For a guy with 36 saves (in 40 opportunities) — good enough for 3rd on the NL Saves Leaders list behind studs like Francisco Rodriguez and Craig Kimbrel — Trevor Rosenthal is sure on the hot seat these days.
Based on results, that seems a little harsh. But based on actual performance (and the diminishing heart health of Cardinal Nation as a whole!), the criticism is more than warranted. Rosie’s not right, and in a division race as tight as the NL Central this year, he needs to get right … and fast.
It hasn’t been all bad for Rosenthal this year. In a results-driven game, he’s managing to get the job done more often than not. But after the 9th inning shenanigans we’ve seen lately, fans and analysts alike are beginning to worry that this might be the beginning of the end for Trevor as King Closer.
Ask just about anyone about Rosie’s biggest downfall this season, and chances are they’ll say it’s the walks. He’s walking too many guys too often. All those free base runners are turning into runs, causing his saves to come at the cost of his effectiveness the next day. Or so it seems.
He’s thrown as many as 43 pitches in a save attempt this year. Only twice has he thrown more than 30 pitches, but 14 times he’s thrown 20 or more (6 times hitting 25+). He’s averaging 18.6 pitches per outing. He’s walked at least one batter in 20 of his 40 save opportunities, four times walking a second batter. In 9 of those 40 games, he allowed both a walk and a run to score.
It’s not just the walks, though. He’s become quite prone to allowing base runners of any kind. Only 8 times in 40 save chances has he completed the outing without allowing a base runner. In 18 of those opportunities, he’s put 2 or more runners on base. Half a dozen times, he’s relied on his defense turning a clutch double play to get out of a jam.
At the beginning of the year, there was concern about Rosenthal’s velocity. We’ve seen the heat return, and he’s still notching those dominating strikeouts – 12 times, he’s struck out at least 2 on his way to a save.
Even on Sunday, between uninspiring walks, Trevor looked dominant in a four-pitch strikeout of Rymer Liriano. But, it was followed by a third walk. That prompted Mike Matheny to do something he’s done little of this season — pull Rosie from the game in favor of someone else.
Despite the ugliness Trevor’s brought to the 9th inning, despite allowing runs to score in 10 save chances, only 4 times has he actually blown the save (and twice the Cardinals went on to win in extras anyway).
Since he’s inevitably going to allow at least one base runner, it seems if he can keep the guy at 1st base, he’ll be just fine. Even 1st and 2nd, the confidence is still high. Pretty much any other scenario, though, and the collective breath-holding is unquestionably warranted.
Perhaps the most notable to me, though, is the difference when he’s in control of the count and when he’s not. We’ve seen a number of 8-10 pitch at bats against Rosie this season. We’ve also seen plenty of 4-5 pitch walks. When he’s dominant like he was last year, he’s ahead. This year, he’s missing the strikezone too much to give himself a fighting chance. That trend leads to other problems — like a picky umpire not calling close pitches strikes, leading to even more pressure.
What’s a team to do? Yank him from the 9th in favor of Pat Neshek and his sparkling 0.86 ERA? Maybe. But then who shuts down the 7th and 8th innings? Can Rosenthal be trusted in that role?
Add to that the struggles the bullpen is having outside of the 9th inning — no Motte, no Siegrist, a struggling Choate, a hot-or-cold Freeman — and guys like Seth Maness and Pat Neshek become even more important in their respective roles.
There’s some thought that Carlos Martinez — recently recalled from Memphis — has stuff enough to handle the 9th inning. He’s also proven that he can go from lights out to wild in no time flat. Add his energy and emotion to the mix, and he’d be unpredictable (and untested) at best. Plus, what if Shelby Miller continues to struggle and Martinez is needed back in the rotation?
Rosie’s 9th innings aren’t the only thing that are a bit of a mess.
Matheny took some heat on Sunday for squashing the idea that, similar to moving a hitter to a different spot in the lineup until he breaks out of a slump, Rosenthal could be moved out of the closer role in favor of a hotter hand. It wouldn’t have to be permanent, but it could relieve some of the pressure for a while.
“Not gonna happen. He’s our closer,” Matheny said, leaving no room for argument.
I’ll admit, I cringed a little bit with the rest of Cardinal Nation. But only for a minute. The reality is, right now Trevor still represents the best option for the Cardinals in save situations. He has the best closer “stuff.” He has the ability to bounce back after a tough outing and get the job done the next day.
No, he’s not “right” like we’ve seen him before. Perhaps it’s time to start tinkering with mechanics, studying tape, working on his timing. Whatever it takes to get right.
Mike Matheny can’t be afraid to pull Rosie out of trouble now and again. Every game is too important to play the confidence-building game. But, he’s not wrong for sticking with Rosenthal as the King of the 9th Inning … for now.