When it really comes down to it for the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen, the fundamental problem has been that relievers have simply been unable to throw strikes and control their pitches on a consistent basis.
It is this ball throwing plague that has haunted the St. Louis Cardinals for a long time now, and almost cost them against Pittsburgh on Wednesday when multiple pitchers had trouble getting the ball over the plate.
This has been one of the biggest problems for St. Louis Cardinals relievers over the past. Last season, the Cardinals bullpen finished 17th in zone % and 25th in O-Swing %, meaning that Cardinals relievers didn’t throw many pitches in the zone, and didn’t get many hitters to bite on those pitches outside the zone.
This simply means one thing: the Cardinals threw uncompetitive balls more than many teams in the MLB, and while it might seem preemptive to make statistical conclusions now, the 2019 St. Louis Cardinals bullpen has currently performed worse in that regard in 2019.
Currently, the bullpen has thrown just 37.6% of their pitches in the zone, good for dead last in the league, and much worse than the 43% showing in 2018 that left much to be desired. Right now, the saving grace for the relief corps has been a 31.6% O-Swing% and a 55.3% O-Contact rate, which are both among the 10 best rates in the league so far.
While the current statistical success of the bullpen on pitches outside of the zone is encouraging, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the bullpen is pitching that much better per say than they did last year. For me, these numbers are simply the early results of having significantly more talent in the bullpen than you did last year.
On top of that, I am sure I don’t have to remind you of some of the more painful relievers to watch that the Cardinals have had, and the difficulties they had at throwing strikes consistently. Trevor Rosenthal, Ryan Franklin, Marc Rzepczynski; I could keep going, but I think you get the point.
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In that same vein, this trend is not something that is sustainable. While maintaining those high success rates on pitches outside the zone is something to strive for, being successful while throwing such a low percentage of potential strikes is not something that sustainable over a long season.
The bottom line is that if the St. Louis Cardinals are going to be successful this season, it starts with eliminating some of the team’s biggest flaws, and arguably the biggest was the bullpen’s inability to throw strikes and competitive balls.
Even if Andrew Miller continues his sluggish start, the bullpen is still full of talented guys in John Brebbia, Jordan Hicks, John Gant, Alex Reyes, etc. However, it won’t really matter how talented the pitchers are or how nasty the pitches are if they can’t make it in the zone.
The St. Louis Cardinals have a lot of promise this year, but one factor it will really come down to is how each facet of the team holds up. Just as pitching can’t succeed without some help from the offense (see Jacob DeGrom in 2018), the lineup will need help from the pitching staff to make this a complete and competitive baseball team. If this Cardinals team wants to be better, it needs the bullpen to play up to the talent that it possesses.
So please, guys. Just throw some damn strikes.