photo: Trevor Rosenthal (USA TODAY Sports Images)
Despite considerable angst directed toward and caused by the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen in 2017, the group as a whole fared better in comparison to their National League peers than many may have suspected.
Through the group had a collective won-loss record of just 22-29, one might attribute that in part to being given small leads to protect. After all, St. Louis relief ERA of 3.81 was fourth-lowest of the 15 NL clubs. Further, St. Louis’ bullpen save conversion percentage of 71.7% was fifth-best in the league.
Several struggling relievers were jettisoned in-season, including Miguel Socolovich, Jonathan Broxton and Kevin Siegrist. In response, rookies John Brebbia, Sam Tuivailala and Ryan Sherriff were among those who stepped up to contribute.
Still, with Seung-hwan Oh, Zach Duke and September acquisition Juan Nicasio heading to free agency and Trevor Rosenthal recovering from late August Tommy John surgery, a makeover of the Cardinals bullpen for 2018 is a stated priority of the front office.
The purpose of this article, however, is to identify the top performer among the members of the Cardinals 2017 relief corps.
Nine members of the bullpen logged a positive fWAR over the course of the season. Nicasio, who pitched in just nine games after joining St. Louis, is included for comparative purposes, but is not a candidate for our award due to his short time with the club.
Let’s get into our first of two views of the numbers.
The nine relievers are listed in fWAR sequence, from highest to lowest.
Rosenthal led the way with a robust 14.4 strikeouts per nine innings rate, with Tyler Lyons the only other reliever to strike out better than one batter per inning. Brebbia was stingiest with free passes, but his home run allowed rate was just behind Oh’s as worst in the pen.
Further, Brebbia’s incredibly low BABIP of .216 is likely not sustainable. At the other end of the spectrum, Rosenthal’s pen-high .337 BABIP hints of a bit of bad luck possibly.
This is further suggested by the fact that though the lowest ERA is Brebbia’s 2.44, when instead looking at FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and expected FIP, Rosenthal is the clear pen leader. So it stands to reason the latter logged the most WAR, as well.
The above offers further detail on the effectiveness of the nine relievers. They are listed in the same sequence as in the prior table, by fWAR.
With 11 saves in 13 opportunities, Rosenthal had the highest save percentage of the non-Nicasio relievers. Lefty Brett Cecil, with just one save in seven tries, also stands out, but for the wrong reason.
One continued weakness of the hard-throwing Rosenthal is not retiring his first batter faced as often as others, with walks a key contributor. His 2017 mark of 66 percent (FBR% above) was among the worst in the pen, with Oh’s first batter retired mark even lower.
Needless to say, when your ninth-inning leaders put their initial batter on base, trouble can easily follow. (Note that this was also not a strength of Nicasio in his short time as a Cardinal.)
Rosenthal rarely was called upon to pitch in the middle of an inning, so his inherited runner results are too small to be relevant. Sherriff, Bowman and Lyons were best in this category, with Oh, Brebbia and Cecil worst at keeping inherited runners from scoring.
When all is said and done, it is clear that Rosenthal was the team’s most effective bullpen option with highest strikeout rate, highest save percentage, lowest FIP and highest WAR. Therefore, the 26-year old is The Cardinal Nation’s 2017 St. Louis Cardinals Relief Pitcher of the Year.
What is unclear, however, is whether Rosenthal, who will become eligible for free agency for the first time next fall, has thrown his last pitch for St. Louis. In fact, it is possible he may not even be asked to return in 2018. I go into depth on the pros and cons of his contract situation in the article linked-to below, exclusively for TCN members.
Prior years’ winners
Our honorees over the prior eight seasons follow. Rosenthal also won this award in 2015.
|TCN Reliever of the Year|
These winners are also permanently recorded under “SEASON RECAPS/TOP PLAYERS,” located on the left red menu bar here at The Cardinal Nation.
Link to master article with all 2017 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Next up will be our selections as the top starting pitcher and position player on the St. Louis Cardinals as well as a comprehensive season recap.
Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: Will the Cardinals Keep Trevor Rosenthal for 2018?
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