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Bullpen Decisions

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Couple of quick housekeeping items: 1) That sweep was really, really heartbreaking and frustrating.  That said, it isn't license to say whatever you want on the game threads.  Those threads are starting to get ugly again and we'd like to prevent that. 2) I'd like your input here.

[LB EDIT: re the game threads ---- accepting defeat with reasonable grace is a sign of maturity. a depressingly large number of people are failing the test. the community can do without childish people and childish statements. clean it up, starting tonight, or i'll start banning people summarily.]

The Cardinals have been carrying 8 arms in the bullpen at times this season because they've been worn out.  I won't argue the need for another arm at times because it's largely a matter of opinion.  One thing that will require you to carry more arms, however, is when you carry pitchers who are bad.  Pitchers who can't retire major leaguers aren't really pitchers -- they're merely warm bodies.  Those warm bodies shorten an already weak bench that includes 4 light hitting middle infielders.  It's a cascading effect that the Cardinals ought to address.

I could lambaste Isringhausen for collapsing so badly this season. He's been nothing short of terrible and I suspect he wouldn't argue with that much.  It's been tough to watch as he just seems to fall apart.  He was, however, eminently effective last year and I remain unconvinced that anyone should have expected this collapse.  Why it has been so difficult to correct, I'm not sure but that's not the discussion I'd like to have today.

Ryan Franklin's another name ripe to be thrown under the bus.  He had a lot of backers in these parts after last season.  He posted some unsustainable numbers and it was hard to see past the 2-something ERA in April and May.  After being put in the closer's role, he was deemed as an acceptable, if mediocre closer by many.  His walk rate has come back to normal levels and the groundballs have greatly diminished since last year.  This was a forseeable collapse that the Cardinals could have avoided exacerbating.  Franklin's still a major leaguer -- just a middle reliever not a late inning guy.

Those two deserve a lot of blame for the failures of the bullpen this season. [I wrote this before Franklin blew yet another save -- yawn -- SSDD].  I'm sure they're competing their hardest -- this isn't a question of character.  They simply haven't been effective despite being given numerous opportunities, which were arguably ill-advised.  Yet I'm willing to look past Izzy and Franklin because they aren't the most glaring problem in the pen.  There are reasons to believe they can still rebound.  No, today's villain is Randy Flores.

In 2005, Randy Flores followed an abbreviated, but very effective 2004, with an excellent full season in the pen.  In 41 innings, he struck out 43 and walked just 13 -- a 4:1 K:BB ratio.  He was death on lefties holding them to a .583 OPS while being raked across the coals by righties for a .800 OPS.  Surprisingly, he faced more righties than lefties that season so you might suspect that the shallow statistics (ERA, WHIP) could have been even more impressive than they were.  He had a nasty wipeout slider and a decent fastball with good command.

2006 was a different story.  The command starts to dissipate but more dangerous, the stuff starts to go with it.  Flores would walk 9 more batters in 2006 dropping his K:BB ratio under 2 (40:22).  Hitters saw their average rise 50 points against Flores.  (Think about that -- 50 points would make Izturis a .275 hitter.)  That's an incredible jump.  At the time, I probably would have pointed to a leap in BABIP as an unlucky attribute.  BABIP, imo, is less effective when talking about fringe guys because regardless of the ball type, the hits seem to be harder and placed better by the hitters.  Maybe that's revisionist or hindsight-using on my part but I'm sticking with it.  Lefties up to a .685 OPS and righties to a .977 OPS.  The argument could be made that he was still an effective LOOGY but the slippage had started.

Odd things start to happen in 2007.  Well, they weren't that odd.  Flores got worse somehow.  Batters were teeing off at a .310 clip.  He walked fewer batters (15) and struck out a good number (47) but when you're getting hit hard on a regular basis, I'd question the peripherals as representative of a pitcher's stuff.  The (somewhat) odd change was that Flores was better against righties than lefties -- a 73 pt. split as lefties roasted him for an OPS over .800.  It's tough to argue that he's really an effective pitcher at this point.  The Cardinals signed him to an inexplicable two year contract prior to 2007 so he was assured to be around for 2008.

PECOTA suggested that there was about a 1 in 3 chance he was going to be a major league caliber player heading into this season.  Through 20 innings this season, he's walked 17 and struck out 14.  Hitters are getting on base at a .396 clip with an OPS near .800.  The unusual L/R split continues but the point is that Flores simply isn't effective.  Ron Villone holds lefties to a .549 OPS.  Kyle McClellan a .595 (he's got a plus changeup).  There's really little reason to hold Flores on the roster.

Of course having said all this, removing Flores isn't going to solve the problems we've seen over the last few games.  I don't know that there's a good answer to the recent spate of blown saves.  Trading for someone is likely to be costly in terms of prospects and questionable in it's efficacy.  If there's one step that I, personally, think could work it's bringing Perez up and putting him in the closer's role. I'll remind you that I balked at his initial callup this season.  He's not a finished product.  His command remains iffy and his slider seemed to abandon him while he was in the majors. 

That said, he deserves a little more credit than he got.  He was striking out a batter an inning and his fastball was an excellent pitch his entire time in STL.  I can recall the old mantra about Izzy not being able to pitch innings other than the ninth because they were non-pressure situations.  I wonder why that was never really applied to Perez who was a closer through college and his entire professional career only to find himself in the 6th and 7th innings upon making the big league team.  Does that mess with a guy's head?  I don't know.  I'm inclined to say no but I'm also inclined to see what he can do if he's explicitly told he's the closer.  Go get guys out.  Nothing more nothing less.

Perez was drafted for the post-Izzy era on the Cardinals. That just happened to come a little sooner than expected.  Give the kid a shot.  Can't be any worse than what we've been subjected to as of late, right?  Right?