One of our regular offseason traditions is the Exit Interview, where we look back at each player that got into a game for the St. Louis Cardinals in the past season. This is the 11th season we’ve done this and it’s a good way to get a view of the whole year, not just a short stretch of games. It’s sort of like a performance review before the players went off to their offseason work, spending a little time with Oli Marmol and going over what went right, what went wrong. Stats and grades are only for a player’s time in St. Louis, though splits numbers may include other teams. As always, my sincere thanks to the legend of cardinalsgifs for providing the header image!
(EDIT: This was supposed to go up on Friday but for some reason it didn’t run. So you get a bonus today!)
Player: Ryan Helsley
Season stats: 9-1, 19 SV, 23 SVO, 1.25 ERA, 54 G, 64.2 IP, 28 H, 6 HR, 20 BB, 94 K, 21 IR, 3 IRS, 2.34 FIP, 0.742 WHIP, 13.1 K/9, 2.7 bWAR, 2.0 fWAR
Statcast: .223 xwOBA, 8.8 barrel %, 88.8 exit velocity, 39.2 hard hit %, 39.3 K %, 8.4 BB %
Best Statcast category: Fastball Velocity (100th percentile)
Worst Statcast category: Barrel % (24th percentile)
Hero/Goat: Hero 1, Goat 2
Positives: Became one of the top closers in baseball with a dominating season….did not allow a run until May 30….only once was charged with more than one run….struck out three or more batters 14 times….pitched more than an inning 20 times and more than two innings twice….limited right-handers to a .118 average….lefties hit just two homers off of him in 100 plate appearances….was 4-0 with a 0.98 ERA on the road to go along with a 42/8 k/walk ratio….was almost unhittable in the first half, putting up a .347 OPS against….had a 0.69 ERA before the All-Star Game….allowed one hit in April (20 plate appearances)….cleanup hitters had a .345 OPS against him….batters hit .091 on the first pitch….batters hit .157 when they were ahead in the count (.109 when they were behind)….hitters had a .473 OPS with runners in scoring position….four of the home runs allowed were solo shots….struck out 18 batters in 46 RISP plate appearances….allowed a .434 OPS in high leverage situations….had a 0.49 ERA and batters hit .097 in 18.1 eighth innings….batters hit .118 after the first 25 pitches….the Cubs hit .182 and did not score against him….struck out 14 Brewers and only walked one….got his own entrance light show.
Negatives: Entire season overshadowed by a jammed finger, leading to a postseason collapse and a huge “what if”….allowed a home run in six of the 10 games he was scored upon….five of his home runs allowed came in the second half….had a 2.45 ERA in August, his highest ERA of any month….allowed a home run to the first batter he faced twice….four of the home runs allowed came with two outs….batters had a .673 OPS with two ours and runners in scoring position….scuffled with no rest, going 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA in eight innings.
Overview: You can’t say that Helsley came out of nowhere because he’s been effective in his major league career. He’s dealt with some injuries and some setbacks but he’s always had the makings of a good reliever (or a good starter, though the Cardinals seem to have moved on from that option). 2022, though, was something that nobody could have expected. Nobody would have predicted that he’d supplant Giovanny Gallegos, much less be the best reliever not named Edwin Diaz in baseball. He threw his fastball harder and more often and wound up topping triple digits on the regular, hitting 104 once for the fastest pitch in the game this year. It was a remarkable and outstanding year, only marred by two things. One, there were very limited times where you could see Helsley on back-to-back nights (which, with Gallegos and Jordan Hicks, wasn’t unbearable) and two, reaching for a ball against the Pirates in his last regular season outing, a meaningless game, and jamming his finger. That led to the ninth inning collapse in Game 1 of the Wild Card Round, a game that the Cardinals had in hand and a game that, if they win, they probably at least move on and given how the Phillies finished, maybe did more than that. It’s disappointing that such a fine season ended on such a sour note.
Outlook: Relievers are relievers, of course, and there’s been injuries in the past for Helsley. He’s probably not going to put up a sub-1 ERA for much of 2023 or anything like that. However, there’s no reason why he can’t be the primary closer for a couple of years at the least. Hopefully even further away from the injury that ended 2021 will mean that he can go on back-to-back days a little more often, something that will be pretty important if the Cards make an October run.