Monday, November 15, 2004

2004 Bullpen Review

This is only my 6th post in the last 2 and a half weeks. On the one hand, that's more than the 1 post per week I promised in the off-season. On the other hand, I'd like to post more. Here's hoping the real world doesn't keep me from posting any less than I have been.

My plan is to cover the bullpen today, the bench tomorrow, and wrap up recommendations for the Cardinals on Wednesday. I would like to have thinks laid out as to what I would like to see before the Cardinals start signing players.

Jason Isringhausen
4-2, 47 Saves, 2.87 ERA, 146 ERA+, 75.1 innings
12 Win Shares, 4 Win Shares Above Average, 579 OPS allowed
2004 Salary - $7.25 million
2005 Salary - $9.25 million

Isringhausen was one of the better relievers on the Cardinal staff this season, even though he probably garnered less confidence out of your average fan than the guys setting up for him. With Izzy back in the pen, the Cardinals did not have the same early season struggles that they did last season trying to close out tight games. And let's be honest - the Cardinals likely would be trying to make the playoffs for the 6th year in a row in 2005 had Izzy been healthy in the 2003 season.

On the good side, Isringhausen set a career high with 47 saves, besting his previous high of 34 from the 2001 season with Oakland. Of course, a closer for a 105 win team should rack up a large number of saves. Izzy also posted a career high for relief innings pitched, throwing 75.1 frames. His previous high in relief was once again the 2001 season, in which he threw 71.1 innings.

Of course, it wasn't his most dominant season with the Birds on the Bat. His 146 OPS+ was his lowest since he posted a 125 in the 2000 season. What's more, as most noticed, he gave up many more extra base hits this year than in years past. In his 75.1 innings, he gave up 16 doubles, 1 triple, and 5 home runs. In his previous two seasons with the Cardinals he had pitched 107.1 innings and only given up 16 doubles, 0 triples, and 2 home runs. In fact, if you look at his SLG allowed over the previous 3 seasons, you see a trend that isn't great.

2002 - 242
2003 - 277
2004 - 319

And at the same time, his strikeout rate is decreasing. (K/9IP)

2002 - 9.4
2003 - 8.8
2004 - 8.5

Both of those trend are pretty slight, I'll grant you that. Izzy is still striking out almost a batter per inning, and his SLG allowed isn't exactly horrible. However, those numbers are still moving in the wrong direction - which isn't something you want to see out of a guy due to make just south of $10 million next year.

Ray King
5-2, 31 holds, 2.61 ERA, 160 ERA+, 62 innings
7 Win Shares, 3 WSAA, 539 OPS allowed
2004 Salary - $ 1 million
2005 Salary - Unknown (Arbitration Eligible)

Ray King was great this year, posting his best season since 2000 when he only pitched 28.2 innings with the Milwaukee Brewers. He posted career highs in both holds and wins. His ERA, ERA+, and OPS allowed were all the best King had put up since 2000. In fact, his OPS allowed over the last 4 years is very encouraging.

2001 - 729
2002 - 682
2003 - 601
2004 - 539

While I wouldn't expect this trend to continue for King next season, I do not think that it would be unrealistic to see him repeat his 2004 numbers again next year, giving the Cardinals one of the best left handed relievers in the majors again next season.

Julian Tavarez
7-4, 4 saves, 19 holds, 2.38 ERA, 176 ERA+, 64.1 innings
8 Win Shares, 3 WSAA, 620 OPS allowed
2004 Salary - $1.6 million
2005 Salary - $2.6 million

When the Cardinals signed Tavarez during the off-season, I was personally less than impressed. Here was a guy who was known to be a head case that had pitched above average in just 5 of his 11 seasons in the majors. He was coming off of a season in which he was just 16% better than average for a bad Pittsburgh team, and the reason cited for picking him up was his low home runs allowed total (1 over 83.2 innings in 2003). But when you look at his 2002 numbers, in which he posed a 5.39 ERA for the Marlins as a starter, it appeared to me as if 2003 was likely to be a fluke. A 2 year, $4.2 million deal to a reliever coming off of just 1 good season out of his last 3? Not good.

Well, Julian proved me wrong for the most part. Yes, he was in fact a head case. However - the guy was lights out this year. His ERA+ was the best he had posted since 1995 when he was a 22 year old reliever for the AL Champion Cleveland Indians. He had 19 holds, which was the most he had posted since he had 26 for the Giants in 1997. His OPS allowed was very similar to the numbers he put up for Pittsburgh last year. And his walk total dropped, while his K total improved.

So, why was he so much better this year? Was it luck? Was it easier to concentrate while playing for a winner? Was their really some magic in that old soot hat he wore? I don't know. I will say this, however. Based on the last 4 seasons, Tavarez is much better out of the pen than he is starting games. He will likely be an above average pitcher again during the 2005 season. Most likely, however, it won't be at the same level that we saw in 2004.

Steve Kline
2-2, 3 saves, 15 holds, 1.79 ERA, 234 ERA+, 50.1 innings
6 Win Shares, 3 WSAA, 581 OPS Allowed
2004 Salary - $1.7 million
2005 Salary - Free Agent

Kline rebounded nicely in 2004 to have what I would consider to be his 2nd best season with the Cardinals, just barely worse than 2001 in which he had a 579 OPS allowed, 240 ERA+. His injury in September may have kept him from having his best overall season ever.

As good as Kline was last season, he has a few things working against his chances of coming back to St. Louis. More than you can count on his middle finger, in fact. For one thing, as good as he was, the Cardinals still have the rights to Ray King this year. For another thing, the Cardinals also have the rights to Randy Flores, Rick Ankiel, and Carmon Cali for the 2005 season. None of those 3 players are likely to cost as much as Kline. When you factor in the uncertainty surrounding his return health wise along with the fact that Kline could revert to 2003 form next year, and I think it's unlikely we will see Kline pitching for St. Louis next year.

Kiko Calero
3-1, 2 saves, 12 holds, 2.78 ERA, 151 ERA+, 45.1 innings
5 Win Shares, 2 WSAA, 546 OPS allowed
2004 Salary - $310,000
2005 Salary - Unknown (Arbitration Elligible)

Calero is probably my favorite reliever for the Cardinals. To me, he is the perfect example of why closers should not be paid multiple millions of dollars to rack up saves. Here is a guy making $310,000, posting numbers similar to Jason Isringhausen who was making 23.4 times more money.

The most important stride made by Calero this year was his walks allowed. In 2003, he walked 20 batters over 38.1 innings. This year, he only walked 10 over 45.1 innings. The end result was his K/BB ratio skyrocketed from an already impressive 2.6 to an awesome 4.7. When you have a reliever holding hitters to a .176 average, striking out more than 1 batter per inning, and rarely giving up walks? You have the makings of a great closer.

I look for Calero to be solid once again this season, potentially having a breakout year. He'll be a bargain at whatever price he's likely to make this year, and may in fact be the Cardinal closer as soon as the 2006 season.

Cal Eldred
4-2, 1 save, 9 holds, 3.76 ERA, 111 ERA+, 67 innings
4 Win Shares, 0 WSAA, 779 OPS allowed
2004 Salary - $900,000
2005 Salary - Free Agent

As poorly as the season started for Cal, he actually ended up having a respectable year. His ERA+ matched his 2003 campaign, with his OPS numbers slipping by 36 points. Cal is a great example of 2004 vs. 2003. In 2003, he was the 2nd best guy out of the pen. In 2004, posting similar numbers, he was the 6th best guy.

I like Eldred, and came to not worry about him coming into games by the middle of the season. Ignoring the playoffs, of course. I'm sure he could be signed cheap for the 2005 season, but let's be honest - is he a better option than Al Reyes at this point? Likely not. I suspect he'll be gone.


Izzy and Tavarez are the only players that are under contract for the 2005 season. However, It's all but certain that King and Calero will be retained as well with increases in salary. Those 4 players give the Cardinals the beginnings of another dominant bullpen next year. Cal Eldred, I suspect, will be gone and replaced by either Reyes or Dan Haren. If Steve Kline was guaranteed to repeat his 2004 numbers, he would be a great player to bring back at the right price. However, I think the Cardinals would be better off saving some money by using Ankiel, Flores, or Cali as the 2nd lefty out of the pen. All three of those guys can be had for under $1 million, and are just as likely to be solid next year as Kline.

The Cardinals bullpen was a large part of the success of 2004. For 2005, the Cardinals bullpen has a chance to be even deeper and better.


At 1:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robb -

Thanks again for your work here. I'm enjoying the reviews and look forward to your post regarding 2005 recommendations.

I'd like to see Pavano or Clement take the mound next year for the Cards, and possibly save some money at shortstop and go after Cabrera. However, that's assuming Renteria doesn't revert to 2003 form.


At 2:41 PM, Blogger Cardsgem said...

It will be intersting to see if Izzy comes back stronger after having surgery this offseason, because it sounded like he was pitching in pain every time out there.

That might have had something to do with his pitches not having the same zip as they have had in the past?

At 12:27 AM, Blogger Will said...

I don't know about anyone else here, but I only found you after Brian at Redbird Nation called it quits. Your stuff looks like it's capable of at least partially filling the gap, so I'll take as much output as you can stand to dish out.

I agree on the overall assessment of the bullpen... one thing that I thought in midseason is that Kiko would make a great closer for some team. He has the highest K/9 rate on our team, one of the better ratios in baseball, and hasn't really even gotten enough work to learn the art of pitching yet I don't think. If we end up trading for RJ, he is most likely gone, unless Walkt pulls a rabbit out of his hat. Arizona stated a need for a good young closer prospect earlier in the year, and he would be one.

At 7:49 AM, Blogger Robb said...

I too would like to see Clement in St. Louis next year. We'll see what happens.

Yes - Izzy may in fact improve next year since he may be healthier.

As far as input - any and all comments are welcome. I don't have any intention of replacing Brian at Redbird Nation - that's too tall of an order for me.

At 8:03 AM, Blogger Robb said...

Will - my comments may have sounded a bit rude, so let me clarify a bit.

I was a huge fan of Redbird Nation. In fact, it's one of the biggeest reasons I started my little blog here. Being a fan of that blog, however, I know that I cannot possibly post as much as Brian without getting burned out and having to hang it up.

My claim when starting this blog was to post at least 3 times a week during the season, once per week during the off-season. I try my best to do more than that, but sometimes the real world doesn't allow it. Whatever the case, I'll post as often as I can, more often than not just to have a chance to write down what I'm thinking.

So - I'll give you as much output as I possibly can. I love to talk Cardinals, and this seems to be a great way to do so (even though I'm only in my 3rd month as a blogger.) And as I said before - please feel free to submit as many comments as you see fit. I enjoy the "conversation."

At 8:39 AM, Blogger Len said...

Nice analysis. Keep up the good work.

As for "replacing" RBN.... What's the line from Star Trek VI (LT Valeris to CAPT Spock), "I can only succeed you, not replace you" (or something like that...). There was only one RBN, but at least we can all try to fill the hole left by its passing.

At 2:00 AM, Blogger Will said...

Robb, I feel the same way as you, only I am still in blog consumer mode. Once the NFL season is over (and my site admin duties for an online football pool are over), I hope to start organizing my baseball thoughts in some fashion or another. Until then, like I said, I'll take whatever I can get. Thanks for the good work so far.


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