Early on in the off-season I was very happy with the bullpen depth John Mozeliak and company had assembled going into the year. Even with Jordan Walden on the shelf, the Cardinals started the year with seven above average relievers, as well as two high-end performers in Trevor Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist, a possible additional late inning reliever in Seung Oh, and two competent MLB relievers in Miguel Socolovich and Sam Tuivailala waiting in Triple-A.
To me, this would be a test to Matheny's ability to responsibly handle a bullpen. Last year Siegrist led the league in appearances, taking the mound a whopping 81 times, three more than second place Mark Melancon, which was the same difference between second place and eighth place Jared Hughes. Seth Maness matched Hughes' 76 appearances. Rosey came in a 12-way tie for 37th-48th with 68 appearances. For me, the hope was that with so many competent options to pick from, Matheny would be able to adequately rest everyone.
That hasn't work out exactly to plan, and it's not Matheny's fault: Jonathan Broxton, Tyler Lyons, and Seth Maness have all been, at best, shaky. Oh is one of 16 pitchers tied for 9th-24th with 16 appearances, with Siegrist tied for 25th-48th with 15 appearances. That's more than what I would prefer for those two, but it's also a vast improvement over last year's numbers.
Let's see how Matheny has done getting guys rest:
Since Rosenthal's agent Scott Boras complained to the media about the way the Cardinals have overused Trevor, they've been much more cautious. This year, the Cards have yet to use him in consecutive games, and have only had him go more than an inning once. I think that's great. If the playoff race is going down to the wire, Matheny will have some banked innings then, for either using him more nights or perhaps asking Rosey to get more than three outs on a more often basis.
Siegrist and Oh on the other hand, have thrown on no rest or one day rest very regularly. They've also went more than one inning twice. Right now, they've been the ones that have had to make up for under-performance from other portions of the pen. Throughout the off-season I championed Lyons as a possible late-inning option against lefties, but that doesn't seem to interest Matheny. Lyons has seemingly been used without any preference for handedness, as he's faced more than two RHH for each LHH. Lyons has mostly been used for Mop-up duty, and it's hard to blame Matheny considering his troubles. I think that isn't likely to continue going forward, and hopefully Lyons will string together some good outings here soon and raise Mike's confidence in him. That should help lessen Siegrist's load which, while he's being used less often this year than last, is still too high.
Maness was one of the most often used relievers in the league last year, but due to his issues he's fourth on the team in appearances this year. I'm glad to see that in both the lineup and in the pen there seems to be less "Mike guy" treatment. If players aren't performing, they're playing time decreases. Of course, there's something to be said about small sample sizes, but it's hard to disagree with the playing time being doled out on a more meritocratic basis. Maness has also been used with less leverage than usual. Here's how the pen breaks down in terms of pLI, which is average leverage index, and gmLI, or the average leverage index when entering the game. If you're unfamiliar with these stats, here's an introduction on them here.
By xFIP, the highest leverage situations have went to the best pitcher, the second highest leverage has went to the second best pitcher, and the third highest leverage has went to the third best pitcher. It's hard not to happy about that. Broxton has been pretty awful by fielding independent numbers, but his ERA has been in the two's, which probably explains why he's not quite getting the attention Maness has received for his under-performance. While I thought the Broxton signing was nice deal as far as relievers go, I'd prefer to see Broxton buried on the Bullpen depth chart, in favor of Bowman. Other than getting roughed up by the Pirates last time out, he's been a nice depth piece, and I like that he's getting more work in close games. I wouldn't blame him too much for that homer against Polanco. His pitch started out on the edge of the zone and moved out of it, it just got drilled by a good hitter starting to realize his power. Maybe it could been lower but its not like he hung one there. Good pitch, better hit.
There's also the observation that so far, there sure seems to be less close games and less extra inning games. Last year it seemed like every game featured the Cards up or down by one or two runs. This year hasn't quite been the same. The real test for Matheny may be when the Cards go through a long stretch of close games, with a few extra inning games thrown it. However, up until now, I have to say I'm pretty happy with how Matheny's handled things.
Bowman has started to get some work in close games in the 6th and 7th inning lately, and I think that's the correct path. If you can work Bowman into more of Jr. Set-up man role, it would allow Siegrist and Oh to take some games off. Lyons will hopefully keep getting chances, because with the exception of Dean Kiekhefer, owner of a 4.63 K/9 at Triple-A (and, to his credit, a 0.00 BB/9), there aren't much lefty reliever options in the Cardinals org. Siegrist will likely continue to pitch at a high rate until Lyons shows he can handle the late innings. With Kevin just a couple years removed from a lost season due to forearms problems, that scares me more than a little bit.
With the exception of some small sample size noise that I would prefer Matheny not pay attention to, I have to say I'm impressed with how he's handled things so far.