The National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals. The very words jar my soul. When the season began I was overcome by mixed emotions. The most likeable member of this patently unlikeable team was injured in Spring Training in the form of Adam Wainwright and he was out for the season. In my mind, the Cardinals chances left with him. This team was built solely around offense, they did not even pretend to want players who could field. They had 3 starters who were decent, one of them – Chris Carpenter – might even be deemed great though it is nigh unto impossible to praise a player so unlikeable. The bullpen was a cobbled together group of veterans and rookies that seemed unlikely to have much success beyond the solid work of Ryan Franklin over the past couple of years.
Looking back at the season one must wonder at how this team managed this miracle. Albert Pujols posted the lowest OPS of his career, .049 less than ever before. He still reached .906 but it was a departure nonetheless. In addition, he drove in just 99 RBI, also a career low. Sir Albert’s average is 126 per season. And Albert wasn’t the only one to start cold. Closer Ryan Franklin was terrible. He was finally released after appearing in 21 games and allowing an 8.46 ERA. Brian Tallet was little better, sporting an 8.31 ERA in 18 appearances. This is not what champions are made of.
The thing is this team has heart, and love or hate Tony LaRussa, I respectfully choose the latter, his team plays with his intensity. The 7 position players still on the roster at the end of the season with 350 at bats all hit .283 or better with the lone exception of Ryan Theriot at a respectable .271. David Freese, who did not have enough at bats to qualify for this still hit .297 and by the way he won the MVP award for the NLCS.
By contrast the Reds only had four players even record that many at bats and of them Drew Stubbs had a BA of .243, Jay Bruce .256, Brandon Phillips .300 and Joey Votto .309. We simply did not have the consistency.
Then we come to the bullpen. All season long I monitored the NL Central using the QRO formula. First lets review the QAR formulas and definitions:
Criteria for a Quality Relief Outing (QRO)
- Reliever allows no inherited runners to score.
- Reliever records at least one out.
- Reliever allows no runs to score or maintains a 3.00 ERA in extended outings.
Criteria for a Failed Relief Outing (FRO)
- Reliever allows an inherited runner or runners to score.
- Reliever records no outs.
- Reliever does not maintain a 3.00 ERA for the relief outing.
Criteria for a No Decision Outing (ND)
- Reliever allows more hits/walks than outs but allows no runs to score.
- Reliever gives up unearned runs but no earned runs.
I use a number of abbreviations in the tables so they must also be defined:
- RA = Relief Appearances: Total # of Relief Appearances
- QRO = Quality Relief Outing: # of Appearances where more outs are recorded than hits + walks and a 3.00 ERA is maintained for the relief appearance.
- FRO = Failed Relief Outing: # of Appearances where earned runs are allowed, inherited runners score or no outs are recorded. (See ERA allowance in the QRO description
- ND = No Decision. Does not meet the criteria for a QRO or a FRO
- QAR = Quality Appearance Ratio: QRO/RA
- FAR = Failed Appearance Ratio: FRO/RA
Without fail, the Cardinals were the only team never to succeed in 60% of their relief outings. Not once.
I know that Reds fans on Twitter cringe every time a Reds reliever takes the mound but how would they react if they failed 10% more as the Cardinals did. I think it would become ugly.
Let’s look at how the Cardinals Bullpen did and see how it is they managed to surge at the end of the season and overtake Atlanta let alone defeated the favored Philadelphia Phillies and the Division winning Milwaukee Brewers.
So looking over the Cardinals final numbers what jumps out at me? First the Cards were wise to jettison Franklin,Tallet, and Trever Miller. They were dead weight bringing the whole team down. Next, the additions of Lance Lynn and Octavio Dotel were of great benefit down the stretch.
Arthur Rhodes, still a sentimental favorite in Cincinnati, seems to have reached the end of the line. It is fascinating that he was released by AL Champion Texas only to be picked up by NL Champion St. Louis offering the Cardinals a glance behind the curtain of the Rangers. His success on the field seems to have diminished this season.
Fernando Salas was the one pitcher who was always consistently good throughout the season, but contrary to some arguments I have read, he was not great. I look at the percentages and I tend to view them as a grade. 72% is average. A “C”, not bad just what should be expected. Factor in that he is in his first full season and you realize how unexpected his performance is given that he appeared in 68 games. Along with the limited service of Eduardo Sanchez, they led the Cardinals club.
That leaves Jason Motte. Jason was one of the reasons at the All Star break, that the Cardinals bullpen simply was not good. At that point he had recorded 24 QRO, 17 FRO, and 2 ND for a Quality Appearance Ratio of just 56% matching the Cardinals team to that point. Since that July 20th game, Motte caught fire and took the Cardinals with him. After July 20 he recorded 27 QRO, 5 FRO, and 3 ND for a QAR of 77%. Jason’s improvement may not be the only reason for the Cardinals success but it is certainly a valuable piece to the puzzle. He finished the season with a QAR of 65% but in my mind the journey is more important for him than the destination. This young player will be a force the Reds must reckon with in the future.
Stay tuned for more evaluations of National League bullpens as we enter into the long cold winter while awaiting the buds of spring to blossom and the hope of Reds fans for a victorious season in the sun next year.
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