Does losing a few extra games early in the season set up a team for more potential success later in the season?
That is a question that has been on my mind lately while pondering the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals. Mike Matheny has been a manager who “rides his bullpen hard”. He seems to only have a few arms he trusts, and that’s where he turns when he needs relief. I understand that a win in April counts the same as a win in September. However, overuse in April may lead to unavailability or ineffectiveness later in the season. While looking back to April of 2016 a few things jumped out at me on how Matheny used his bullpen.
Out of 24 games played, 23 used the bullpen (Jamie Garcia had a CG). Oh & Siegrist pitched in 11 and 10 games respectively. Bowman (unproven at this point) and Broxton pitched in 9 and 8 games. No big deal right – just a few games difference. However when looking closely at WHAT games they pitched in 3 of Broxton’s 8 appearances were in games decided by more than 6 runs while 4 of Matt Bowman’s 9 appearances were in those same type of games. Siegrist didn’t pitch in any laughers, while Oh, who led the team with 11 appearances, appeared in 2. One of the games Oh appeared was just a 5-2 lead at the time he pitched, and the other game the Cards were down 3-2 when Oh was summoned, but went on to win big.
It’s tough to be that pitcher that goes multiple days between relief appearances (typically the long man). You can’t burn him to get him in a game, because the next day is when you’ll probably need his 3+ innings. I think Matheny has done too much of letting guys “rot in the pen” while continuing to pitch his “go to guys”. Winning a game in April while pitching your studs 3 in a row, or 4 out of 5 might not be worth it later in the season. Don’t get me wrong – I’ll be the first guy to protest if Matheny uses Miguel Socolovich to get big outs in the 8th inning vs. the Cubs and fails. I’m also not getting paid Mike Matheny money to manage the 11 time World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals. It’s a fine managerial line, but in his 6th year as manager I hope his in game maneuvering continues to get better.
It will be interesting to see how he handles the bullpen this April. The Cardinals have 4 off days in the month of April. I hope he uses those days wisely to keep guys fresh, while making sure everyone in the bullpen is involved. Important lefty Kevin Siegrist should be able to stay rested with fellow lefty Brett Cecil now in the bullpen. The Cards have two guys with closing experience (Broxton & Rosenthal) if Oh needs a day off. I also think either lefty could close a game if needed. Bowman seems to be a guy who should get lots of work when the Cardinals need a double play. The biggest questions for me are how will Matheny use Miguel Socolovich (assuming he gets the last spot in the pen), along with the usage of Trevor Rosenthal in his new role. Those are the two guys who don’t seem to have roles that are Matheny-proof. Rosenthal’s last outing had him go 3 innings while allowing just 2 hits and striking out 5 vs. Houston Monday night. This outing comes after Matheny stated that the Cardinals starters “have to be horses”. I just hope if his horses line up, he finds a way to get everyone in the stable involved.