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The Cardinals Effectively Bulldoze the Bullpen, but There’s More Work to Do

The moves probably came too late to preserve the Cardinals’ fragmented chances of making the playoffs, but president of baseball operations John Mozeliak bulldozed his team’s bullpen. He just took the thing apart. He cleared the debris, and tossed the threadbare relievers in the dumpster.

Given the atrocities committed against baseball during his bullpen’s horrendous July, Mozeliak’s blood pressure may have been more alarming than Greg Holland’s earned-run average. He was probably sick to his stomach, afflicted with the Brett Cecil virus.  Mozeliak’s patience — like Tyler Lyons’ slider — had faded.

Going into the weekend series against the Cubs at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals’ bullpen had a 7.18 ERA for July, the worst in the NL for the month. In the AL, only the White Sox bullpen had set more games on fire,  with a 7.71 ERA from the beginning of the month through July 25.

During a 16-game stretch made messy by bullpen explosions, the Cardinals’ relievers had an 8.51 ERA. In the 16th game, last Wednesday’s 7-3 loss at Cincinnati, the bullpen inherited a 2-2 game and played with matches again: 3 innings, six hits, four earned runs, four walks, one strikeout.

Two days later, Mozeliak gassed up the bulldozer.

  • Lyons and Holland, designated for assignment. Gone.
  • Sam Tuivailala traded to Seattle for a hard-throwing RH, Seth Elledge, who was the Mariners’ No. 10 prospect according to MLB Pipeline.
  • Cecil to the DL with an inflamed ERA … um, inflamed foot.
  • Promoted from Triple A Memphis were rookie prospects Dakota Hudson and Daniel Poncedeleon plus veteran lefty Tyler Webb.
  • Lefty Austin Gomber, who made a superb start at Cincinnati last week, was relocated to the bullpen.
  • On Saturday, the Cardinals traded Triple A Memphis first baseman Luke Voit and $1 million in international signing-pool money for two relievers : LH Chasen Shreve, and RH Giovanny Gallegos. Shreve was the more coveted of the two; more on that in a while.

When he addressed the bullpen problems on the The Bernie Show last Thursday, Mozeliak said we should expect changes. He hinted at a bullpen shakeup and wasn’t kidding.

All five starting pitchers that opened the season in the Memphis rotation have jobs with the big-league pitching staff: Jack Flaherty, John Gant, Hudson, Gomber and Poncedeleon.

The makeover worked, at least for the weekend.

In winning two of three from the Cubs, the Cardinals received a rare demonstration of quality relief from their bullpen. Seven relievers combined to work 10.2 innings, allowing seven hits and no earned runs with nine strikeouts and two walks. (That’s a swell 4.50 strikeout-walk ratio.) The Cubs batted .184 with a .488 OPS against the STL bullpen.

For only the second time this season the Cardinals’ bullpen went through a three-game series without giving up an earned run. It last happened early this month in three-game set at Arizona.

Here’s the revised bullpen cast as of Monday morning — though Shreve won’t officially be added to the 25-man roster until later in the day, before the start of the 7:10 p.m. home game against Colorado:

Right-handers (7):  Bud Norris, Jordan Hicks, Mike Mayers, Hudson, Poncedeleon, Luke Gregerson, and John Brebbia. 

Left-handers: (3):  Gomber, Shreve, and Webb.

Two moves must be made Monday to put Shreve on the roster and bring Carlos Martinez off DL to start against the Rockies. That means two pitchers will have to go down, and Gant is a possibility because he pitched 4.1 innings Sunday night and wouldn’t be available for several days, anyway. Brebbia pitched two innings Sunday and that could put him on the Memphis shuttle again. Unless the Cardinals want to carry three lefties, Webb could return to Memphis. 

Two questions:

1-Why did this take so long?  A couple of answers.  Mozeliak, like most if not all baseball executives will wait to see if a struggling pitcher can turn things around. Especially if the team has invested $14 million to sign a reliever (Holland) to a one-year deal. And Lyons was a highly effectively reliever with a nasty strikeout slider against hitters from both sides of the plate last season. The challenge was to get Lyons healthy and back in form. And that was worth a try. But it just wasn’t happening. Tuivailala was traded because he didn’t have any minor-league options remaining and the front office wanted more flexibility with the roster. The Cecil problem was moved aside for now.

2-After management watched former manager Mike Matheny mangle so many young arms and routinely run the team’s bullpen into a state of chaos, it made absolutely no sense to put the Memphis recruits under Matheny’s supervision. There was no guarantee of Matheny even using them. Twice this season the Cardinals promoted a rookie pitching prospect — Gomber, then Poncedeleon — and Matheny wouldn’t put them in a game. They were quickly returned to Memphis. And then there was always the threat of Matheny going the opposite way and pushing a young arm too hard. On more than one occasion this season, the front office had to intervene to prevent Matheny from damaging Hicks’ 21-year-old right arm through extreme usage. So why risk an injury to Hudson, “Ponce,” or Gomber? It made more sense to wait until a more intelligent manager was in place who had a better feel for running a bullpen. The issue wasn’t Mozeliak waiting too long to call up these young relievers; the real issue was waiting too long to remove a liability from the manager’s office.

The bullpen may be squared away now; at least there’s a chance for a solid showing the rest of the way. Unless, of course, more moves are forthcoming that could ship Norris to another team or possibly add another reliever for the future. Or maybe something bigger. The bell for the trade deadline will sound at 3 p.m. Tuesday STL time. Mozeliak has work to do, and while it would be great to resolve everything now, additional roster repairs may have to wait until the offseason.

Before I go.

What’s the deal on Shreve? 

Get him out of Yankee Stadium, and he should be fine. This lefty had an extreme home/road split while working out of the Yankees’ bullpen. Just a few stats that illustrate why he’s likely to be a better reliever by working for the Cardinals. Easy explanation: because the Cardinals don’t play their home games at Yankee Stadium.

HOME:  In 101 games and 97 innings at Yankee Stadium from 2015 through 2018, Shreve had a 4.73 ERA. He gave up 2.04 homers per 9 innings.  He was slapped for a .500 slugging percentage and .852 OPS. Ugly. ROAD: In 79 games and 77.2 innings pitched out of the Bronx, Shreve had  2.90 ERA. The slash line against him was .188 / .288 / .369 for a .657 OPS. He still had in issue with home runs (1.39 per 9) but it wasn’t as chronic on the road.

HOME: Strikeout rate 26.4 percent. ROAD: Strikeout rate of 31.7 percent.

AT HOME VS. LHB:  A .287 average,  .358 OBP, .543 slug, .901 OPS, a homer every 18.4 at-bats, and a strikeout rate of 25.5%. ON ROAD VS. LHB: .173 average, .295 OBP, .317 slug, .612 OPS. A homer every 34.6 at-bats. A strikeout rate of 35.7%.  See the difference? Pretty amazing.

AT HOME VS. RHB: .478 slug, .826 OPS, a homer every 16.6 at-bats, and a 21.5% strikeout rate. ON ROAD VS. RHB:  .284 OBP, .399 slug, .682 OPS, a homer every 20 at-bats, and a 28.3% strikeout rate. Again: major difference.

One concern about Shreve: He has a high walk rate, and it really doesn’t matter where he pitches. Since the start of the 2015 season his walk rate is 11.6%. It was higher at Yankee Stadium (11.8%) but still inflated on the road 11.4% … and that includes a glaring 13% walk rate against LH batters on the road.

As for Seth Elledge, Seattle’s No. 10 prospect, the Cardinals added a promising power arm. He’s 22. And a big guy at 6-3 and 230 pounds.In the Seattle system Elledge had a strikeout rate of 43.8% in Rookie A ball, a 41.7% K rate in low A, and a 36.2% strikeout rate in high Class A ball. The Cardinals placed Elledge at Class AA Springfield, and he pitched an scoreless inning with one strikeout in his first appearance. Tops out at 95 mph and his fastball has hard sinking action.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: Karraker – If Teams Want Norris, Cards Should Make a Deal and Let Hicks Close Games