Diamond Diaries

Cardinal baseball, from the girls

Tag Archives: bullpen

Welcome to the Bigs, Kid. Good Luck With This.

Could someone explain to me when Tony went from the one that doesn’t trust rookies and young guys to the one trying to kill pitchers arms and spirits a la Dusty Baker?

First of all, the Cards have got an inordinate amount of infielders (or outfielders being used as infielders) on this team. So why is the backup catcher starting at third base? Why on a team boasting 7 guys that have played infield this year (and 4 of which have started or played third) was that at all necessary? This was one of those starting lineups that Tony pulled out of a hat, wasn’t it?

Poor Lance Lynn. Making his major league debut starting on just 3 days rest. He was actually very efficient, throwing only 64 pitches in his 5 1/3 innings of work. However, when he was getting lit up in the sixth, and the crack team doing play by play for Fox Sports Midwest kept repeatedly stating that there was no one warming up in the bullpen, I got frustrated again. Now, I know I ranted yesterday about how the starting pitchers are having issue lately getting deep into games, and the bullpen looks worn out. That issue has obviously not changed since then. So the team says, “Hey, let’s bring up another arm and have 13 pitchers, thereby allowing guys to get a breather!’

Solid idea, right? Well, I’m actually never on board with having 13 pitchers on the roster. Ever. However, in the last seven games…

Brian Tallet has 4 appearances and 3 innings pitched.

Eduardo Sanchez has 3 appearances and 3 2/3 innings pitched.

Fernando Salas has 3 appearances and 3 1/3 innings pitched.

Ryan Franklin has 3 appearances and 5 2/3 innings pitched.

Jason Motte has 3 appearances and 4 innings pitched.

Miguel Batista has 3 appearances and 5 1/3 innings pitched.

Trever Miller has 4 appearances and 2 2/3 innings pitched.

Individually it doesn’t seem like a lot, but add it up. Over 7 games the pen has taken on 27 2/3 innings, and that doesn’t even include the 2 that Maikel Cleto took on last night (I’ll get to him). So the pen has handled almost 30 of 64 innings (counting extras) over the last seven days. I can understand the feeling of needing an extra arm for a few days. So what does the team do?

Call up Maikel Cleto. Force a kid to skip AAA and run straight to the bigs despite the fact that there are 4 arms in AAA that are on the 40 man, including 2 (Mitchell Boggs and Jess Todd) that have big league experience. Makes perfect sense. The book on Cleto is simple – he throws the ball fast. Caveman style. Me throw ball fast. He has no idea where it’s going, and, when he’s at all worked up, excited, or even just thinking about what kind of food is going to be on the postgame spread, he has even less of a clue. He just winds up and throws it. Fast.

Hey kid. In the bigs? They can hit fastballs.

It was setting him up for failure in a big way. I don’t like it. He showed us something big in being able to calm down and come out for a solid second inning, but wow, was I cringing to see him get run back out there.

This makes two posts in two days from me… both of the ranting variety. I should cut it out or you’re all going to think I a) like writing and b) need to get out more.

Thankfully we are finished with the Giants for the year. Up next are the boys from the north side – the Cubs. The boys in blue have lost their last three (to the hapless Astros no less) and are 3-7 in their last ten games. Old friend Ryan Dumpster Dempster takes the mound for the Cubbies, while Jaime Garcia looks to bounce back from arguably his toughest start of his career. Gametime is at 7:15. Go Cards! 🙂

The Thing About Closers…

The Cardinals’ shut down man is under the microscope.  Ryan Franklin has blown an incredible 4 saves in 6 appearances.  Fans are frustrated.  In postgame interviews, Franklin seems bewildered and emotionally exhausted.  GM John Mozeliak and manager Tony LaRussa are left with a hot potato.  What to do with a closer who can’t close?

Which got me thinking…

When I first began watching MLB games I wondered why closing pitchers (those who came in and blew batters away 1-2-3) were only in the game for brief appearances.  If they were that good why didn’t teams use them earlier or longer during games?  A few years’ worth of baseball games later, I have come to a better understanding of the tradition of the closer, one far different than the everlasting superhero opinion I had first formed.

Closers are magical creatures, the best of the bullpen relievers, sent in to pitch the last few outs of a close game when their team is leading by three runs or less (that special number that gets them the “save”.)  The hero/closer rewards the team with quick outs, saving the game.  <<all cheer>>  But from what I have learned, closers aren’t Terminators that run on Energizer batteries.  A closer’s specialty is mental focus in the highest pressure situations coupled with some variety of nasty, deadly deliveries.  They don’t have to go deep into games or throw too many pitches.  That’s just not in their job description.

The concept of using an elite pitcher in a regular closing role wasn’t born until the 1980’s.  The fact that Tony La Russa (then with the Oakland A’s) is credited with the idea tells me a lot about the rationale behind the position.  La Russa is either brilliant or crazy, depending on whether you agree with him or not.  To me, Tony is one of baseball’s fascinating characters.  I’d give anything to know how he thinks, strategizes and what his eyes see as a ballgame unfolds.  I’m curious if his lineup tinkering and late inning substitutions are just to confuse the fans who try to figure him out.  However the one thing I do know from reading about Tony La Russa is that Tony is a detail guy.  He reportedly relies heavily on split stats and miniscule odds to give him the edge in every single event on the field.  So it logically follows that a closer, much like a LOOGY (lefty one-out guy), would be the perfect tool in a TLR-managed ballgame… until Tony’s mythical hero can no longer channel that closing magic.

So, if there is no clear successor to don the title of Closing Pitcher, then what next?

Twitter exploded with opinions on that subject following Sunday’s blown save and loss to the Dodgers.  It made me wonder, do the Cardinals really need a designated closer?  If baseball got along fine without closing specialists until the 1980’s, is there a proven benefit to dedicating big dollars to collecting a closer just to have one?  How different would our team be if we fell back to a “closer by committee” strategy?  Tony could run his numbers on opposing batters for his late-inning relievers.  If a long reliever was going strong, the guy could close out his own game.  If we had a mixture of inexperienced yet promising shut-down talent that other teams hadn’t figured out yet (read: Eduardo Sanchez) to complement Mitchell Boggs (the heir apparent), why not mix and match?

I certainly respect the tradition of the closer, and in my perfect world the Cardinals would have a lights-out, stereotypical icon waiting in the bullpen, causing opposing teams and their fans to catch their collective breath when he emerged from the bullpen blowing fire and steam.  But the Cardinals just do not have that sort of magical beast on the roster.

Angela laughs when I try to play GM.  She says we’d have the cutest team in the Majors, full of young guys who “deserve a chance.”  But honestly, I ask, why not take a risk on young (albeit unproven) pitcher in the late innings, develop some talent, have a short leash and share the wealth, closing games by committee.  Maybe there are enough crowns to go around?

The Cardinals return home to face the Nationals at Busch Stadium tonight. Jake Westbrook (1-1, 7.63 ERA) will be on the mound for the Redbirds.  In his last outing, the Cardinals scored 15 runs against the Diamondbacks to get him his first win of 2011.  Game time is 7:15 CT.

Go Cards!!

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