There has been nothing more troubling for the Cardinals this season than their lack of reliable arms beyond the starting pitching. Jordan Hicks has been a revelation, going from High A to closing games out in the majors in such short time. Then there’s Bud Norris, a pitcher who many fans disapproved of signing has managed to put a 2.97 ERA. That was of course until he managed to blow a save and cost Ponce De Leon of a win in his major league debut. I don’t have too much of an issue with Norris at this moment. Closers are allowed a hiccup or two in their performance. The issue is, if not Hicks or Norris, then who?
Nearly all of the relievers the Cardinals were counting on to perform (Norris was a gamble) have flopped. Greg Holland, Luke Gregerson, Dominic Leone, Brett Cecil, and Tyler Lyons have all spent various time on the DL. When on the field, only Gregerson and Leone had managed to string together a couple of good appearances. Losing the expected productivity from those arms along with the Memphis shuffle running out of reinforcements has left the Cardinals exposed. According to Fangraphs, the reliever fWAR of the Cardinals ranks in the bottom five in the majors with 1.1 fWAR. That is with Hicks, Norris, Mayers and Brebbia combining for 2.0 fWAR.
This team needs to both cut ties with poor investments (Holland/Cecil), and bring in new faces.
Keeping The List Short
Obviously if the Cardinals really wanted to fix up the bullpen they would go out and pay a king’s ransom for Blake Treinen right? Well not exactly. As a matter of fact they even went out and acquired another arm (Jeurys Familia). They want to contend, given the fact relievers are becoming more and more important. The teams either A) Not looking to trade away or B) Looking to strengthen their own bullpen are off my list. We’ll also be avoiding the Reds (Jared Hughes) for the complications of trading in the division.
That leaves me with the Rays, Twins, White Sox, Royals, Tigers, Rangers, Mets, Padres, Blue Jays, Orioles, and Angels to scout.
San Diego, Craig Stammen (34 years old, 2020 free agent) 49.0 innings, 55 SO, 2.76 ERA, 1.97 FIP
Having arguably a career best season, Stammen should soon be on his way out behind Brad Hand. The long time Nationals reliever has performed excellently in making his way back from his 2015 flexor tendon surgery. Stammen isn’t the typical, blow the fastball by you pitcher, as his primary pitch is his sinker. With this he tends to get grounders (52.3%) or whiffs (explaining 10.10 k/9). He is currently displaying remarkable control, with his 1.8 BB/9 among the best.
He’s been called upon for a save opportunity three times this season and has a blown save for each one of them. Likely just an outlier but still something to note.
San Diego, Kirby Yates (31 years old, 2021 free agent) 38.2 innings, 50 SO, 1.40 ERA, 1.99 FIP
I can only imagine San Diego if they had an offense and a rotation. What’s there to say about Yates? He’s top 20 in K rate for relievers. If you’re a right handed batter it’s basically game over. He’s shut them down to the tune of a .075 BA this season (6-80!!!!). Only one batter has homered off him so far. That batter was a lefty named Derek Dietrich. In his career, those have typically been his weakness.
VS Righties- .622 OPS
VS Lefties- .814 OPS
Some lucky fielding has also probably helped him with his career high ground ball rate. Nonetheless he’s put on a stellar performance.
Teams Love Him
Toronto, Tyler Clippard (33 years old, 2019 free agent) 47.1 innings, 56 SO, 3.61 ERA, 4.40 FIP
Since departing the Washington Nationals after eight seasons (2007-2014), Clippard has been involved in a deadline deal every season. This gives reason enough to believe he’ll be on the move again, with a Blue Jays team that already traded Oh. Outside of his strikeout percentage so far though, there’s not a lot that stands out about his performance. He’s improved upon his FB velocity after it dropped to as low as 90 mph last season. So far he’s brought it back up to 91.72 mph. He’s still struggling to avoid the long ball. Of qualifying relievers (40 innings), he has the 7th highest HR rate, with a 1.71 HR/9 showing. It’s been easier for him away from Rogers Centre of course, with a 5.18 ERA at home compared to 1.96 on the road.
As an aging rental, look for him to be on a new club past the deadline.
Tampa Bay, Sergio Romo (35 years old, 2019 free agent) 43.1 innings, 47 SO, 3.74 ERA, 3.73 FIP (SVs 11/17)
It seemed just like yesterday that Romo was busy closing out the 2012 NLCS in the rain for the Giants. Now he was the first of many Rays relievers this season to start a game. He no longer has the control of the strike zone like he used to back in SF. He has a 3.3 BB/9 rate, as compared to his average of 1.7 from 2010-2016. What he does do well is get hitters to chase his pitches outside the zone. Of all qualifying relievers, his outside swing % (33.0) ranks 30th. His 71.8% contact rate is 64th out of 90 (goes from more contact to less). That’s just ahead of names like Felipe Vazquez and Kyle Barraclough. He has a wicked slider to explain that. Always had one, and always will.
Chicago, Joakim Soria (34 years old, 2019 free agent) 38.2 innings, 49 SO, 2.56 ERA, 2.15 FIP (SVs 16/19)
The co-closer with Nate Jones (targeted before DL stint), Soria has once again regained dominance in the AL. After the long time Royals closer was let go following 2012 Tommy John Surgery, he bounced between multiple organizations. He had signed a 3 year contract with the Royals in 2016 (2019 option) and was subsequently traded before 2018.
He has now returned to his career highs in strikeout percentage with 11.7 in 2009 and 11.4 in 2018. With ease he can retire hitters just like that. He doesn’t let the ball leave the yard often this season, with a minuscule HR rate of just 0.47. He’d fit right in with a stadium like Busch in that regard. How he does is avoiding hard contact. His 25.0% hard hit rate is among the league’s top 20 rates. This coupled with his long history as a closer is a recipe for success. (EDIT: Almost immediately after publishing, Soria was dealt to the Brewers.)
And There’s A Ground ball…
Miami, Brad Ziegler (38 years old, 2019 free agent) 50.1 innings, 35 SO, 4.11 ERA, 4.65 FIP
Early on in the season, Ziegler was designated as the team’s closer. He then lost that title after an awful stretch from April to May, putting up 23.0 innings of 7.83 ERA. It turns out though, this would not be the end for Brad Ziegler. It was before a series in STL, that Ziegler made necessary mechanical changes. Since those changes? Well since that series in STL (June 5th) he’s had a 0.68 ERA in 26.1 innings over 25 games. In usual Ziegler style, he’s kept the ball on the ground, leading the majors in GB%. You know what you’re getting with him, nothing thrilling but he damn well gets the job done.
Miami, Adam Conley (28 years old, 2022 free agent) 27.1 innings, 32 SO, 2.63 ERA, 3.45 FIP
Thanks to a suggestion from my colleague Adam Butler, I now know the name Adam Conley. Unlike many others on this list, Conley should be expensive to acquire as he’s just reaching arbitration next season. The reason Conley is all of a sudden experiencing success? He finally moved to the bullpen. He had experienced three years of trouble in the rotation. It’s as simple as his stuff is playing up in relief (hit rate cut in half). From 2017 to 2018 his fastball velocity jumped like crazy. Like, really crazy. He gained 5 MPH, from 89.93 to 95.64. Similar gains were made on his change and slider. Unlike the mistake Loria made in dropping Brad Hand, Jeter and Co. are going to get this one right.
Texas, Jake Diekman (31 years old, 2019 free agent) 36.0 innings, 42 SO, 4.00 ERA, 3.71 FIP
Mainly as a complimentary piece to a Cole Hamels trade, I’ve been predicting this name all along. I give huge props to any reliever who can thrive in hitter friendly Globe Life Park. He’s shown to do so by keeping his home run rate down. In his career he’s shown to be able to limit the power against lefties (.292 slug vs L, .350 vs R). Among all left handed relievers, he possesses the 10th best K percentage. He has had a walk issue throughout his whole career, (5.8 BB/9, average 4.9). That is the top issue when Diekman has a bad outing. Regardless, the Rangers are looking to cash in on their impending free agent relievers. The Cubs acquired Jesse Chavez, so respond.
Thank you so much for reading! This is my intro piece to CardsConclave and my section, Flight Analysis. It’s a great crew to be a part of and work with.
As always info taken from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Spotrac and Brooks Baseball.