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Two Vignettes

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Subtitle: The author is mailing this one in

Japan v MLB All Stars - Game 3 Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

Hey everyone- Happy President’s Day, and a belated Happy Valentine’s Day. Since I can at least feasibly call this a holiday weekend, and I also can’t for the life of me think up a good topic, I’m just going to quickly cover two things. Are they the most pressing things facing the Cardinals today? I mean, honestly, maybe. There’s not exactly much going on at the moment.

How Bad Are The Relievers?

You’ve probably heard that the Cardinals relievers are bad. Not from someone writing for this website, probably, but from Cardinals fans everywhere. It’s reaching an ‘it is known’ level of wisdom, where it’s not clear why or how it’s true, just that it is. There’s just one problem with that narrative- that’s *not* how it is. True, the Cardinals bullpen was awful last year. That’s largely Greg Holland’s doing, but it’s certainly the case. True, there aren’t really any name relievers after Andrew Miller. That said, though, the guys directly behind him are legit. Jordan Hicks is if nothing else exciting- but also, he’s an effective major league reliever. ZiPS and Steamer project him for a mid-3’s ERA, which is solid, and he always has the ability to learn how to miss bats and hit another gear. John Brebbia projects even better- 3.5 ERA in ZiPS. I’ve always been a Brebbia believer, and it seems like projection systems are coming to the same conclusion. Dakota Hudson is interesting too- he’s probably a reliever long-term, so the team has the flexibility to use him, but he’s certainly not a lock to be a useful bullpen piece this year.

The next tier of the bullpen is less impressive, sure. Luke Gregerson and Dominic Leone are mysteries. Brett Cecil and Chasen Shreve are lefty and ineffective. John Gant and Daniel Ponce de Leon have been okay as relievers but might be used as starters; ditto Austin Gomber. The thing is, though, the team doesn’t need that many of these names to hit. Some of them are going to be broken or ineffective, but with the head start of having Miller, Brebbia, and Hicks at the front of the pen, the team can probably get to average. Indeed, Fangraphs projects them around the middle of the majors in terms of bullpen WAR, and top 10 in ERA.

If that’s the case, why does the bullpen feel so bad? Well, I think there are two things at play here. First of all, the bullpen just doesn’t feel good. None of us have seen Andrew Miller pitch in a Cardinals uniform, and he was inconsistent and injured last year. Everyone else in the pen is either inexperienced or past their prime, so there’s no easy line of consistency to draw from a previous year’s performance. For goodness’ sake, the second-best reliever on the team, Brebbia, is often left off of fans’ projections of the 8-man bullpen. With a motley crew of players who could be good but who have glaring flaws, it’s easy to skip over the positives and focus on the negatives.

Second, I don’t know the exact right way to say this, but- every bullpen is terrible. The Brewers bullpen is probably the second best in baseball (the Yankees ruin bullpen analysis, so we’re ignoring them). Their fourth best reliever, by Steamer projections, is Junior Guerra. They project to give meaningful innings to Matt Albers, Alex Claudio, and someone named Taylor Williams. The point is, all bullpens are bad at the back end. It’s just not possible (again, unless you’re the Yankees) to have effective pitchers all the way down. It’s a lot more noticeable on your own team, when you watch the dregs day in and day out, then on a rival where you can just say ‘how come we can’t have Josh Hader?’ and ignore the guys behind him.

The Cardinals bullpen is probably going to be average this year. It’s not as good as the Brewers bullpen, and it’s probably not appreciably better than the Cubs bullpen. The thing is- that’s fine. Sunk Cecil costs aside, the bullpen wasn’t really the focus in building this year’s team. The lineup is going to be great, the rotation is going to be pivotal, and the bullpen exists. If it’s the worst part of the team this year, that could very easily be because every other part is great. Also, John Brebbia is amazing and don’t you dare suggest sending him to the minors.

I Really Miss Baseball

This is a copout of a second topic, but I really can’t wait for baseball to come back. It builds over time- in November and December, I knew baseball was gone but didn’t really feel it. By January, though, baseball had turned from a fun thing to reminisce about into another place to argue about economics. I like foisting my opinions on those around me as much as the next person, but having sports as an escape from that is great. When baseball is going on, I feel like there’s a nice happy medium- you get the joy and relaxation of watching games whenever you want, and then when you feel like it you can engage on the distributional issues of who gets what. If you don’t want to, though, there will be another nine innings tomorrow, and another nine the day after that. You can think about what you want when you want to.

In the offseason, though, no one is playing baseball. Obvious as that is, I think it goes really overlooked. Baseball is a big part of my life, and my brain just naturally thinks about it every day. During the season, that’s discussing a game with coworkers or testing my boss’s theory that the only thing involved in being a good pitcher is strike percentage. In the offseason, it’s trying to redo a hundred years of economics through the lens of 26-year-old prodigies. I don’t have much to say here except that I really, really, can’t wait for the season to start again.

Have a great weekend, everyone.