After a three-inning outing in which he threw just 45 pitches and allowed two hits, John Brebbia was optioned down to the minors as the St. Louis Cardinals recalled John Gant.
While the move makes sense on the surface for the St. Louis Cardinals, there is a strong argument to be made that Matt Bowman should have been optioned down instead in John Brebbia as the Birds recalled John Gant. Why? Many reasons.
First and foremost, John Brebbia has proven himself to be a major league level reliever, while there are still questions about Bowman’s legitimacy as a pitcher in the major leagues. While it should be clears to anyone who has seen both that Bowman’s stuff clearly has more break and more upside, it has yet to translate to significant major league success.
While Bowman’s first major league season was solid, he took a major step back last season. He allowed as many earned runs in 2017 as he did in ’16, but in nine fewer innings on his way to a 3.99 ERA in 2017. He averaged 1.14 innings per appearance in 2016, that number dropped to .78 in 2017.
While its typical for a lefty to have fewer than one inning per appearance, righties who go less than an inning per appearance is a sign of some struggles.
As a right-handed reliever, you aren’t brought in on a match-up to match-up basis, but an inning-to-inning basis, meaning you are expected to last at least an inning per start. Significant deviation from that inning per start, as Bowman displayed in 2017, is a sign that he was replaced midway through innings because he couldn’t get the job done.
While his use as a plug-in reliever to strand runners is part of the reason, his ERA is high enough to indicate his performance played a part too.
In his sole year in the majors, Brebbia met the inning per appearance threshold, throwing 51.2 innings of 2.44 ERA ball in 50 games. He also posted better H/9 and BB/9 numbers than Bowman did in his 2016 season. The only points Bowman has on Brebbia right now are the depth of the break of his pitches and his low home run rate allowed, especially in comparison to Brebbia.
While Brebbia did give up a concerning number of homers last season, it did not result in much damage to him, as shown by the 2.44 ERA. While Brebbia did give up a much higher inherited run rate than Bowman, it still resulted in lower total runs allowed and R/9. In addition, the main upside that comes with nasty pitches, strikeouts, doesn’t shine with Bowman, as Brebbia averages a higher K rate as well.
|Earned Runs Allowed
|Inherited Runs Allowed
|Total Runs Allowed/Innings Pitched
Brebbia does allow a nasty amount of inherited runners (10/22 = 45.5%), but still kept the overall run production down. Another factor that’s involved in that is the way in which they are used. As I mentioned above, Bowman was used a lot more as a “bail-out” kind of guy in comparison to Brebbia, which means more medium and high leverage situations. Here is a look at how they compare.
|Med. Leverage Innings
|% Medium Leverage
|TBF in Medium Leverage
|High Leverage Innings
|% High Leverage
|TBF in High Leverage
|TBF w/Runners on
|% of BF w/Runners
|TBF w/Runners in Scoring
|% of BF w/Runners in Scoring
|BAA w/Runners in Scoring
|OBP w/ Runners in Scoring
Even though it is a smaller sample size, Brebbia has performed better on average in these situations when given the opportunity. While the high home run and K rate might worry some in regards to his ability to fill that “plug and play” role, he has done well enough in his limited time in tough situations to warrant a look with how much Bowman has struggled this year. If not him because of his inherited runner struggles, there are plenty of other relievers that look the part.
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The next point of interest is rest and the management of arms. Brebbia pitched three innings, a large amount in many cases for a reliever, and is being sent down to rest. That’s all fine and good, but there’s just one problem. You let Matt Bowman sit on the major league bench for FOUR WHOLE DAYS as rest. There isn’t much of an argument that other pitchers weren’t ready to pitch at the major league level before Gant, when guys like Mike Mayers are still in Triple A, so why?
He threw 45 pitches in that outing, which looks like a decent amount on the surface. However, to put this number in perspective, Missouri high school baseball requires just one day of rest after a 45-pitch outing. While this obviously is still a decent pitch count for an MLB reliever, it was nothing drastic in perspective, and shouldn’t take even the four days of rest that Bowman was allowed.
If you are going to allow Bowman to sit on the bench and occupy a roster spot for four days so that he can rest, why waste one of Brebbia’s options to “rest” him? Gant was not rehabbing an injury to return to the major league level, so it wasn’t a matter of timing. Both players came into the season with three minor league options, and Bowman is a year younger than Gant, giving him more time to spend in the minors than Gant, so there was no excuse.
On top of that, with the strong break on Bowman’s pitches, its clear that his upside is greater than Brebbia’s should he learn to control his pitches, so why not give him some time there to re calibrate.
Even if he has proven in previous minor league appearances that he is above the Triple A level, it might be good for Bowman to face easier batters for a few days to gain a better grip on his stuff and possibly build towards the pitcher that he has the potential to be.
So at the end of the day, what reason did the Cardinals have to keep Bowman up in favor of Brebbia? When you have proven you are willing to eat a pitcher spot for four days, and you have other prospects who need major league experience, why not send a relatively young pitcher who has struggled both on short and long rest to the minors? With his three options, there’s little risk.
At the end of the day, Matt Bowman has gotten way too many passes for his struggles because of how nasty his stuff looks, but it doesn’t matter if it isn’t under any kind of control. He is the one who needs a break in the minors, not John Brebbia.
I don’t see a good reason Bowman should continue to remain on the roster with three options while he’s struggling this much, while Brebbia gets demoted for “rest” when Bowman has rested on the major league roster, and Brebbia has proven to be able to get guys out at the major league level. It just doesn’t seem like the right move, both for the current team and the organization’s future.