Fun fact: Rick Porcello is five months younger than Stephen Strasburg.
This is all false indignation, to be honest; I like Kozma alright as a prospect—he's finally hitting in AA, if you haven't been reading the news lately, oh boy—and Porcello was and is too young, too much a pitcher to be a sure thing. I thought it was ridiculous when it happened, and I still think it was a bad choice, but at this point I can't separate what I thought I knew from the hindsight enough to be bothered with it.
Porcello's pitching in a weird place—Bill James made an applicable observation in the Historical Baseball Abstract that, like most of his observations, has since become baseball wisdom. The gist of it is that if a player can stick and succeed in the major leagues at a young age he's in rare company, a company he shares with a lot of Hall of Famers. The comment was originally made about Ryne Sandberg, and it has since caused your host to get breathless over every Tom, Dick, and Melky that comes down the pike.
Typically it's a trope applied to position players. Rookie pitchers are too unpredictable—they dominate and then they disappear for a few years, like John Johnson, or forever, like Anibal Sanchez. They peak in the flashier statistics, strikeouts and weird ways to wear baseball uniforms, at a young age and then become steadier in their late twenties.
But statistically, Porcello, flamethrowing ex-teen, is basically starting his career with an ordinary Jake Westbrook season, albeit one with a nice win total and a misleading ERA. He's striking out as many batters as Jeff Suppan used to and not walking anybody, which means that La Russa and Duncan probably feel worse about missing him than we do. Pitchers age weirdly, though, and thinking about it for a few minutes I couldn't think of another pitcher who started off quite this way and ended up in the pantheon. I think he'll be a good one, but to do it he'll have to develop like a position player.
(This complacency—it's the Shelby Miller talking. It feels nice.)
I like Jason Motte. He's everything I like relievers to be; he's got one pitch that makes his role on the team clear, he strikes people out, and his grasp of the quirky relief pitcher idiom, from the jerky steps over the baseline all the way into the advanced stuff, like smelling his cap(!) and moving for all the world like a video game character that's only got three or four frames of animation to his name, is unparalleled for a pitcher of his limited experience. His origins as a catcher mean that he will occasionally embarrass himself trying to hit or make beautiful diving plays on the infield.
I'm not blaming last night's home runs specifically on bullpen management; Motte has more or less ditched the slider again—he threw exactly one, last night, that hovered like a housefly and was brushed into the stands by Polanco with the requisite disgust—and that's a recipe for a lot of fist-pumps on each side of the baseball. But this is a thirteen man bullpen, and it was just stocked, at the practical expense of a fifth outfielder, with still another facial-haired right-handed setup man in waiting.
Bringing Motte in for the second night in a row, with the bases clear and his tactical advantage not present, goes completely against the La Russa explanation for the 13 man pen, which has consistently been to keep his pitchers from overexposure. Motte's a young (1) one-pitch (2) pitcher whose recent success (3) has stemmed from mothballing the second pitch he was working on and going after hitters with a hard fastball (4) delivered from a weird arm angle (5)—if anybody needs to be protected from overexposure, it's Jason Motte.
But for all the talk about it, La Russa still can't avoid looking for the hot hand. It's the first instinct when managing a bullpen, whether it's got five or six pitchers or eight, and he's previously brought out Perez (six games in eight days until his poor performance on June 3, at which point he more or less vanished), McClellan (pitched every other day for most of May), and Motte himself at similar stretches.
Having thirteen men gives a manager a lot of opportunties; he could play matchups, he could (as La Russa has done with Motte) rely on one imposing strikeout pitcher to close out innings, he could avoid throwing the same relievers out twice in the same series when they rely on a trick pitch. But it doesn't make the bullpen any bigger to just have more pitchers sitting out there. If La Russa can't trust pitchers who aren't impressing night after night, or simply trusts the hot hand to an inordinate degree, the missing persons at the end of the pen should be in Memphis, where Netflix will be more than happy to ship them out overnight. This is nothing new, but as the season goes on it is more and more apparent that the Cardinals are not going to use a thirteenth pitcher to their advantage in any situation in which his competition for innings is not Aaron Miles.
Briefly: I like Colby Rasmus. You like Colby Rasmus. Everybody likes Colby Rasmus. Is there a point at which we get worried that Colby Rasmus has walked once in the last three weeks, even though he's hitting .350 in the same time period? At this point he's seeing fewer pitches per plate appearance than Rick Ankiel... the pitcher.
Rasmus is a smart hitter; I've got to think he'll start taking his walks again when the other team makes a shot and he's no longer on fire. But this is a pretty significant gap.