Cardinals: Addressing the Right-Handed Relief (Without a Trade)

Yesterday I looked at the St. Louis Cardinals internal options for the left side of their bullpen. It was as much an endorsement for promoting Tyler Webb and Tommy Layne as it was a push to move on from Brett Cecil and Tyler Lyons. Today is Part 2, as I turn to the other side of the bullpen and check on the internal options for correcting this under-performing unit.

As they have been all season, Bud Norris and Jordan Hicks are the reliable arms, and are therefore locks. I’m going to work on the premise that they eventually end up with a 7-man bullpen again, which allows 5 spots for right-handed pitchers. With the two locks, that leaves three to address. For this half of the bullpen, it’s really more about subtraction than addition.

Drop the Dead Weight

The first step to take in improving your group of right-handed relievers is cutting ties with Greg Holland. I was completely on board with the signing when it occurred, if you take out a bad 2 week stretch in August he was as good as anyone in baseball last year, but it has been a complete failure. A pitcher with a career 2.58 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, he has posted marks of 7.92 and 2.24 through 25.1 innings this season. Upon returning from a rehab stint, he looked like a pitcher that was getting back on track. The train has since derailed again. The money is spent. At this point, he helps your bullpen only by no longer being in your bullpen.

Matt Bowman should be nothing more than depth at AAA, entering the major league bullpen only in the event of injury. Perhaps the victim of overuse, perhaps just past the shelf life of a middle reliever, Bowman has found nothing but struggles this season.

You have to make a tough decision with Luke Gregerson. It isn’t necessarily fair to judge him considering that he has been on the DL for the majority of the season, but a 7.11 ERA through his first 12.1 innings isn’t pretty. To make matters worse, there is a tangible drop in his velocity. Both his 4-seam fastball and sinker have seen a 2 mph drop from his career norms, which have been very consistent year-to-year. Pumping 88 mph fastballs isn’t exactly a recipe for success. His once dominant slider has also lost effectiveness. He struggled in 2017, but the Cardinals signed him on the belief that the season was an outlier and not a decline. The early looks at the 34 year-old look a lot more like the latter. What complicates removing him from the picture is that he is under contract for 2019 at $6.5M. The team may not want to swallow that. If you expand to an 8-man pen, he could stay on as the 8th member to see if he straightens out, but that’s the only way he can legitimately stick around.

I think we have seen enough of Sam Tuivailala to know what he is. He isn’t the worst guy in the bullpen, but he isn’t the best either. The biggest issue with Tui is that he is basically on par with the likes of Mayers or Brebbia, but he lacks the minor league options, hence: flexibility, that they have. This makes him a replaceable, yet immovable, piece of the bullpen. Because he retains years of control, he would be a good candidate to trade this week, fetching a lottery ticket prospect and helping create a more fluid situation on a 40-man roster that has continually grown more rigid.

Slow Down the Memphis Shuttle

Too often this season, we have seen superior relievers being demoted to make room for inferior pitchers, solely because they have minor league options. John Brebbia struck out batters at a rate of 15 K/9 and held hitters to a .237 average in spring training, only to be shipped to Memphis prior to opening day. The Cardinals elected to keep Matt Bowman instead, despite him being inferior to Brebbia not only in Spring but also in 2017. While Brebbia has had a couple hiccups this year, his 3.93 ERA is the 5th best among their relievers, 2.33 runs better than the next healthy RH on the list (Bowman) and 3.18 runs better than the next RH on the roster (Gregerson). So while he is only the 5th best RH, he is closer to #1 than he is to #6. His spot needs to be guaranteed.

Mike Mayers made the Opening Day roster but was rarely seen before returning to Memphis in order to bring Greg Holland into the picture. Between his southbound trips on I-55, he has posted a 3.79 ERA (4th best among active relievers), a low walk rate of 2 BB/9, and a 7.3 K/9 that is solid enough for a middle reliever. He is also a pitcher capable of working 2 innings and bridging the gap between starter and setup man without burning your entire bullpen. He has been nothing but solid for a bullpen that has been shaking all season. He is worthy of being locked into a spot.

Mayers and Brebbia take up 2 of the 3 spots that I stated need to be addressed. The 3rd is a bit more volatile. Option 1 would be to stick with Sam Tuivailala. I know I said you could trade him, but you could also keep him. I’m just really on the fence with him, which is why he ended up on both sides of this article. His 3.69 ERA is 3rd best among your RH relievers and his 77.6% strand rate is the best in your bullpen. The trick with him is the lack of options and the idea that its a spot you can upgrade. The next option is John Gant. Though he is currently in the rotation, the team could pivot and place Austin Gomber in a starting role. This would free up Gant to be take on a relief role and help settle the right side. His 2.70 ERA when pitching in relief would be the best in your bullpen. His 3.44 ERA overall is very solid. Like Mayers, he provides another option that can pitch multiple innings. It is that aspect that would make him an upgrade over Tui, as their overall numbers will look similar. Daniel Poncedeleon is also someone to consider, though he is almost the last line of rotation depth and the team would probably prefer to keep him stretched out in case he is needed in that role.

The final internal option for that 3rd spot is Dakota Hudson. Hudson was removed from his start on Wednesday night, and reportedly receiving hugs in the dugout. It is anticipated that he is on his way to St. Louis. Hudson may wind up in the rotation, pushing Gant into the bullpen. Or, Gant may stay in the rotation, with Hudson taking on a spot in the bullpen. Hudson’s signature pitch is a slider, which could make him a weapon in the bullpen and a true upgrade over the likes of Tui or Gant for this 3rd spot. While his 7.08 K/9 in Memphis is pretty unassuming, it does tick up closer to 8 when facing RH batters, while falling below 6 vs. LH. Pitching in relief, you would expect a more aggressive approach that would likely lead to a few more strikeouts. If his fastball/slider combo can make him look similar to, say, Octavio Dotel, he would be an excellent 7th inning option in front of Hicks and Norris.


In short, this bullpen benefits mostly by subtracting ineffective relievers and handing their roles to effective pitchers that have yet to be given permanent roles. It would simply make the unit far less volatile than it has been. Now that I have written articles regarding both sides, I’ll throw out the bullpen that I would like to see develop within the next week.

  1. Norris
  2. Hicks
  3. Hudson
  4. Gomber
  5. Layne
  6. Brebbia
  7. Mayers
  8. (Tuivailala or Gregerson)

It’s not as sexy as trading for a true stud reliever, but I think removing all of the bad options that we’ve had for 4 months puts this unit, and this team, in a much better situation.

Thanks for reading!

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