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Good News/Bad News

Edward Mujica should make you feel okay. Jaime Garcia, not so much.

Mysterui looks down the Brewer's bench.
Mysterui looks down the Brewer's bench.
Dilip Vishwanat

I'm watching Edward Mujica in the 9th inning. He's recorded two outs and allowed a single that should have been an out had Allen Craig not been so concerned that fist base was going to walk off of its own accord. I was not particularly enamored of Mujica when the Cardinals acquired him from the Marlins. A control artist with solid strikeout rates, he seemed a good solution for the problem of the 7th inning that had been particularly plaguing in 2012.

But a solution to the particularly plaguing 9th inning for the Cardinals in 2013? That seems to be a bit more of a stretch.

And yet, here we are. I'm inclined to quote poet-philosopher Ryan Theriot when he said, "It is what it is."

But it isn't what it was. More specifically, Edward Mujica is having a different season then he's had previously and there appears to be a measurable change in approach. Take a look at pitch selection from 2012 compared to 2013:

2012 2013
Fastball 45.3% 35.4%
Slider 9.5% 0.5%
Split Finger 45.2% 64.2%

Mujica has ditched the slider entirely and scaled back. For all intents and purposes, he's doubled down on the split finger and it has paid off. Mujica has seen his strikeout rate tick up and is also benefiting from even better than usual control. To wit:

2012 2013
Strikeout% 18.2% 26.7%
Walk% 4.7% 1.7%

There's good reason to wonder if these are sustainable rates. It would be the best strikeout rate of his career (equaled in 2010 with the Padres) and the lowest walk rate since he broke into the majors in 2006.

Mujica's stuff, especially given the fireballers currently in the pen like Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez, is unlikely to become known as a "stuff" guy. His fastball sits in the low nineties (averaging around 92mph) and, despite the impressive results of his split finger, he lacks the eyeball popping breaking ball like an Adam Wainwright curve or a Mitchell Boggs slider.

But it would be a mistake to conflate Mujica with the most recent Cardinals closer by default, Ryan Franklin. In a similar way, Franklin earned the role after others failed their way out of it. He was reliable in the sense that you knew what you were getting from Franklin even if what you were getting wasn't very good. Franklin was like a microwaved salmon patty from the store: arguably nutritious, hinting at flavor and suffering from a systemic case of freezer burn. And yet, still filling.

Franklin never eclipsed a 20% strikeout rate. His best walk rate was twice what Edward Mujica's current walk rate is. The question of sustainability is a prudent one to keep asking when a reliever overperforms expectations in a small sample size but Mujica's process looks different than in past and his results look better. This isn't smoke and mirrors. There's legitimate fire in the Edward Mujica as closer role.

* * *

You twist your ankle doing your typical day job activities one day. Your options are to take some time off and try to rest it or to have surgery. Tests indicate that there appears to be a significant problem to your foot but doctors reasonably caution you that tests of this nature (e.g. MRIs) are not full proof.

Rather than undergo surgery, which has a host of inherent risks unrelated to your specific injury, you opt for rest and rehab. Things go reasonably well until they ... well, stop going reasonably well.

There's going to be a lot of second guessing of bot Jaime Garcia and the St. Louis Cardinals in the wake of his trip to the DL and what sounds an awful lot like portents of season ending surgery. The Cardinals earned some of this with past incidents involving Mark Mulder and Scott Rolen.

The reality is more nuanced than any one event and a conservative approach to injuries is warranted in general. It's worth noting that Jaime Garcia was really fucking good over the last few weeks. He had a 3.69 FIP with a 63% groundball rate.

Perhaps a more interesting question about Jaime Garcia is not whether he should have had surgery last year but whether his mechanics are conducive to being healthy in general. Has Garcia seen a shift in mechanical stress from his elbow to his shoulder post-Tommy John surgery? That's a question that doesn't have an answer with any significant degree of certainty but it's the kind of question that biomechanical analysis of players tries to explore.

The Cardinals will look to their bullpen to replace Garcia after calling up Mitchell Boggs from the minors. Given Rosenthal, Martinez and Joe Kelly's involvement in Saturday's game, the smart money looks to be on Seth Maness for the next Garcia start. The Cardinals rotation now includes Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and three rookies. If anyone wondered why the Cardinals refrained from a trade of their many pitching prospects, this is it.

Whether it works out or is a question for another day but this is the front office trying to mitigate and manage risk. They've had several risks come to fruition that were already of a high probability (Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia) and one that would seem to be more of a surprise (Jake Westbrook). Still, it's another sign that the farm system isn't just for show and has plenty to offer in the face of challenges to the big league team.