clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The case for an eight man October bullpen

New, 186 comments

It's all about matchups.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

On yesterday's podcast, Ben and Craig did a rundown of what the playoff rotation and bullpen might look like for the Cardinals in October. Recorded on Thursday night, that was before the walkoff win against Milwaukee, which pretty well clinched the Cardinals playoff chances, as well as the 7 1/3 innings of work by John Lackey last night, which probably solidified his spot in the playoff rotation. Michael Wacha will get his chance to do so tonight.

That's the thing about debates this time of year: They tend to age in a matter of hours.

Friday's game wasn't without drama, however, as Trevor Rosenthal once again struggled to close the door due to yet another free pass and some bad luck on a soft liner that Pete Kozma couldn't quite track down. Rosenthal has hit 99 mph at least once in each of his last two appearances -- if he's tired and overworked (as seems to be a general opinion) his arm certainly isn't showing it and his struggles continue to be with command, which has plagued him all year.

In short: Right now, it's hard to count on Rosenthal to close the door in the ninth, which means that Mike Matheny may have to rely more on getting favorable matchups (as he did last night with both Choate and Maness in the 9th inning) rather than running out the closer and letting him bulldog his way to victory.

Knowing that, there's a case to be made for an stable of 8 pitchers in October:

Rotation:

  1. Wainwright
  2. Lynn
  3. Lackey
  4. Wacha/Miller
I don't know if Mike Matheny would do anything quite this unorthodox, but if Wacha pitches well tonight and has feel for his changeup, having a Wacha/Miller split start in Game 4 is intriguing. If the club uses this strategy, that would leave Justin Masterson off the list below. Each would get roughly 60 pitches and try to get the team to the 8th inning with the lead at which point a bullpen full of specialists could take over:

Bullpen:
  1. Rosenthal (R)
  2. Neshek (R)
  3. Maness (R)
  4. Martinez (R)
  5. Freeman (L)
  6. Choate (L)
  7. Masterson (R)
  8. Siegrist (L)
Neshek and Maness are capable of pitching to both RHH and LHH and both Rosenthal and Siegrist are too when they're pitching well, but the rest of these guys have some pretty telling splits. Thing is, if you are able to play your cards right, you could end up with a significant platoon advantage in the 3 or 4 pivotal at bats in the final third of each game by deploying a pen full of guys who specialize in getting arm side hitters out.
  • Choate is the LOOGY, and I would have him deployed to face the one or two left handed batsmen in the opposition's lineup, much like Tony La Russa used Arthur Rhodes in the 2011 World Series against Josh Hamilton.
  • Masterson becomes the ROOGY, with a career .278 wOBA against right handed hitters, deployed much the same way Choate would be: "Justin, these are the two best right handed hitters in the opposing lineup and those are now your guys in innings 7-9."  The question, of course, is whether he's even healthy enough to do it. Given that he's not thrown much at all the last four weeks, I gather he might not be.
  • Freeman and Siegrist are the other two Lefty One Out But Are Able To Get A Righty Out Too If Needed (LOOBAATGAROIN). Both have actually been a bit better against right handed hitters this year, but over their short careers they've had better luck against the lefties and could be counted on to get 2-3 outs if possible. Well, least Freeman can -- I'm not sure the status of Siegrist at this point.
  • Martinez and Maness should be able to handle middle inning duties if there's a short start, while also firming up the middle of the pen to pitch full innings in the 7th and 8th if they can get through them clean without allowing baserunners.
  • That leaves Rosenhal and Neshek at the back of the pen to close things out in the 8th and 9th innings. Having both available for those two innings also allows Matheny to create the best matchup in the late innings if there are runners on base, much like he did last night: Lifting Rosenthal for Choate to face Jay Bruce and immediately bringing in Maness to face Ryan Ludwick.
Having an 8 man bullpen limits the club to just 4 bench players. I would carry Taveras, Grichuk, Kozma, and Pierzynski on mine, leaving off Daniel Descalso and Mark Ellis, while being reliant on Matheny to double switch at the right times to minimize the number of times a pinch hitter is necessary. After studying both the lineup and the pitching staff, I'm of the opinion that the club would get more out of proper pitching matchups late in games than hitting ones, given that the Cardinal lineup is full of quality hitters already.

In 2011, the Cardinals were the first team to win the World Series that had more innings pitched from the bullpen than from the starting rotation throughout the entire playoffs. While I certainly am not looking forward to a repeat of that performance, I do think that playing for good matchups late in games may be the best strategy for Mike Matheny in the 2014 postseason.