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Steve Cishek trade analysis: Why did the St. Louis Cardinals add a reliever?

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Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals traded for Miami Marlins reliever Steve Cishek on Friday. The Cardinals sent 25-year-old righthanded reliever Kyle Barraclaugh to Miami for Cishek, a Proven Closer and bounce-back candidate. It appears to have been a deal that had as much to do with the Cardinals taking on Cishek's salary (a prorated share of the $6.65 million he is due this season) as the minor-leaguer the Cards sent to the Marlins.

On the surface, the Cardinals do not appear to have a glaring need in the bullpen. Entering play on Monday, St. Louis relievers had the 19th-highest innings pitched total in MLB. The Cardinals bullpen has also been very good, posting an ERA that ranked second in the majors entering play on Sunday and a 3.26 FIP that placed them third. The Cardinals' relievers have not shouldered a heavy innings burden and have pitched well by both ERA and FIP. Why add a reliever?

It's not the overall bullpen workload that is the issue. It's the amount of work that specific relievers are being asked to take on that is worrisome. The Cardinals are a good team that has played in a lot of close games this season. Manager Mike Matheny is a leader who believes in defined bullpen roles. The Cardinals lost setup man Jordan Walden to injury months ago and righty Matt Belisle joined him on the disabled list a couple weeks ago. The result: Matheny is calling on a handful relievers time and again in late and close situations. The addition of Cishek and Walden, who pitched for Double-A Springfield on Sunday as part of a rehab stint, will help lessen the workloads of Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist, and Trevor Rosenthal.

We have sporadically checked in on the usage rates of St. Louis relievers during the season. In doing so, we've looked at appearances (App) innings pitched (IP), total batters faced (TBF), and pitches thrown (NP). First, we will compare the Cardinals to MLB relievers in 2015. But that is imperfect because of the different number of team games played. So we also reduce each stat to a per team game rate, then extrapolate that total out over 162, the total number of games in the MLB regular season. This allows us to compare the current Cardinals reliever usage pace to 2014.

For context, 539 relievers made the MLB.com list for 2014. This includes the likes of Daniel Descalso (there's no way to pluck out position players who pitched in blowouts). So far in 2015, 459 players are listed under the MLB.com reliever split.

2015 Cardinals Reliever Usage

Reliever

App

‘15 Rank

IP

‘15 Rank

TBF

‘15 Rank

NP

‘15 Rank

Siegrist

50

1 (T)

45.1

18 (T)

185

19 (T)

769

9

Maness

50

1 (T)

39.1

69 (T)

163

64

575

88 (T)

Choate

49

3 (T)

19.2

211 (T)

81

216 (T)

271

228

Rosenthal

45

16 (T)

46.1

15

193

8 (T)

810

5

I've included Lefty One Out Guy (LOOGY) Randy Choate as a point of contrast more than anything. He shows why going by just one of these usage stats is not a good idea. Siegrist and Maness are tied atop the MLB leader board in reliever appearances. Choate has made one fewer appearances than them. But Choate's specialized work means he faces far fewer batters, throws less pitches, and totals fewer innings. This makes Choate's workload far less.

Looking across the usage stats also makes Maness's workload less concerning. True, he leads the league in appearances in a tie with Siegrist. But Maness has thrown 214 fewer in-game pitches than Siegrist and 235 fewer than Rosenthal. He's also faced 22 fewer batsmen than Siegrist and 30 less than Rosenthal.

2015 Cardinals Reliever Usage vs. 2014 MLB Reliever Usage Totals

Reliever

App

‘14 Rank

IP

‘14 Rank

TBF

‘14 Rank

NP

‘14 Rank

Siegrist

83

1

79

5

306

12

1,271

5

Maness

83

1

65

48 (T)

269

53

951

90 (T)

Choate

81

1

33

191 (T)

134

206

448

224

Rosenthal

74

10 (T)

77

8

319

5

1,339

3

Comparing the St. Louis relievers to last year's MLB reliever usage leaderboards gives us a bit more context. Maness is actually on pace to have his workload reduced in every usage stat except appearances from a year ago, when he was a bullpenning workhorse. Siegrist and Rosenthal are on pace to shoulder heavy burdens in terms of appearances, innings pitched, batters faced, and pitches thrown.

It's easy to see why general manager John Mozeliak opted to add Cishek to the pen, as Brian Stull of STL Baseball Weekly reported:

"The reason you have confidence in that deal is because he can go 7th, 8th, or 9th," said Mozeliak of the role Cishek can be used. "When you think about currently how we’re winning games and how much pressure we’re putting on those relievers, just giving somebody a break just makes sense."

Adding Cishek gives Matheny an option that could help to lessen the burden on the Cardinals' late-inning relievers—specifically Siegrist and Rosenthal. The bullpen cavalry may very well be further bolstered by Walden, if he is able to pitch through his minor-league rehab stint without issue and rejoin the Cardinals healthy and effective. What has been a strength throughout the season's first four months might very well be even stronger down the stretch due to depth. More quality pitchers means fresher quality pitchers. That's why the Cardinals added Cishek.

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