*Monthly, the group of United Cardinal Bloggers participates in projects. The project, a group-wide roundtable, we are currently working on started this month and will carry over to November.
To read the first part of our roundtable, please click here.
It’s no secret that the Cardinals confided heavily on their pitching staff in 2015. Quaintly enough, their starting rotation had only one complete game to its credit. It wasn’t even nine innings. (John Lackey pitched the entirety of the rain-shortened game against Kansas City back in May. The game was called in the middle of the sixth.) The point I’m trying to state is that the bullpen was used… A lot. Kevin Siegrist and Seth Maness, with, respectively, 81 and 76 appearances, were used heavily throughout the season and were successful. Well, until the postseason.. Let’s just say they ran out of steam a bit earlier than we all would’ve wished. That brings me to my question.
Is there anyone that you think could be a Seth Maness or Kevin Siegrist in 2016? By that, I mean someone who could pitch his fair share and hinder Mike Matheny’s urge to bring in Maness or Siegrist a bit. If you do think there is someone that’s capable, who is that guy?
Here’s what my fellow UCB members thought:
Honestly, I feel like the solution to the Maness/Siegrist overuse issue is going to be solved by multiple relievers at once. Lyons and/or Gonzales could replace Choate on the roster. Tui/Soco could be of use. A Belisle-type of reliever (veteran innings eater) could be brought in and, you know, NOT get injured.
But this question could end up answered dramatically differently depending on what half of the season we’re talking about. Often, relievers dominant in the first half are not the same relievers dominant in the second half (the stalwarts like Rosie aside). With that in mind…
I could see Alex Reyes becoming a second-half factor for the later innings, assuming he’s not needed at that time for the rotation. He has the stuff and the momentum to end up in just such a situation for the Cardinals’ pen.
You ask for swing-and-miss stuff from the left side, and I present to you the case of Jake McGee. He is arbitration eligible which typically spells doom since he currently belongs to Tampa. I think Mo can fix that, of course, either as part of a bigger trade or maybe even straight up given the Cards can afford another potent option at the back end of the pen.
I’m going to jump on the Marco Gonzales bandwagon here…
He’s good. He’s got the potential to be really good. You know who he has that in common with? Trevor Rosenthal.
I think Marco, given the opportunity to apply his craft in shortened appearances, could become a great back of the bullpen guy. The one thing, in my opinion, that this team has lacked over the last few years is a clear-cut path to Rosenthal.
If Walden is healthy and they can bring back Belisle, the back of that bullpen would look impressive. Add in Socolovich, who I agree is ready to emerge in the MLB ‘pen, and you’ve got a solid start at a dominant bullpen. And a dominant bullpen can take you places – ask the Royals.
A bullpen that has Rosenthal closing, Socolovich/Gonzales in the 8th and Belisle/Walden in the 7th is pretty formidable in my mind.
I think there are a number of pitchers who could be that kind of player. I believe Tyler Lyons has all the makings of being an elite middle relief type. And I’d really like to see them bring back Matt Belisle next season as he seemed to be in that mix of late inning guys early in the year when he was healthy too.
However, when we get to the end of the year, we’re still going to have those issues with guys being overused. We like to call them “Mike’s favorites” but the reality is that almost every other manager in baseball utilizes a bullpen the exact same way. It’s more of a baseball problem than a Cardinals specific problem. And it really comes to the point where teams need to look at the stats and realize that the vast majority of relief pitchers shouldn’t be pitching on back-to-back days because they’re awful the second day.
Same as with every role, finding ways to keep guys fresh is critical. Understanding that by playing someone a little less you may actually get a little better performance when they do play.
In the past I’ve suggested the concept of basically having an “A” bullpen and a “B” bullpen. Basically two sets of 7-8-9 guys that you use on alternating days to try to limit exposure. But that would be a radical departure from how teams manage relievers.
I’m going to be the wild card here and say that the best defense against Matheny’s poor bullpen management is an improved offense. If the Cardinals don’t play so many one or two run games, Mike likely doesn’t feel like he has to go to his 1A/1B/1C trio out of the pen every single night. That, in turn, gives other guys a chance to earn Mike’s trust, and then when the close games come, he has more than 3 options to draw from with the game on the line.
But … that wasn’t really the question. So, who might join the bullpen core as one of Matheny’s Top Picks of 2016?
I’d like to say Tyler Lyons. I think he proved as much as anyone in the way he finished off the regular season – yes, out of the rotation, but he pitched well in relief, too. However, Mike’s refusal to use him in the NLDS makes me wonder if Lyons will ever be able to do enough to earn a “late and close” role.
I think Tim Cooney will get a look – I’m almost certain he would have been a September call-up if healthy. And he could play a number of different roles, which we know Mike likes in a guy.
But, whether it’s Walden (which is quite likely, so long as he’s cleared physically) or another similar guy that Mo goes outside the organization to find, I think there will be a new face picking up key innings for this team in 2016, while the young flame throwers are held in reserve for all the “just in cases” that are bound to happen.
While I agree that Tuivailala needs a look and needs to be used, I say this with great caution. Even in AAA Tui struggled mightily with the walk and command of the mighty fastball (seems like a trend with Cards pitchers, where’s Duncan when you need him). He did ok in a trip to the big leagues and a little bit of featuring, but when you dive into the numbers a bit you see he had a bit of Michael Wacha luck, he had negative pitch values on every pitch and struggled with his location/command.
I think the Cards medical staff needs to give the team an opinion yay/nay on Walden. If not then maybe the team explores the FA market for a setup type or considers brining Reyes in to apprentice in the BP and get a feel for the game before starting ala CMart.
It’s nice to see the Cards make an informed decision on Tui instead of just trotting him out there like they did Mitch Harris (please no more Mitch Harris).
I like the Reyes idea. I’ve been waiting to see this kid pitch, so if he’s even remotely ready to try, I say bring him up.
I believe bullpen management to be the most underrated task that has to be an essential focus for the team this year. And while there are some specifics that need to be itemized, such as securing the eighth inning has a solid option in place as Jordan Walden insurance (and one not named Siegrist), as well as finding targeting a new match up left-hander option (oddly enough, where have you gone, Marc Rzepczynski, Cardinal nation turns its lonely eyes to you…), finding a quality innings guy I believe to be a two man task.
Overall, the 2015 bullpen will safely return Kevin Siegrist, Seth Maness, Trevor Rosental and hopefully a rehabbed and healed Walden. Yet with Choate, Carlos Villaneuva, Matt Belisle, Steve Cishek and Jonathan Broxton all headed to free agency, as well as Adam Wainwright headed back to the rotation, the pen will look much different in April than it did in October.
Finding innings eating options will likely be a revolving task that will see Tyler Lyons, Marco Gonzales and Sam Tuivailala all getting their shot to work into the middle of the pen mix. A decision to continue to give Socolovich a larger role could also be entertained, as he earned his keep a year ago. If he has a good spring, Zack Petrick could be up for an audition for a role in the pen as well. Also, it would behoove the team to look into retaining the services of the oft-effective, but also often under used Villaneuva. He could handle an uptick in the 61 innings he worked in 2015, as well as be a likely low cost option that could work in a variety of capacities.
If the club decides to go the external route to fill the void, there are also a host of solid, veteran options that could easily slide in to carry that weight (…a long time… – extra points to whoever catches that reference). Shawn Kelley has been an effective middle reliever, that can also pitch in later frames. Tommy Hunter is cut from that same frame. Ryan Madson has proven to be rehabbed and able again. Also Eric O’Flaherty, Matt Thornton and Ross Detwiler also carry the type of variety that could be of help in the Cardinal pen.
As always, a lot of it is throwing darts at the wall and will come down to measured usage by Matheny, but there are a plethora of ways to make sure the work is distributed evenly a year from now, and burnout is better avoided.
I think you could argue that it’s less about someone being able to do the job than whether Mike Matheny will get out of his bullpen-usage routine and let them. That’s another topic, however.
I like Mark’s pick of Sam Tuivailala and I thought both he and Miguel Socolovich did a fine job when they were up. I’d like to see both of them get some expanded use in 2016, hopefully keeping other Cardinal relievers from being at the top of the appearances list.
And, of course, I have to mention that having Tyler Lyons on the roster next year could help in those middle innings as well!
Sam Tuivailala appears ready to emerge as a reliable 7th-inning reliever for the 2016 Cardinals.
After making 48 appearances in the minor leagues in 2014, Tuivailala had 43 appearances for Memphis in 2015, posting a 1.80 ERA over 45 innings and averaging nearly a strikeout per inning.
He has 23 strikeouts in 15.2 career innings with the Cardinals.
He’s 23 (and won’t turn 24 until after the 2016 regular season) and has the energy and arm strength to reduce some of the workload perhaps from Seth Maness and Kevin Siegrist.
For me, it’s a restructuring of the entire bullpen that could help Matheny’s urge to prove to the world that Seth’s arm is actually rubber and not flesh and bone. First part of this is finally claiming that Tyler Lyons could be a valuable asset out of the bullpen. His splits are better out of the pen and could help the team in a number of ways. Here is a guy who can do it all. Relieve in the first, sixth or eighth inning. When Mike called on Kevin “Seabreeze” Siegrist in Game 4, I screamed at my television, WHERE IS LYONS? If you don’t want to see Siegrist’s arm fall off this year, make Lyons a bullpen guy. There is enough starting depth in this system so it’s time to close up the Tyler Lyons is a starter shop.
A healthy Jordan Walden fills a gap. When he went down, Siegrist’s arm went into overcook mode as setup man, fill in closer and whatever else. Walden can setup, close and provide Mike the 7th inning arm needed to get to Siegrist.
In 2016, I want to see Sam Tuivailala unleashed. Here is a kid who came up in 2014 with a straight heater and was asked to add another pitch. Which he did. Sam added a slider and a curve to his high 90’s fastball and it was a huge lift on his game. I remember his big innings in the pre All Star break series against Pittsburgh. This is a guy with closer stuff(he was finishing games in Memphis all season) and someone who can alleviate some late inning pain for the team.
You can yank Steve Cishek and Jonathan Broxton out and throw in Walden and Tuivailala. The late innings would receive a healthy boost.
Lyons takes over for Carlos Villanueva or you bring back both and tell Matt Belisle no thanks. Either way, another LHP guy who isn’t a Loogy is needed to help Siegrist.
A healthy Walden is something that would definitely help the workload of Siegrist and Maness. Just like it seems like it happens every year, I also expect Mo to go out and find a reliever that they can sign to a cheap contract (or even a minor league contract) that will end up being a strong reliever like he has the last couple of years in Neshek and Villanueva.
One thing I do want to note is that while many people have suggested putting Lyons in the bullpen, I can’t forget about the few starts he had in the big leagues this year. It’s a very small sample, but as with pretty much any season, you always need more than 5 starters throughout the year. Lyons should get a look for the 5th spot in the rotation (even though I think it’s essentially set) during spring training and stay sharp for whenever he’s needed, especially since I don’t expect Gonzales to be ready for the rotation yet (and think he should also be starting in Memphis getting ready to make that jump to the big leagues soon.
There are two guys who come to mind when I think of people who are capable of pitching like the 2015 versions of Kevin Siegrist and Seth Maness in 2016. Those two guys are Miguel Socolovich and Sam Tuivailala. Socolovich pitched 29 2/3 innings, posting a 1.82 ERA and striking out 27. He also slated a sleek 1.18 WHIP. I like what I saw from Miguel, but I like Tui that much more. I’ve closely followed Tuivailala for quite some time and especially since he made his debut in 2014. I was highly impressed with his fastball, and, in 2015, I met his newfound slider and curveball. It’s important for relievers to have more than one pitch in his repertoire. (Well, unless you’re Aroldis Chapman. Then you could get along fine with straight heat.) In his brief time in the Majors in 2015, Sam pitched 14 2/3 innings. He walked eight in this time, a factoid that kept him in Memphis for a large chunk of the year. While appearing in 43 games for the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate, Sam earned a save in all seventeen save opportunities he was given. He surrendered nine runs, eight earned, and struck out forty-three. I believe that his walk count, which was 26 in 2015 with Memphis, will gradually lessen as he gets more work. More work would give him more time to make those in-game mechanical and command adjustments that differ from the tweaks and such made while watching film.
Thanks for reading!