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St. Louis Cardinals Reliever Usage Tracker: Post-Walden, 13-man bullpen edition

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Better, but still probably unsustainable in terms of appearances.

Elsa/Getty Images

In April, we first considered St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny's rate of reliever usage. At the time, the Cardinals had enjoyed quite a few off-fays interspersed among their early slate of games due to a rain postponement in Chicago and the normal precautionary open days after scheduled openers (opening night and the home opener). Matheny leaned on a core of relievers in the season's opening weeks. Four relievers—Jordan Walden, Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness, and Kevin Siegrist were wach on pace to finish 2015 with more appearances than any major-league reliever made during the 2014 season. Matheny's early-season reliever usage pace was unsustainable. A lot has changed since then.

  • Staff ace and proven workhorse Adam Wainwright injured his Achilles tendon and will miss the remainder of the season. St. Louis got 25 innings from Wainwright instead of the 200+ they were counting on.
  • The Cardinals shifted their roster construction from the typical composition of 13 position players (eight starters, five bench players) and 12 pitchers (five starters, seven relievers) to one with 12 position players and 13 pitchers (five starters, eight relievers).
  • Setup man Jordan Walden tore a muscle in his shoulder area and will be out until at least mid-July.
  • The Cardinals starting pitchers have also seen a downturn in their performance since April, as Bernie Miklasz noted on Twitter earlier this week, with the bullpen having to account for more innings of late.

One thing hasn't changed, though. The Cardinals continue to play in a lot of close games, especially when they lose. The Cards are 24-10. Five of their 10 losses have been by a single run, Three by two runs, and two have come by three runs. Four of the Cardinals' 24 victories have been what Baseball Reference classifies as a blowout (five or more runs). As a result, Matheny has relied on his trusted role relievers rather heavily.

Given these changes, it's not surprising that the Cardinals' overall bullpen usage stats have crept upward.

Before we delve into the numbers, I'd like to note that the Cards have played 34 games this year. 15 major-league teams have played 35 or 36 games. Nine clubs have played 30, 31, 32 or 33 games.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat writer Derrick Goold wrote an article that the paper published over the weekend, entitled "Cardinals are playing bullpen roulette," on Matheny's reliever usage and the club's roster construction that is well worth reading. Matheny has the stats on a relievers workload, including whether he warmed up in a game (or got "hot" as Matheny phrases it), a stat to which we fans don't have access. The manager then goes around and asks each reliever how he is feeling on a given day. If he feels good enough to pitch, Matheny feels free to use him in the game. Matheny explains his motivation thusly:

"These wins are so hard to come by that you can’t hold something back for tomorrow and what might be," Matheny said. "When we’ve got an opportunity right in front of us, that’s how we’ve been going about it. We have to go for it when we can as long as guys are feeling good. Once we get through this one, we’ll worry about tomorrow."

Craig and I discussed this article on the most recent episode of the Viva El Birdos podcast. Craig wrote a very good post on the MLB bullpen usage earlier this week at Fangraphs and noted how often St. Louis relievers have thrown on consecutive days. Despite playing fewer games than about half of MLB, the Cardinals are head and shoulders above the rest of the league in reliever appearances without at least a day of rest.

Here are the Cardinals' collective bullpen stats for the 2015 season through play on May 14.

2015

G

‘15 Rank

IP

‘15 Rank

TBF

‘15 Rank

NP

‘15 Rank

STL SP

34

16 (T)

200.1

16

850

17 (T)

3205

15

STL RP

34

16 (T)

110.1

10

452

18

1720

17

Even though the Cardinals tie for 16th in games played and games with a reliever appearance, their relievers have accounted for the 10th highest innings total in MLB this young season. Overall stats are one thing. Individual usage is quite another. So I updated our individual reliever usage charts.

The following chart shows the how the individual St. Louis relievers' usage stats compare to other relievers across MLB so far this year in the statistical categories of appearances (App), innings pitched (IP), total batters faced (TBF), and number of pitches (NP). When viewing the ranks keep in mind that 326 relievers have faced a batter in the majors so far this season. Also be aware that the Cardinals have played 34 games this year, which ties them for fewest in the majors. I listed the relievers from highest number of pitches thrown (NP) to lowest.

2015 St. Louis Cardinals Reliever Usage

Reliever

App

‘15 Rank

IP

‘15 Rank

TBF

‘15 Rank

NP

‘15 Rank

Siegrist

18

3 (T)

16.2

31 (T)

70

26 (T)

279

23

Rosenthal

16

32 (T)

17

23 (T)

66

40 (T)

270

30 (T)

Belisle

16

32 (T)

14.1

79 (T)

64

54 (T)

257

44 (T)

Villanueva

9

176 (T)

14.2

69 (T)

57

94 (T)

219

99 (T)

Maness

18

3 (T)

13.2

97 (T)

56

101 (T)

183

153 (T)

Walden

12

131 (T)

10.1

164 (T)

42

172 (T)

156

178 (T)

Harris

8

185 (T)

8.2

191 (T)

38

186 (T)

142

188 (T)

Choate

17

14 (T)

7.1

208 (T)

31

213 (T)

102

228 (T)

Socolovich

5

226 (T)

4.2

246 (T)

17

258 (T)

83

248 (T)

It's early in the year. Teams have had more off-days than they typically will in a three-week stretch at any other point in the season due to the built in off-days after openers. Consequently a lot of managers are using relievers at rates that are unsustainable over the long haul of the 162-game season. For a greater perspective on the Cardinals' current reliever usage rates, I decided to compare them to last season's regular-season totals for individual relievers. I calculated the individual St. Louis relievers' per team game rates for each stat and then extrapolated them out over 162 games. Here's how they compare to the MLB reliever usage stat ranks for 2014.

2015 St. Louis Cardinals Reliever Usage Pace vs. 2014 MLB Reliever Usage Totals

Reliever

App

‘14 Rank

IP

‘14 Rank

TBF

‘14 Rank

NP

‘14 Rank

Siegrist

86

1

79

5

334

4

1329

3

Rosenthal

76

4 (T)

81

4

314

7 (T)

1286

5

Belisle

76

4 (T)

68

33 (T)

305

12 (T)

1225

7

Villanueva

43

164 (T)

70

26 (T)

272

44 (T)

1043

55

Maness

86

1

65

48 (T)

267

57

872

120

Walden

57

115 (T)

49

141 (T)

200

147 (T)

743

154

Harris

38

174 (T)

41

166 (T)

181

162 (T)

677

168

Choate

81

1

35

182

148

186 (T)

486

210

Socolovich

24

229 (T)

22

246

81

269 (T)

300

277

The batters faced, pitches thrown, and innings pitched usage has fallen off from late April. This is not terribly surprising, especially given that St. Louis has taken to carrying an extra reliever of late. However, Matheny is still using individual relievers at a high rate in terms of appearances. Three are on pace to make more appearances than any reliever made in 2014 overall (and the Cardinals have played a game or two less than other clubs). Five bullpenners are on an appearance pace that would have placed them in MLB's top five a year ago.

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