I noticed this during our recent look at WAR by rookies: When I think about writing entries like this I can't help but start at 2006. The 2004 and 2005 teams make me feel like some stereotypically illiterate dark-ager digging up Greek statues. Could it be that the Cardinals really once had two Gold Glove players each put up an OPS+ of 170? Was there a universe in which the Cardinals had exactly eight starts made by pitchers outside the rotation, and five of them were from Dan Haren? Where Rick Ankiel was a pitcher? It's all epic poetry to me.
But 2006 I can deal with—these guys are clearly as confused about rendering human proportions as I am. Yadier Molina had an OPS+ of 53, Aaron Miles started at second, So Taguchi and Juan Encarnacion each played 130 games in the outfield; Sidney Ponson made 13 starts, Mark Mulder threw 80 mile-an-hour fastballs and Jeff Weaver was seen as a major upgrade; if it weren't for Albert Pujols's .914 slugging percentage in April the team would have started in the basement and stayed there. They're familiar, likewise disappointing 2007 and vaguely uplifting 2008 and uplifting and disappointing 2009.
So it's a good thing that Fangraphs' pitch type data goes back that far, or else I'd have to have invented some ridiculous excuse for including 2007 but not 2006. What follows, eventually, without context, hypothesis, or unifying principle, are the Cardinals' ten throw-hardiest pitchers since 2006. Sample size? Irrelevant.
2006 and 2007: A Caveat
How boring, I ask, was the 2006 team's pitching staff? The second-hardest fastball-thrower, at 92.5 miles per hour, was Braden Looper, who was just a year away from becoming a soft-tossing innings-eater. Jorge Sosa, whose WHIP with the Cardinals, it must be noted, was 1.337, led the charge at 92.7. All the other would-be hard throwers seem to have been throwing the ball through a diamond-shaped Jell-O mold. Jason Isringhausen's third on the list—by then he was barely throwing his real fastball half the time.
I don't think there's a more insidious picture of creeping Duncanism than Izzy's FanGraphs chart—he joined the Cardinals in 2002 and threw fastballs 78.2% of the time at an average velocity of 94 miles per hour. The next year his velocity declines and his fastball percentage falls to 66.6%, as something FanGraphs mistakenly believes to be a slider appears. By 2005 he's throwing his fastball just 42% of the time—less frequently than Matt Morris threw his in Pittsburgh, when his velocity had fallen into the mid-80s.
(What's clearest is just how early we should have been worried about Anthony Reyes in the pre-pitch-data era. Reyes hit 91.4 in his 2005 cup of coffee and was reputed to throw somewhat harder than that in the minors. In 2006 and 2006 he's throwing an 89.6 mph fastball about 65% of the time.)
2007 is more of the same. Dennis Dove leads the team with three innings of fastballs at an average velocity of 93.5. Kelvin Jimenez (92.5) and Todd Wellemeyer (91.9) follow him, with the fourth-place spot going to Troy Percival, who hadn't pitched in a year and a half. This is also the year in which the Cardinals' major rotation acquisition, Mike Maroth, was embarrassed on the gun by Scott Spiezio, 83.9 to 83.6. (I count four position players on the 2007 Cardinals—Spiezio, Yadier Molina, Scott Rolen, and, sniff, Rick Ankiel—who would have thrown harder and probably been better rotation options than Mike Maroth that year.)
In 2008 Walt Jocketty initiated his long-term plan to put the hardest thrower in Major League Baseball history on an 87-mph-cutter diet by 2013, and exciting relievers were allowed all at once to return to the team.
10. Kelvin Jimenez, 92.7 mph, 2007-2008
This mystified me: Jimenez actually had a fine 2010 with the Korean League's Doosan Bears. He went 14-5 in 27 starts, good enough to get him a one year deal with the Rakuten Golden Eagles of the NPB. I don't think I remember any reliever's failures more clearly than Jimenez—I can't call up a single memory of him getting somebody out, or exiting an inning, in his 49 appearances with the Cardinals.
He had a fastball that he allegedly threw hard and a slider that was allegedly deceptive. My sources tell me that he pitched 66 innings, which means he would have to have retired something like 198 batters. Could Yadier Molina have picked all of them off first base? I feel like I would have remembered that. What I most remember is Jimenez's commitment to not missing bats, and that's how I knew I had the right Kelvin Jimenez—in Korea, while putting up that nice season, he barely struck out five batters per nine innings.
9. Adam Ottavino, 92.8, 2010
I guess that's the one argument for keeping Ottavino around after last year's flirtation with shoulder surgery and a 9.00 ERA: With his right arm attached to his stereotypically sturdy pitcher's frame by an especially tight Under Armour shirt, Ottavino averaged 92.8 miles per hour on the gun. He threw it almost 70% of the time, while he was at it, but it wasn't especially effective.
Ottavino looked totally overmatched last year—after two passable replacement-guy starts he allowed 27 hits in his last 12 innings—but I guess I'm no more convinced about Kyle Lohse's arm. Now that he's off the 40-man roster he's probably not first in line for emergency starts, but if he's effective at all in Memphis we'll probably see him again.
8. Blake Hawksworth, 93.0, 2009-2010
Hawksworth was a mid-90s fastball guy when he was the Cardinals' top prospect, and he was puttering around with high-80s stuff in his second stint as a back-of-the-list guy following shoulder surgery, which is why it made perfect sense to me that he appeared so effective in 2009, his velocity restored to the mid-90s. As a fastball-changeup guy—the Cardinals just should not be allowed to draft these players—the whole narrative just felt perfect.
And then, 2010. If you're as big a Hawksworth fan as I am but don't have a blog before which you must appear vaguely impartial or intelligent there's still a narrative to be had here—his xFIP was a more reasonable 4.39, if you like that sort of thing, and his jump up in fastball velocity could have messed with the command he'd honed post-surgery. Really he's probably just a replacement-level pitcher who looks, at times, like he should be better than that.
7. Dennis Dove, 93.5, 2007
Dennis Dove had an encouraging low-minors relief-conversion year in 2006, was called into action after Josh Hancock's death in 2007, and had shoulder surgery later that season after some less-than-promising innings in Memphis. When people imagine relief prospects floating freely like aether they're thinking about guys like Jimenez and Dove, who are not quite starters and upon minor league conversion start striking out a 20-year-old batter an inning. Dove threw pretty hard and, like Ottavino, appeared to be doing it even as his shoulder fell off.
Apparently 2007 was it for him—he doesn't even show up in the independent leagues after that. Even Gene Stechschulte showed up in the indies after he and the Cardinals parted ways.
6. Blaine Boyer, 93.7, 2009
I'm going to take this space to say something about Brian Barton, who is awesome. Barton had a great line in the unaffiliated Atlantic League last year, the kind of tweener season MLB stars have been bred away from toward slugging or contact-hitting specialization. He finished the year hitting .348 with 25 doubles, four triples, 19 home runs, 20 stolen bases—a little of everything. A few weeks ago he was signed by the Cincinnati Reds, which I'll have to learn to deal with, I guess.
Blaine Boyer was a pitcher or something, I'm not sure. Dave Duncan seemed really into him for about a week—he was like the project-pitcher equivalent of Virtual Boy.
5. Brad Penny, 94.1, 2010
Eventually someone's going to get curious and put Penny in the bullpen full-time, and in the instant before all the muscles and tendons in his body pull themselves at once he'll be averaging 150 miles per hour on the gun. After spending most of his career throwing fastballs in more than 70% of his at-bats the Cardinals changed his game-plan completely; he threw his fastball a little less than half the time, the slack being picked up by a splitter he threw around 30% of the time.
It'll be interesting to see what he does as a member of the Detroit Tigers, though I would have been more interested if the Cardinals had kept him around as Lohse competition at half-price.
4. Mitchell Boggs, 94.3, 2008-2010
Boggs's numbers are being held down by his stint as a starter, during which he averaged a piddling 93 miles per hour. Since moving to the bullpen full time he's put together the Cardinals' fastest season since we've had pitch data—96.1 last year. The relief fastball didn't disappoint, but his slider—which also got significantly faster—wasn't quite as great as it looked in his 2009 bullpen cameo. I can't imagine his strikeout rate staying around seven per nine innings for the duration, for good or ill; if he gets more effective than this I think it'll be because he's started to pile on strikeouts.
3. Mike MacDougal, 94.7, 2010
There's no reason at all for a guy who throws this hard and has a crazy, long-armed ROOGY slider to be this bad at baseball. MacDougal has an arsenal almost identical to the one he used to earn Mac the Ninth, one of my favorite situational nicknames, in 2003, but since almost falling out of baseball in 2007 and 2008 he's repurposed it to get a ton of ground balls, and also a million walks.
I've always been a MacDougal fan—he's just a fun pitcher to imagine being effective, if that makes any sense—and his ground ball proclivities kind of make me wish Dave Duncan had decided to throw him into the rotation for September. Imaginary press conference: "He kind of looks like Braden Looper, if you squint and while you're squinting he throws a strike." Also, this one-act play makes me sad because it stars MacDougal before we realized how awful he was to watch and Brendan Ryan and Joe Mather.
2. Chris Perez, 94.9, 2008-2009
Chris Perez is what happens if you have Mike MacDougal's stuff and fastball-slider gameplan and you try to get no groundballs at all. He's going to start allowing home runs again next year, and the Cleveland Indians are going to act surprised about it, but given his effectiveness in 2010 I wish we were the ones who got to be really disappointed with his 2011.
So far his career looks exactly like the Cardinals might have hoped when they drafted him in the first round in 2006—in the majors by 22, closing by 24.
1. Jason Motte, 95.9, 2008-2010
I can't get my head around the idea that Motte apparently not only had identical velocity numbers (95.8) in 2009 and 2010, he actually threw more fastballs in 2010. Last year Motte seemed intermittently ashamed of his status as a one-pitch pitcher, and there were times when he seemed happiest throwing a completely unclassifiable 81 mph slow-ball as his out-pitch.
Luckily, they were outweighed by the times when he seemed happiest coming in to face one batter who absolutely had to strike out. He struck out every batter he retired in an appearance 10 times. In the year of data Baseball Reference has about his catching career he threw out 48% of would-be base-stealers, which seems low to me.