boggs's sinking fastball rates as closer-ready. It's no wonder that it is his weapon of choice.

Using the databases available at Brooks Baseball, we see that Boggs relies on his sinker most often. The following table shows how often he throws the pitch on the first pitch, when the batter is ahead in the count, when the count is even, when he is ahead in the count, and overall. Boggs threw his sinker 52% of the time in 2012, relying on it more heavily against lefthanded batters than righties.

BOGGS 2012 SINKER USAGE

Split

vs. LHB

vs. RHB

First Pitch

79%

53%

Batter Ahead

76%

62%

Even

67%

44%

Pitcher Ahead

33%

32%

Two Strikes

40%

31%

Overall

61%

45%


Even with its combination of velocity and sink, Boggs's sinker is not a swing-and-miss pitch to the degree one might expect. Boggs induced a whiff from the opposing hitter on just 10.53% of his 2012 sinkers. This is a rate that ranked 64th amongst relievers who threw 200 or more sinkers last year. If we combine fourseamers and sinkers, Boggs's sinker had the 214th highest whiff rate. For comparison, Motte induced a swing-and-miss on 29.76% of the fourseamers he threw, a rate that ranked 12th overall amongst relievers. Rosenthal's 29.43% four-seam-fastball whiff rate ranks 14th. Boggs's sinking fastball isn't as fuego as his Cardinals bullpen-mates' four-seamers. It's no wonder that, when ahead in the count, Boggs prefers to use his offspeed offerings.

Boggs has a good slider that one scouting report described as "wipeout" when he was but a fledgling Redbird. However, it's more tubular against righties than lefties. Boggs consequently uses his slider most often when ahead against righthanders. While the Georgian will deploy the breaking pitch against righthanders, he throws it less often against than his sinker when ahead in the count.

BOGGS 2012 SLIDER USAGE

Split

vs. LHB

vs. RHB

First Pitch

3%

24%

Batter Ahead

4%

18%

Even

7%

36%

Pitcher Ahead

24%

52%

Two Strikes

29%

47%

Overall

10%

37%


Last season, Boggs resurrected a pitch that has alternatively been described as a splitter and changeup. For what it's worth, Brooks Baseball classifies it as a change. The rationale was that Boggs needed a weapon to neutralize lefthanded batters. Interestingly, according to Brooks, Boggs only used his changeup/splitter against lefthanded batsmen last year.

BOGGS 2012 CHANGEUP/SPLITTER USAGE

Split

vs. LHB

vs. RHB

First Pitch

11%

0%

Batter Ahead

14%

0%

Even

18%

0%

Pitcher Ahead

28%

0%

Two Strikes

20%

0%

Overall

20%

0%


Boggs will also mix in what Brooks classifies as a fourseamer. He sprinkles it in against lefties and uses it most often against righties. He only threw the fourseamer 171 times in 2012, averaging 96.85 mph and inducing swinging strikes at a 23.53% (which ranks 69th amongst relievers who threw 100 or more four-seam speedballs last year).

BOGGS 2012 FOURSEAMER USAGE

Split

vs. LHB

vs. RHB

First Pitch

7%

23%

Batter Ahead

6%

19%

Even

8%

19%

Pitcher Ahead

15%

16%

Two Strikes

11%

21%

Overall

9%

18%


Despite a hard sinking fastball and good secondary offerings, Boggs simply doesn't generate many empty swings or K's. Instead, he induces grounders at a high rate.

2012 BOGGS vs. MLB RELIEVER AVERAGE

2012

BABIP

SwStr%

K/9

BB/9

HR/FB

LOB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

xFIP

Boggs

.245

8.4%

7.12

2.58

8.8%

82.4%

52.7%

2.21

3.42

3.68

MLB RP

.291

10.1%

8.37

3.46

10.3%

74.5%

45.3%

3.67

3.79

3.92


Even though Boggs had a career year in 2012, Boggs still induced a below-average number of whiffs and strikeouts. It continued a career-loong trend of his strikeouts never matching up with his repertoire. And so the Cardinals find themselves turning to a pitch-to-contact closer of sorts as they seek to replace the flame-throwing K machine Motte.

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