I blame Brett Cecil for pretty much everything now. Stub my toe? Blame Cecil. Accidentally trip the house alarm? Stupid reliever. Diaz strikes out? It’s somehow Cecil’s fault. Yet another long Tim McCarver tale about Tim McCarver? Yeah, that’s Cecil too. The bullpen seems to be in shambles, and Cecil deserves no less than 104% of the blame.
Cecil is the face of a Cardinal bullpen that owns a record of 5-10 record (blame Cecil), and that tidbit does not get nearly the same attention as the underwhelming offense, atrocious baserunning, or subpar defensive play. It should. Better relief work could cover up a multitude of sins. Push just 3 of those 15 decisions to the other side of the ledger, and we’re talking about an 8-7 bullpen record and a 29-24 overall record. That’s good enough to lead a rather sad looking NL Central division even with Cecil.
We’re not talking about a massive leap forward here, either. The average NL team’s bullpen record is 9-9, and the Stl bullpen was supposed to be at least league average. Of course, the average NL bullpen does not have Brett Cecil which is a self-inflicted handicap the Cardinals have. That bullpen is 24th in ERA (4.65), 26th in BAA (.263), and 23rd in OPS against (.760). The team is tied for 3rd with 26th save opportunities, but the conversion rate is only 69.23% thanks to 8 blown saves. Contrast that with a Colorado team that has converted 22 of 25 opportunities for a MLB best 88.00% conversion rate. They are almost disgustingly efficient and that’s primarily the result of wisely offering Greg Holland $21M over 2 years (but I’m not bitter). That’s slight more in AAV than what the Cardinals have committed to Cecil. (Okay, maybe I am bitter.)
The Cardinals rank 30th out of 30 MLB teams in pitching wins for relievers. Certainly you could argue that happenstance and circumstance have colluded to limit potential relief wins, but they still need to make the most of the 50-50 opportunities they do get. They aren’t, but you already knew that, because they have a 2-5 record in extra inning games and 5 more losses in regulation (probably due to Cecil).
It’s easy to blame the offense (and I do along with Cecil), but if other teams can put up zeroes on the board, then so can the Cardinals. The bullpen has accounted for 164.2 innings pitched, and that’s 25th most in all of baseball. That makes it difficult to blame overuse or overexposure. Simply put, the guys they have aren’t getting the job done. You can blame Mike, or you can blame Mo, or you can blame both (I do), but things don’t seem to be getting better.
I have to believe the offense can and will get better (because Cecil doesn’t hit). Carpenter, Piscotty, Diaz, and Fowler will all improve – maybe not simultaneously, but even getting 2 of the 4 going at any given time would lift this team. I’m not so positive about the bullpen though. It literally takes a group effort to surrender a slash line of .271/.342/.442 in innings 7 through 9. Rosenthal and Oh have performed well enough to merit a measure of faith, but they can’t cover the last 3 innings by themselves more than once in a blue moon.
Maybe the Cardinals swing a deal for a big name, impact bat. Maybe. You don’t really expect that though, do you? Upgrading the bullpen probably comes at a much more reasonable cost, and a solid rental may be just enough to bridge the gap between some really good starting pitching and the two closers at the end. While such a move wouldn’t overwhelm fans, it might be just enough to keep the team afloat until the offense comes around or Brett Cecil is abducted by aliens.