ST. LOUIS (BaseballStL) - After saving 45 games for the 1984 St. Louis Cardinals, Bruce Sutter moved to Atlanta, prompting Cards’ manager Whitey Herzog to lament, “I just got 45 games dumber.”
His point, of course, was that without Sutter to close out games, the Cards wouldn’t be able to lock down close ballgames as effectively, causing fans to blame him for late losses.
But Herzog is in the Hall of Fame for a reason. The White Rat as he was called, devised a strategy he called “bullpen by committee,” meaning on any given day, any one of a group of relief pitchers might be called on to save a ballgame.
It worked. The 1985 Cards finished 101-61 and won the National League pennant. Seven different pitchers had saves, none with even half as many as Sutter had.
That strategy is what current Cards’ skipper Mike Matheny hopes to utilize to equal effect this season, an approach necessitated by the ineffectiveness of closer Trevor Rosenthal. It is not as easy as it may seem.
“I’d like to say, ‘you’re the seventh inning guy, you’re the eighth inning guy and you’re the closer.’” In the absence of that kind of certainty, he has resorted to Plan B. Right now, he says, he and his staff are trying to match up relievers to situations, something that he has to do during live games, not in spring training where that usually occurs.
He said that rather than relievers being ready for specific innings, they all have to be ready for situations. “We like (Seung-hwan) Oh’s change-up against lefties. (Jonathon) Broxton’s change and slider is really effective against righthanders. It takes time to sort it all out,” Matheny said.
Part of the equation is keeping in mind that a pitcher’s statistics and efficiency measures add up to value, something that can become important at contract time. “Stats mean something for these guys. There are some tangible things that come from statistics and we don’t want to deny them a chance (for meaningful numbers). But we also want to do what’s best for the team.”
Since Rosenthal’s demotion, the Cardinals have been using Kevin Siegrist, Broxton, Rosenthal and Oh in various roles as match-ups dictated to mixed success. Matheny said he also has to be aware of unintentionally sending subliminal messages to pitchers according to when he uses them. He said he has to be careful he does not unintentionally lead one pitcher to believe he is not trusted in certain situations.
So far, Siegrist is the only Cardinal with a save, other than Rosenthal. “Pitching the ninth inning is hard. It’s different.” He said sometimes people suggest bringing in the closer in the seventh inning to get out of a tough situation. Matheny disagrees.
“You watch guys and you see some (pitchers) can’t pitch in the ninth inning. There’s a reason. Guys who can, know how and they are prepared.”
For now, the experiment is a work in progress, but it appears Matheny will have plenty of opportunities to fit the pieces together. Four of the five Redbird starters have ERAs well over 4 as the team hovers around the break-even mark.
Copyright 2016 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.