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It is time to demote Kevin Siegrist

Very bad signs were present in 2016, and 2017 has been the worst case scenario.

St. Louis Cardinals v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Overall, Kevin Siegrist has been a big win for the Cardinals. Originally drafted in the 41st round of the draft, it’s just a win that he made it to the majors for an extended period of time. He’s been more than that though, as an important and effective back end reliever in two separate seasons. In the second half of 2013, Kevin Siegrist emerged alongside Trevor Rosenthal and Seth Maness to form a strong late inning trio. In just under 40 innings, he was worth nearly a win (0.8 WAR).

His best season came in 2015, when he was worth 1.4 WAR over nearly 75 innings, the 9th highest total among relievers. Sandwiched in-between those two seasons was 2014, when he was sub-replacement level overall. However, he also dealt with injuries that season, and it was easy to believe that was the reason for his poor performance, especially after 2015.

Your opinion on Kevin Siegrist in 2016 will depend highly on what types of stats you look for. If you’re still looking first at ERA, then he likely looked great, posting a well-above average 2.77. Here however, we try to look at stats more indicative a pitcher’s true contribution. Looking at his FIP, or fielding-independent pitching, Siegrist posted a considerably worse 4.43. That was the 25th highest of 135 qualfied relievers. His good results in terms of ERA came thanks to a .221 BABIP, or batting average on balls in play. That type of performance is unsustainable for a pitcher, and the threat was that if Siegrist had similar strikeout and walk numbers in 2017, but with worse performance on balls in play, then things could get ugly quick.

That’s not to say I thought the Cardinals shouldn’t have retained Siegrist for the 2017 season. After accruing three plus years of service time, he had the option of arbitration for the first time in his career. As a relief pitcher that doesn’t get saves, he wasn’t valued that highly by the arbitration process, and settled with the Cardinals beforehand at a $1.6M salary.

With the price of a win at $9M in free agency, and the fact that Siegrist has had two seasons worth nearly a win or more, the Cardinals made a worthwhile gamble. They only needed about a 1 out of 7 shot of him returning to 2013/2015 form to make it a good bet, and that seemed reasonable. Even if it was a slightly bad bet, they still get credit for a player-friendly move to let the guy get his first arbitration payday after he’s been an important workhorse in two separate division-winning seasons.

However, that bet hasn’t gone well. He’s only 8 13 innings into the year, but they’ve been about the worst quality you could have imagined. As I write this on Friday, Siegrist holds the 5th highest qualified FIP in the league, and the second highest xFIP.

It’s not just the results, it’s the underlying metrics. Siegrist’s fastball velocity is down 2.2 MPH. It is April, when pitchers are throwing about a half a MPH less than their seasonal average. However, MLB also changed the way they measure velocity this year, leading to an extra MPH on average. So all things considered, the drop in velocity is nearly 3 MPH, which is extremely concerning.

Unfortunately, velocity isn’t the only problem for Siegrist, as Joe talked about on Monday. His heat maps are very unconcentrated, indicating a lack of command, possibility because he has extra movement on his pitches that is making it more difficult to locate them. They’re also mostly concentrated outside of the strike zone, indicating that maybe he trusts his stuff less with reduced velocity, leading to more nibbling off the plate.

Joe noticed another disturbing result. With decreased velocity comes more time for the hitter to assess the pitch, thus a drop in O-Swing% from 25.3% to just 8.3%, the lowest figure among qualified relievers by a mile. The second lowest figure is Dan Altavilla of the Mariners, with 15.8%. The difference between lowest and second lowest is the same as the difference between second lowest and 27th lowest, who happens to be Matt Bowman. It would be the lowest O-Swing% from a qualified reliever ever. Siegrist is in a league of his own in terms of inability to expand the zone. Hitters aren’t just being overly patient against him, as he gets an above-average amount of swings in the zone.

While Siegrist’s performance probably isn’t the new normal, it’s bad enough that it’s lead to a harsh change in his projections. He started the year projected for a 3.95 FIP, which was already the highest for any Cardinal who started out 2017 in the bullpen (Yes, even worse than Jonathan Broxton). From this point on, he’s now projected for a 4.36 FIP. That’s almost as bad as his FIP last year, when he was one of the worst performers in the metric. It’s the 3rd biggest negative change for a pitcher so far this year. Here’s the Top 10 biggest negative differences between the projections before the season and at this current moment:

Top 10 changes in FIP

Pitchers Team IP 2017 FIP Preseason projected FIP ROS projected FIP difference
Pitchers Team IP 2017 FIP Preseason projected FIP ROS projected FIP difference
Mike Pelfrey White Sox 4.1 6.89 3.15 4.98 1.83
Antonio Bastardo Pirates 6.2 12.42 4 4.49 0.49
Kevin Siegrist Cardinals 8.1 8.37 3.95 4.34 0.39
Craig Stammen Padres 9.2 8.04 3.95 4.31 0.36
Michael Ynoa White Sox 9.1 7.58 4.8 5.14 0.34
Junichi Tazawa Marlins 6.2 9.42 3.4 3.73 0.33
Xavier Cedeno Rays 2.1 13.69 3.56 3.85 0.29
Hisashi Iwakuma Mariners 26 6.55 4.12 4.41 0.29
Sam Dyson Rangers 4.1 11.51 3.68 3.96 0.28
Matt Harvey Mets 29.2 5.5 3.73 4 0.27

Right now, the Cardinals are carrying 8 relievers, one more than usual. It seems easy to demote the worst performing and worst projected one, Siegrist, and replace him with a position player that would return the bench to its usual size. However, there are some limitations. For one, the Cardinals want to be cautious with Rosenthal, who is still reporting more than average soreness the day after he pitches. That’s reportedly the reason the team is carrying 8 relievers in the first place.

Also, Wednesday’s rain out screwed up the rotation. Since the Cardinals threw two starting pitchers on Thursday, and don’t have a day off coming up, they’ll either have to throw Carlos Martinez or Adam Wainwright on three days rest on Monday (which is a bad idea historically), or have someone from outside the rotation handle it. Right now word is newly reactivated Tyler Lyons is likely to get that start. If that’s the case, they probably won’t use him out of the bullpen very often between now and then, as well as a few days afterward. That would make the pen effectively seven deep for the next six days or so.

However, that’s just temporary. After Monday’s start and some rest, Lyons should be able to re-assume a role in the bullpen. As a fellow lefty, Siegrist could be the one losing a role. Even if the Cardinals want to continue with an 8-man pen indefinitely, there are other options. Flame-throwing Sam Tuivailala has yet to have an extended streak of success in the majors, but he’s punishing Triple-A batters so far in 2017. In 6 1/3 innings, he has 7 strike outs and just one walk.

Both players have a lot of uncertainty around them at this point, but “Tui” is the better projected of the two at this point (3.90). So is converted pitcher Rowan Wick (4.09), who has pitched well at Triple-A to start the season. However, it’s likely best for Wick to continue development in Triple-A getting consistent work, rather than waiting around for the occasional low leverage opportunity in the majors.

For more of an organization player instead of a prospect, the team could consider Mark Montgomery. You can be excused if you haven’t heard that name, as the team picked him up as a Minor League free agent this off-season. He pitched decently in the Yankee’s upper minors the last couple of years, but never made it to the majors. He’s sure pitching like someone determined to do so though, with 16 K’s and just 1 BB in 10 13 innings in Memphis. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t won’t to pin the hopes of the team on him or anything, but he’s projected better than Siegrist at this point as well (3.88).

Things are piling up against Siegrist. By fielding independent numbers, last year he was one of the worst qualified relievers in the game. He’s been even worse in 2017, and this time he has the ERA to back it up. He was projected as the worst member of the Cardinals ‘pen going into the season, and now he’s looking something like the eleventh best reliever in the organization at the moment. I’ll always fondly remember his performances in 2013 and 2015, but this isn’t that Kevin Siegrist. It’s time for him to see if he can get back on track at Triple-A.