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Big Boggs Man

In many respects, last night’s game was an important one for Mitch Boggs and the Cardinals. Though we’re only going to need a fifth starter 5 or 6 times the rest of the season, the team needs to feel comfortable that they can run someone out there and that that pitcher can keep them in the game while he’s in there. We don’t need our 5th starter to be as good as Carp or Wainwright but we do need him to get 5-6 innings and be able to give the team a chance to win the game. Boggs did that last night despite being somewhat wild. Even Tony had nice things to say about Boggs after the game:

"I thought he was a game-saver," La Russa said. "He didn't cave in at any time. I thought he was outstanding."

The other reason that Boggs’s starts will be important from here on is that this is somewhat of an audition for next year’s rotation as well. If he performs well here, the team ought to feel comfortable w/ him having the leg up on a rotation spot next year. If Boggs is able to handle it, then w/ Carp, Wainwright, and Lohse returning we have just one spot unspoken for. Needless to say, signing 1 free agent starter is much cheaper than signing 2. If Boggs is able to ascend to the 5th starter position for 2010, it allows the team to spend more money to acquire a better starter for the 4th spot rather than paying for 2 lesser starters on the free agent market.

While I won’t be as gushing as Tony in my praise for Boggs, he did a lot of nice things last night. He’s not the most consistent strike thrower on the staff and that was evident last night as well. For the season – as a major leaguer – only 57% of his pitches have been strikes and last night, in 5 innings, 55 of his 99 pitches were strikes. It’s not a horrible percentage, but neither does it provide a lot of optimism that he’s going to be able to get us 6 innings once in a while. He walked 5, though the walks to Chris Coste in the 4th and Hunter Pence in the 5th were unintentional intentional walks that he got away with. For the season, he’s walking 5.27 batters per 9 innings – a fair amount higher than the 3.79 BB/9 he’s averaging at Memphis.

There was a lot of good in his start as well. One of the things that should allow him to be successful in the big leagues is his ability to get ground balls, to which his career 49.5% GB% attests. (I realize that his major league numbers include some fairly small samples but his minor league GB% is 48.5%.) Last night, 7 of the 16 balls put in play against Boggs were ground balls (43.8%) and he was able to get out of 2 predicaments by getting double plays. He also struck out 5 batters in 5 innings and, for the season, has recorded 8.23 K/9. That’s higher than his minor league numbers but, importantly, it’s also higher than his K/9 last year at the major league level when he appeared to be severely overmatched. That seems no longer true.

Thursday, I made note of Boggs’s ability to get batters to swing and miss noting that his 19% swing and miss rate was tied for the highest on the roster. And while that, too, was a fairly small sample, he had faced more batters on the season than had many of our relievers. Last night he was able to get batters to swing and miss 10 times in 5 innings (18% of total strikes). Getting the ball past the batter is a key indicator of a pitcher’s ability to stick at the major league level so we have to be happy w/ 10 swing-and-misses. Wellemeyer has only had 4 starts out of 20 where he’s recorded as many as 10 swing-and-misses in 2009. Boggs has already done it 3 times out of 5 starts in ’09.

He had very good stuff, too, according to brooks baseball . His 4-seamer averaged 94.62 mph and he topped out at 97.1. His 2-seamer averaged 93.41 mph and topped out at 94.9. Those 2 pitches accounted for 52 of the 91 pitches the pitch f/x site was able to record. 31 of those 52 fastballs were thrown for strikes (59.6%). According to the site, he only threw 5 changeups and 3 curve balls but 6 of those 8 pitches were thrown for strikes, indicating probably that he was able to use them on occasion to keep hitters off balance. The changeup averaged 80.92 mph – more than 13 mph less than his average fastball. The mph difference is indicative of a pretty good changeup.

He also threw a lot of sliders last night – 31 – but was only able to get strikes on them 38.71 % of the time. Still, this was probably a pitch that he wasn’t intending to throw strikes with but, more frequently, was trying to get Astros’ hitters to chase when he was ahead in the count. His slider averaged 84.51 mph.

Boggs, therefore, was able to keep the team close and we were able to pull it out late. The Cards were still behind in the 7th inning when Mark DeRosa’s homer tied the game and then were down again in the bottom of the 8th when Pujols’s HBP, Holliday’s double, and Ankiel’s single allowed the team to win the game. Just as Boggs’s solid start shouldn’t go unnoticed, neither should the team’s 2 comebacks last night. Coming into last night’s game, the team was 7-38 when behind beginning the 7th inning and 3-40 when behind to start the 8th. It wasn’t that long ago when any deficit after the 5th inning seemed like the death knell but the team’s offense is stronger today than it was a month ago, thereby giving Cards’ fans hope if the team is within a run or 2 late in the game.

The best thing, though, about last night’s game is that we won the first game of the series against the dreaded, and always overrated, Astros and that we have Carpenter and Wainwright on the mound for games 2 and 3. Let’s get us some sweep!