The St. Louis Cardinals' bullpen is nearly elite

Pittsburgh Pirates v St. Louis Cardinals
Pittsburgh Pirates v St. Louis Cardinals / Scott Kane/GettyImages

The St. Louis Cardinals possess a bullpen that quietly competes with the best in baseball.

The St. Louis Cardinals have underperformed to begin the season, and the mediocre starting pitching and punchless offense with runners in scoring position have shouldered much of the blame. The bullpen, on the other hand, has been a strength of the team — with one notable exception.

As a whole, the bullpen ranks 11th in the major leagues with a 3.39 ERA. But if one removes the badly faltering Jordan Hicks and his 12.71 ERA, the Cardinals' bullpen ERA is a full run lower, and that would place it at third in the league.

Zack Thompson has continued his outstanding performance from 2022. In 8.1 innings, he has yet to allow an earned run and has notched 11 strikeouts. Drew VerHagen has also emerged as a key piece in the arm barn, with a 2.35 ERA and 1.63 FIP in 7.2 innings. Before the season, it was a question of who would provide a stable bridge to the eighth inning, and Thompson and VerHagen have shown that they can step up in that role.

Chris Stratton improved last year after the trade that sent Johan Oviedo to the Pittsburgh Pirates. So far in 2023, he has a 3.24 ERA, but his FIP is more promising, at 2.24. He also has walked only one batter in 8.1 innings. The Cardinals promoted Genesis Cabrera from Memphis upon the injury to Packy Naughton, and although Cabrera has a 4.50 ERA and worrying 6.82 FIP, he has only pitched four innings and has six whiffs in those frames.

In the late innings, Giovanny Gallegos has been an excellent reliever, surrendering only one hit and no runs in five innings. Ryan Helsley hasn't matched his historic start to 2022, but nobody should have expected a repeat. Helsley is an unimpressive three-for-five in save opportunities, but his 1.75 FIP suggests that he should still have a stellar season.

Not every Cardinals reliever is thriving. Andre Pallante is failing to miss many bats; according to Baseball Savant, he is in the 23rd percentile in swings and misses. His 6.14 ERA and 11 hits allowed in 7.1 innings provide some concern.

And then there is Hicks. He has been one of the worst relievers in baseball this season. In addition to wielding a disastrous ERA, Hicks has walked eight batters in 5.2 innings, and despite his top-scale velocity, he is in the sixth percentile in fastball spin rate. The walk-off home run by Andrew McCutchen on April 15 could have been the final nail in the coffin: Hicks needs to accept a demotion, or else the Cardinals should designate him for assignment.

Other than Hicks and, to a lesser extent, Pallante, the Cardinals have boasted a successful bullpen. It has been overshadowed by the issues in other areas on the team, but with a couple of tweaks, the entire bullpen could produce counting stats that are among the best in the game.

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