St. Louis Cardinals: Something is different with Matt Bowman
By Trevor Hooth
St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Matt Bowman is not having the ideal sophomore season after starting his career on a strong note.
Last year, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher, Matt Bowman, was very reliable out of the bullpen. He was trustworthy enough to play a role in the decision to let Seth Maness go via free agency. They are both the same kind of pitcher. They come into tough situations and create ground balls.
This role comes with a price though, and that price is an elevated ERA. However, Bowman’s 3.46 ERA, in his rookie year, is a number that the St. Louis Cardinals can live with.
The St. Louis Cardinals acquired Bowman from the New York Mets via the Rule 5 Draft. According to the draft, he was required to be at the Major League level last year. Fortunately, he is not required this year. The way he threw last year all but solidified another year out of the bullpen for him.
However, something is different this season.
His mid-three ERA has ballooned to a mid-four ERA. He is giving up more long balls, and his percentage of runners left on base has dropped from 65.9 to 57.1. It is easy to look at that an attribute it to the fact this is not a full season. However, there is more to it than that.
All of the ground balls that Bowman created last year were because he varied his fastball, slider, and change-up low in the zone. He was able to keep the hitters off-balance enough for them to put the ball on the ground. But this year his ground ball rate is down from 61.7 percent to 53 percent.
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Those percentages, coupled with a K/9 rate raising from 6.92 to 7.89, mean that Bowman is changing his approach. He is trying to create more swings and misses as opposed to grounders.
Getting strikeouts is great for the late inning guys like Trevor Rosenthal. But, for a middle relief guy like Bowman, I want to see him getting back to his craft.
However, the changes in his numbers, except for ERA, are not that drastic. But, the numbers tell the story of his season.
By trying to be a swing and miss guy, he is giving up harder contact. Not because his pitches aren’t good, but because he is not pitching to his strength.
To quantify that, Fangraphs puts the percentage of hard hit balls off of Bowman this year at 31.8, which is almost ten percent higher than his 2016 mark.
As far as pitch usage goes, the fastball is the same. The change-up is getting used more, so to compensate he is throwing his slider less. This creates a similar situation to Brett Cecil, where the batters do not have to anticipate a huge depth of movement. That gives them a smaller target zone to swing at, allowing for harder contact.
I will say the same thing about Bowman that I said about Cecil. He just needs to get back to the pitcher he was last year. Bowman is in the bullpen to serve a specific purpose. By pitching away from his role and strength, he is creating an atmosphere for himself that is causing him to struggle.
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He will find the pitcher he was before. He is a young pitcher and is really still learning the ropes. The numbers show that he has not changed too much, but just enough to be different in a bad way. Once he rights the ship, he will be a reliable arm once again.