Early in the season, I had what I thought was an interesting idea: with an eight-man Cardinal bullpen apparently set to be a reality all year, and in light of my personal doubts that Mike Matheny actually had a good plan for utilizing such a thing, I decided to post weekly updates every Monday on who was in the bullpen and how they were used in the previous week. That way, a plan or lack thereof would be easily discerned. What a good project!
I abandoned it after oh, two weeks.* The first time I left it out of my Monday column, it’s because there had been too many off days that week — with days off (and rainouts) keeping most of the bullpen fresh, there wasn’t anything interesting about which relievers had thrown and when. After that, it was because of a regular drumbeat of injuries and guys being shuttled back and forth from Memphis. Trying to peer into Matheny’s mind and perceive a plan for the expanded bullpen was impossible when the plans (such as they were) were constantly being scrambled by roster moves. (And maybe, to an extent, the roster moves are the plan, which is interesting and probably good but is a topic for another day, or another writer.)
*If you’re still curious about this stuff week to week, FanGraphs tracks it now. Easy to find from the team pages. Cool feature.
Anyway, having set aside my big reason to pay close attention to the bullpen so early on, I’ve found it very easy to just kinda lose track entirely. I know Bud Norris has been great. I know Greg Holland has been exactly the opposite of great. Jordan Hicks is still around, being inscrutable. Most of the other guys have either been on and off the DL, or up and down from AAA, or both.
So I hear your needs, reader. I share them. I did not know who was in the St. Louis bullpen as of this morning, exactly. I didn’t even know how many of them there were. So if you’re as confused as I was, here’s, uh, a rundown of which guys are on the team right now, which aren’t, and why. Hard-hitting stuff.
The Active-Roster Bullpen:
I just assumed this would be eight guys. It’s not! Which, duh Andy, just count up the position players on the roster: two catchers, the starting OF trio plus two youngsters (Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill), and six infielders (the usual suspects plus Yairo Munoz up to replace Paul DeJong). That’s thirteen players, which only leaves room for twelve pitchers, which only leaves room for seven relievers. Okay! I’m getting caught up. The current relievers are:
The late-inning guys: Bud Norris (1) is the closer pro tempore until theoretically (very very theoretically right now) Greg Holland (2) proves himself ready for the job. Holland is listed with this group until Matheny proves to us that he isn’t any more, and if nothing that happened before Saturday had convinced Matheny Holland doesn’t belong here, I doubt Saturday did the job. Jordan Hicks (3) is still throwing incredibly hard while both getting (in terms of runs allowed) and not getting (in terms of peripheral numbers) the results his physical skills suggest he can.
The off-the-DL regulars: Brett Cecil (4) is back from the DL as of a little over a week ago, and he’s the sole lefty in the ‘pen right now. He’s been good, but Matheny has barely allowed him to pitch to righties. Sam Tuivailala (5) is also back off the DL, with his fastball velocity (missing in early April) back as well.
The shuttle squad: John Brebbia (6) and Mike Mayers (7) have each been optioned to Memphis and then called back up four times this year. Four times each. That’s probably not a lot of fun, but it’s also better than not getting called up at all. And one bit of CBA minutiae that I know for some reason: players getting sent down or called up are entitled to first class travel. Though I’m pretty sure between Memphis and St. Louis, they just drive. And also, flying first class domestically is low-key not that much better than coach. But regardless, the MLB-sized checks still spend.
There’s your seven guys. They seem... okay? Anyway they’re the guys, for now.
The Guys on the DL:
Dominic Leone has a nerve issue in his right (throwing) bicep and is out indefinitely, which is pretty bad as he was expected to be pretty good. Tyler Lyons has a back strain, and there’s better news there as he’s
expected to begin a rehab stint soon already begun a rehab stint. Luke Gregerson’s right shoulder and elbow both hurt, and the team hasn’t said there’s anything structurally wrong but who really knows when he’ll be back or how good he’ll be. Finally, Matt Bowman has blisters. I’m not sure they’ll be better any time soon given that Matheny has had him warming up at home during every 6th inning ever since he landed on the DL, but I’m not a doctor.
The Guys in Memphis:
On the 40-man roster: Ryan Sherriff broke his toe earlier this year, but he’s fine now and pitching in AAA; he seems okay as a MLB LOOGY but not more. Conner Greene is in Springfield working as a starter; he’s a guy who is only on the 40 because he had to be protected for the Rule 5 draft (by Toronto) and I doubt he’s actually in the MLB relief mix this year. Derian Gonzalez was a similar Rule-5-protection case, and he’s been relieving for Memphis with no particular distinction (bad ERA but it is BABIP-inflated). Finally, I guess there’s Austin Gomber — they did call him up briefly recently, though Matheny didn’t bother to use him — who is another Rule 5 case and seems to be more of a break-glass depth starter than a real relief option at this point.
Others of note; these guys aren’t on the 40-man roster, so it’d take moves to get them into the Cardinal bullpen this year: Ryan Helsley and Dakota Hudson are both currently in Memphis, working as starters. Preston Guilmet is a mostly-minor-league journeyman they picked up, and he’s pitched pretty well for Memphis. Daniel Poncedeleon is back from last year’s scary injury and doing well as a starter; he’s an option to remember. There are others, but we’re pretty far into the weeds here.
And then there’s Alex Reyes:
Alex Reyes has made two rehab starts against LOL totally overwhelmed minor-league teams. He recorded over 100 strikeouts in those two games. He can return from the 60-day a week from today, though it’s not clear it’ll be to the bullpen instead of the rotation (which would push John Gant into the bullpen-option category).
Alex Reyes, in case you needed reminding, is one of the most talented young right-handed pitchers in the world. So, whether you’re particularly impressed by the names above or the opposite, they’ve got that going for them.
The Cards’ bullpen hasn’t been very good so far this year — okay outside of Holland, but obviously not the strength we hoped it’d be. I don’t want to overinterpret less than two months of collective bullpen performance, either. I think they have enough talented options to be good in the long run. A number of those are on the DL right now, though. The imminent return of Reyes will give them either a terrific new option (Reyes himself) or a pretty good one (Gant). If I had to guess, I’d guess this will look like a low point for the bullpen this season. Things seem likely to get better.