As a whole, most fans would agree that the Cardinals’ bullpen was one of the bright spots of the 2010 season. Were they a dominant force to be reckoned with? No. But when it comes down to it, a bullpen is judged by its ability to hold the other team at bay and close out games. The Cardinals’ unit was 11th in the majors in bullpen ERA (3.73), had the 11th fewest losses (20), and had the least blown saves in the big leagues (10). That, as a whole, is impressive considering the low expectations most had in April.
Here’s a pitcher by pitcher breakdown of St. Louis’ 2010 relief pitchers:
Ryan Franklin –
When it comes to closers, only one thing really matters: did he save that game, or blow it? And although Ryan Franklin’s ERA nearly doubled from a year ago (1.92 to 3.46), he blew three fewer saves (5 to 2) and lost one less game (3 to 2). That truly is all that counts. Of course, fans would prefer Franklin not save games by way of the Jason Isringhausen method: saving game after game, shall we say… “adventurously,” but in the end we’ll take what we can get. Franklin turns 38 this spring and likely only has 2 more seasons in him at most. Fortunately, the Cardinals have several viable options the step into the closer role in the near future.
If Kyle McClellan keeps progressing the way he has over his first three seasons in the big leagues, don’t be surprised if he’s the Cardinals’ closer of the future. At the very least, he’ll get an audition. McClellan had career bests in a number of statistical categories, including strikeouts, walks, WHIP, and ERA. His ERA is especially impressive. In 200, his rookie season, McClellan had a 4.04 ERA. In 2009, that dropped to 3.38. In 2010, Kyle had an incredible 2.27 ERA. As the team’s primary setup man, he had 19 holds, and ate up 75 innings in 68 appearances. McClellan is just one of many of the Cardinals’ homegrown prospects, and his future appears to be bright.
Speaking of career years, Jason Motte turned in the best all-around performance of his young career in 2010. After being thrown into the closer’s role a bit prematurely back in 2009, a move that ultimately crushed his confidence, Motte rebounded for a wildly successful season in 2010. He put up the same number of strikeouts as he did in 2009, but cut down on walks (23-18) and sliced his homeruns against and ERA in half (10 homeruns to 5, and 4.76 ERA to 2.24). Motte recorded 12 holds, and only suffered 2 losses in 2010. He may very well give McClellan and others a run for their money when the closer role opens up.
Reyes, a long time veteran, had another good season for the Cardinals. Though he did struggle at time when he was thrown into situations he wasn’t accustomed to, blowing three saves and getting hit hard vs right handed batters, Reyes did put up good numbers. He only allowed 2 homeruns in 59 appearances, had just one loss all year, and his 3.55 ERA was well below his 4.18 career average.
Miller was one of the more disappointing members of the core of the 2010 bullpen. As a lefty who generally comes in to face just one or two other lefties, you’d hope to have a lower ERA than 4.00, and you’d want to cut down on walks as well. Miller issued 16 free passes in 36 innings in 2010, and that’s just too many for a guy who’s coming in to shut down a rally by retiring a key left-handed batter. 2010 was the 3rd time in the last 4 seasons that Miller’s ERA was 4.00 or higher.
Blake Hawksworth really struggled in 2010 after an outstanding rookie campaign in 2009. The additional workload and high expectations may have gotten the best of him of the course of the year. His total innings more than doubled (40 – 90.1), and so did his ERA (2.03 – 4.98). He accounted for nearly a third of the bullpen’s total losses (8), and allowed an alarming 15 homeruns after giving up just 2 the year before. Luckily for Blake, he has one of the best pitching coaches in the big leagues to work with. Hopefully he can work out the kinks and regain some confidence heading into 2011.
It’s hard to read too much into Salas’ first year in the big leagues. He kept getting bounced around between Triple A and the majors, and it’s hard to put together a consistent level of play that way. However, at 3.52 ERA for a rookie reliever is nothing to scoff at…and his 29 strikeouts in 30.2 innings could make him a potential candidate for the closer role someday if he can work on other areas of his game.
Mike MacDougal’s brief role with the Cardinals wasn’t pretty. He walked 12 batters in just 18.2 innings, and his 7.23 ERA speaks for itself. He did put together a pretty nice year for the Washington Nationals in 2009, saving 20 games with an ERA of 4.31, so he might be worth another look next spring.
The Cardinals had a few other pitchers throw a few innings of relief in 2010, including position players Aaron Miles, Felipe Lopez, and Joe Mather. Going into 2011, the Cardinals may still want to add a couple of quality to arms to the mix, but the late inning situations appear to be in good hands with Franklin, McClellan, and Motte. Look for those three core relievers to carry the team to another solid season in next year.