On one hand, Trevor Rosenthal is still a very young baseball player. Having turned 25 years of age in May, the right-handed relief pitcher is just becoming arbitration eligible for the first time this winter. That means he has three more seasons ahead with the St. Louis Cardinals before being able to test the free agent waters for the first time.
On the other hand, despite earning just one save as a minor leaguer, the Missouri native is already one of the team’s more experienced closers ever. His 96 career saves rank fifth all-time in franchise history, up from a tie for 12th the year before.
One year ago, Rosenthal was a target for fan criticism. During his first full-season as St. Louis’ primary ninth-inning man, he saved 45 games, just two off a share of the team’s single-season record.
Yet, observers knew all too well that a ride with Rosenthal in 2014 was often bumpy. Among the top half of National League closers, determined by the eight with the most saves, he had posted the:
• Second-most hits allowed (one from a share of the most)
• Most walks issued by a considerable margin
• Highest WHIP, also by a considerable margin
• Highest ERA
• Most blown saves
• Most losses
• Lowest bWAR (tied)
If we lower the bar to include all NL relievers in 2014, Rosenthal’s six losses were tied for fifth-most, while his six blown saves were tied for sixth.
In 2015, however, Rosenthal was tough as nails, as he set the club’s single-season save record of 48. That total was second-highest in the National League. Rosenthal blew just three saves all season long, including only one between May 3rd and September 27th, for an overall success rate of 94 percent. That is up from 88 percent in 2014.
One key factor in his improved consistency and better results with his first batter faced (from under 60 percent retired in 2014 to 72 percent in 2015) appears to be a spring decision by the former starter to stop pitching out of the windup and go entirely from the stretch.
From May 5th through July 2nd, Rosenthal forged a 23 2/3 inning scoreless streak and had two long save streaks – of 18 straight appearances (from May 5th through July 9th) and 21 appearances (from July 17th through September 21st). In the NL, the right-hander ranked in the top 10 in relief ERA (2.10) and strikeouts (83).
While much credit was given to St. Louis’ starters for their primary role in establishing a team ERA of 2.94 that was the lowest in all of Major League Baseball over the last 27 years, Rosenthal’s steady success cannot and should not be underestimated.
No longer is the Cardinals closer consistency an issue for anyone. Rosenthal has made sure of that.
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