It’s hard to find many positives about the start to 2017 for the St. Louis Cardinals. They’ve been terrible.
Yet, as it stands now, they still have a 26.4% chance of making the playoffs, the sixth highest odds in the National League. While the percentage has dropped, sixth is exactly where their odds started at the beginning of the year.
Given that, I’m still hopeful for the 2017 season. The St. Louis Cardinals have a soft schedule ahead (14 of the next 20 games are against the Brewers, Reds, and Braves). If they can capitalize, they’ll be right back in the mix. If they don’t, the season is in serious trouble (or over).
One of the very few positives thus far has been the performance of Trevor Rosenthal. In his first appearance, he struck out the side in order. I’m willing to chalk his latest appearance against the Nationals, where he gave up one run while getting only one out, to bad luck: the hardest hit ball against him had an exit velocity of only 82.5 mph. He did his job inducing weak contact, the ball just found the holes.
Despite the strong start, Trevor Rosenthal has yet to gain Matheny’s trust since coming back on April 10th, appearing in only two games and none since April 12th. Due to limited use, we’ve only seen Rosenthal face seven batters. Yet, we’ve been able to get a very small glimpse of his whole repertoire, especially, of course, his fastball.
To date, he’s thrown 27 pitches tracked by Brooks Baseball, 24 of which were fastballs. On those fastballs, he’s averaging 98.39 mph, up about a half mile-per-hour over April 2015 and 2016. When Rosenthal’s averaged above 98 mph on his fastball, he’s been an elite reliever (2013 and 2015). When he’s sat just below 98 mph, he’s struggled (2014 and 2016).
That his velocity is there early on is a good sign, especially considering the time he missed in spring and the velocity drops the rest of the bullpen is experiencing. It indicates that he’s fully healthy, and when healthy he’s given the St. Louis Cardinals great production. From 2013 to 2015, Rosenthal was a top ten reliever by WAR. If he gets back to form, he’ll be valuable in the back of the bullpen or as trade piece.
Though Trevor Rosenthal throws predominantly fastballs, he has also shown a changeup and slider over his career since 2013. This year, Rosenthal has thrown only one changeup (which induced a 62 mph batted ball) and two sliders.
His slider has me more excited than the changeup, if only because we’ve seen it less in the past. Rosenthal has yet to show much trust in the pitch, never throwing it even half as often as it changeup.
Yet, so far, in the three pitches he’s deviated from the fastball, he’s gone to the slider twice. One of the two times, it looked like this:
The sequencing was perfect. After falling behind in a 2-1 count, Rosenthal painted the top of the zone with two 98+ mph fastballs, the second of which (red trail) was fouled off. On the next pitch (green trail), he matched the previous two release points with a slider. The slider started along the same exact path as the prior fastball before diving all the way to the low-outside corner. The pitch froze Anthony Rendon, earning Rosenthal his third strikeout of the inning.
The St. Louis bullpen has been a major problem in the young season. Newly acquired Brett Cecil is no stranger to early season struggles. Kevin Siegrist is struggling with velocity and command. Seung-hwan Oh is experiencing a 2+ mph velocity drop. The overall bullpen ERA of 7.34 ranks last in the MLB.
Yet, despite the concerns, Rosenthal is struggling to find the mound. He did not appear once as St. Louis was swept by the Yankees, despite higher leverage opportunities. One, for example, came in the 6th inning of Saturday’s game, when Matheny claimed Martinez was the team’s best option despite an astronomical pitch count and a constant battle with command. Another came in Sunday’s finale, when the Cardinals entered the eighth inning down two runs. Instead, the manager opted for Miguel Socolovich, who proceeded to put the game out of reach.
Since April 10th, Rosenthal has accumulated the least innings among all relievers in the St. Louis bullpen. It’s unclear whether the team is taking it slow given his recent injury, or if they don’t trust him after his second outing against the Nationals.
In either case, it would benefit the St. Louis relief corps if they could get Rosenthal back in action as one of their high leverage relievers. His velocity is back, his offspeed looks sharp, and he’s yet to walk a batter. Mike Matheny has shown no hesitancy to lean on him heavily in the past, and I, for one, hope he shows little hesitancy to do so again. If Rosenthal really is “right” again, he will be the Cardinals best reliever.
The gif used in this post comes courtesy of @cardinalsgifs. His contributions to pitching analysis and this site are invaluable.