I'm watching Edward Mujica in the 9th inning. He's recorded two outs and allowed a single that should have been an out had Allen Craig not been so concerned that fist base was going to walk off of its own accord. I was not particularly enamored of Mujica when the Cardinals acquired him from the Marlins. A control artist with solid strikeout rates, he seemed a good solution for the problem of the 7th inning that had been particularly plaguing in 2012.
But a solution to the particularly plaguing 9th inning for the Cardinals in 2013? That seems to be a bit more of a stretch.
And yet, here we are. I'm inclined to quote poet-philosopher Ryan Theriot when he said, "It is what it is."
But it isn't what it was. More specifically, Edward Mujica is having a different season then he's had previously and there appears to be a measurable change in approach. Take a look at pitch selection from 2012 compared to 2013:
Mujica has ditched the slider entirely and scaled back. For all intents and purposes, he's doubled down on the split finger and it has paid off. Mujica has seen his strikeout rate tick up and is also benefiting from even better than usual control. To wit:
There's good reason to wonder if these are sustainable rates. It would be the best strikeout rate of his career (equaled in 2010 with the Padres) and the lowest walk rate since he broke into the majors in 2006.
Mujica's stuff, especially given the fireballers currently in the pen like Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez, is unlikely to become known as a "stuff" guy. His fastball sits in the low nineties (averaging around 92mph) and, despite the impressive results of his split finger, he lacks the eyeball popping breaking ball like an Adam Wainwright curve or a Mitchell Boggs slider.
But it would be a mistake to conflate Mujica with the most recent Cardinals closer by default, Ryan Franklin. In a similar way, Franklin earned the role after others failed their way out of it. He was reliable in the sense that you knew what you were getting from Franklin even if what you were getting wasn't very good. Franklin was like a microwaved salmon patty from the store: arguably nutritious, hinting at flavor and suffering from a systemic case of freezer burn. And yet, still filling.
Franklin never eclipsed a 20% strikeout rate. His best walk rate was twice what Edward Mujica's current walk rate is. The question of sustainability is a prudent one to keep asking when a reliever overperforms expectations in a small sample size but Mujica's process looks different than in past and his results look better. This isn't smoke and mirrors. There's legitimate fire in the Edward Mujica as closer role.
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