With the Cardinals season having come to an end, it’s time to look back and reflect on the year that was with player grades. Over the next few days, I’m going to cover the entire roster, placing players as appropriately as possible into the following groups: starting pitchers, relievers, infielders and outfielders. With the starting pitcher grades completed, we move onto the relievers.
These grades are obviously going to be subjective, and I won’t hide this in my grading: My grades are tied strongly to how well the performance matched expectations. I may grade some players more favorably than others even if their stats are objectively inferior. If a player fell short of expectations, my grade will reflect that.
Jordan Hicks: A
I can’t say enough good things about what Hicks did for the Cardinals this season. He rocketed straight from A-ball to an A-grade by leading the Cardinals bullpen in innings pitched at 77.2, exactly 20 more innings than the next guy on the list. By and large, he was effective in those innings, flashing an electric arm that went viral on social media a time or two for his superhuman manipulation of a baseball. In the beginning, Hicks was getting by on favorable BABIP luck and well-timed double plays, but once he got acclimated, the strikeout rate began to creep toward normalcy. Hicks still needs to work on his control, but that’s to be expected for someone as green as he is. Not only is the future bright for Hicks, but the recent past wasn’t too shabby, either. In an ugly year for the St. Louis bullpen, Hicks represented the hope that a new anchor for the unit has arrived.
Dakota Hudson: A
The Cardinals took a heck of a long time to promote Hudson, but once they did, he helped staunch the bleeding for an ailing bullpen upon his arrival in July. Like Hicks, Hudson's 18 walks in 27.1 innings were a bit troublesome, but the .196 opponents' average and 2.63 ERA offered plenty of reason for optimism. He usually managed to pitch around the danger, but it would be nice to see Hudson come into 2019 with a better command of the strike zone. He’s definitely part of the future in St. Louis, though I’d like to see him get consideration as a starter before permanently being labeled a reliever.
Tyson Ross: B
I like Tyson Ross! I actually think he’d be an intriguing signing for rotation depth in 2019, but the Cardinals used him primarily as a reliever after claim him in August (in my view, they wanted to avoid paying him a $200,000 bonus per start due to a clause in his contract). Ross finished with a 2.73 ERA during his brief stint in St. Louis. If the price is right, perhaps this season was just a preview.
Bud Norris: B
This is one case where I find it pretty easy to separate an ugly close to the season from the body of work. For as bad as Norris was by the end--walking batters, blowing saves and incurring an irritating number of mound visits from trainers--he was just as good the rest of the season. And after the Greg Holland debacle (I don’t care if he’s no longer with the team, he’s still getting a grade from me), the Cardinals really needed someone to step into the closer’s role. Very few Cardinals fans expected that someone to be Bud Norris, but that’s what happened. Norris was excellent for much of the summer, and his eight saves in August were crucial in the surge back into the postseason picture. Of course, his 13.50 ERA in September were part of the reason the team didn’t ultimately reach that goal, but if I’m basing these grades off expectations, the good certainly outweighed the bad.
John Brebbia: B-
Despite spending some time in Memphis and some time on the DL in 2018, Brebbia ended the season with the fourth-most innings pitched out of the Cardinals bullpen. In his 50.2 innings of work, Brebbia managed a 3.20 ERA and went 2 for 2 in save opportunities. He showed a solid K rate, too, with 60 strikeouts in those 50+ frames. He’ll be a solid middle relief option in what will hopefully be an otherwise retooled bullpen next season.
Tyler Webb: C+
The ERA was sterling at 1.76 in 15.1 innings, but Webb also allowed five unearned runs that color his performance a bit differently. A .276 opponents’ batting average and 1.43 WHIP aren’t favorable, either. Webb walked six batters in 18 appearances; that rate is too high for my liking for a potential LOOGY. He was pretty good against lefties, though, specifically: .194 average against and a 0.96 WHIP. He did enough to likely earn a look for a 2019 bullpen mixture currently devoid of reliable lefty arms.
Chasen Shreve: C
A lefty that came over in the Luke Voit deal (Yikes), Shreve was not very effective against lefties in is stint with the Cardinals. He allowed a .323 average to left-handed batters. Overall, he walked nine men in 14 innings; not ideal for a guy who is often brought in to face only one specific hitter. Then again, what kind of return can you expect for the final AL Player of the Week of the regular season?
Mike Mayers: C-
If your expectations for Mayers were dimmed by the memory of his ugly efforts for St. Louis in previous years, a C- grade might seem a bit harsh for a guy that often flirted with upper 90s on his fastball and held an ERA below 4.00 for much of the year. My expectations were a little higher, as I anticipated his fit in the bullpen would be a welcomed one for his career. Unfortunately, Mayers finished the year on a sour note instead of developing into a trustworthy late-innings option.
Dominic Leone: D
Injuries, man. Leone spent a good chunk of the season on the DL and was just so-so when he did pitch. His 4.50 ERA and 1.46 WHIP in just 24 innings was a far cry from the pre-season rumblings that he could get a look as the team’s closer.
Matt Bowman: F
With a medical situation as strange as Bowman’s was in 2018--fingers blisters turned into more fingers blisters which turned into Raynaud's Syndrome (a condition affecting blood flow to the fingers)--it’s tricky to determine where to place blame. But as harsh as I was with my grade of Alex Reyes, I should be even harsher toward Bowman for not disclosing the severity of his situation to team medical staff. It was one of several examples of communication breakdowns between the team and its players in the now-defunct Mike Matheny era. While Matheny and the Cardinals’ medical staff shoulder some of the burden for this failing grade, Bowman’s awful pitching in 2018 get credit for the rest of it. A 6.26 ERA and .309 average against had Bowman looking like an actual Pinball Wizard in 2018.
Luke Gregerson: F
I mean, I was really looking for a reason not to give so many Fs, but the Cardinals’ bullpen had a lot of failure this year. There’s no sugarcoating a 7.11 ERA and only 12.2 innings of relief for a guy you just guaranteed $11 million.
Tyler Lyons: F
I don’t even want to talk about it. Lyons was dropped from the 40-man roster after an abysmal stint in St. Louis earlier in the summer. He went unclaimed and finished the year in Memphis as a starter.
Brett Cecil: F
Another year gone by, another chapter in the failed Brett Cecil experiment written. Cecil got a late start to the season due to personal reasons, and by no means do I intend to make light of those. Cecil’s performance on the field, though, left a lot to be desired even after he returned to the team. There were flashes where Cecil resembled the guy the Cardinals thought they were signing in November 2016, but those flashes were few and far between. The rest of Cecil’s outings were marred by walks and hard hit balls. He finished the season with a career-worst 6.89 ERA in 40 appearances. Cecil may be given another chance to turn things around in 2019 unless the Cardinals decide to just eat the $15 million he’s still owed through 2020. Their patience ought to be wearing thin.
Greg Holland: F
$14 million crammed into a blender. Need I really say more? To make matters worse, he was lights out for Washington after the Cardinals released him.
Overall Final Grade: D+
The arrival of the long-rumored promise of youth is all that kept this group from earning an outright F, here. Hicks and Hudson gave us a glimpse of the future, and it was pretty tantalizing. You know what wasn’t tantalizing? Almost everything else. Holland, Gregerson, Cecil, Lyons, Bowman, Leone? All of them were expected to have key roles in the bullpen, and to a man, all of them were terrible. Several of them got paid handsomely to be so terrible. Something I never would’ve envisioned a little over six months ago: Had Mo not signed Bud Norris, the Cardinals may have had the literal worst bullpen in the National League (it was 12th of 15 in ERA as it was).
To improve next year, the Cardinals should be willing to dump some of the dead weight before it negatively impacts another season. I don’t care how much money they’re being paid, the song and dance of ‘one more chance’ for bad reliever acquisitions shouldn’t carry over very deep into next summer.