Cards: Another Day, Another Bullpen Collapse

Jul 22, 2008 at 10:36 am

Sigh. Another day, another offensive comeback, another bullpen collapse. Pretty much just another day here in Cardinal Country.

The problem is that the St. Louis Cardinals really, really needed that game last night (''Cards rally late, but fall in extras.'') Seth McClung was probably the worst pitcher the Cards are going to see in this series.

Tonight they'll see their former comrade Jeff Suppan. He's on his way off the disabled list, so the Cards may manage to get him at less than peak effectiveness, but it gets even worse after that.

They'll see CC Sabathia on Wednesday night, with Braden Looper opposing him. Not exactly an even match-up.

Then, on Thursday, Ben Sheets will go for the Brewers. The Cardinals will most likely counter with either Brad Thompson or Mitchell Boggs. Again, well, you get the idea.

Once again, we were forced to watch as one of our late-inning relievers was unable to get the job done. This time it was Ryan Franklin giving up three runs in the tenth inning. I've got to tell you, I'm getting awfully tired of having to watch this sort of thing night after night.

I've been thinking lately just how much this team reminds me of the 2003 squad. Just like '03, the Cardinals offense could get the job done but were handicapped by a pitching staff -- particularly of the relief variety -- that continually gave back whatever runs the offense managed to put up on the board.

Deja Vu of the worst kind.

This year's pitching staff currently sports a 4.22 ERA, which ranks eighth out of the sixteen National League teams.

Meanwhile, the offense ranks second in batting average, second in on-base percentage, and fifth in slugging. They also rank fifth in home runs and third in total runs scored. This offense is plenty good for this team to contend. The 2003 team was even better, ranking second in batting average, first in on-base percentage, second in slugging, and second in runs scored. That team's pitching, though, was even worse, sporting a 4.60 team ERA that was good for eleventh in the league.

Where it really gets ugly though, for both that '03 team and this year's squad, is when you start looking specifically at the bullpen.

The 2003 version of the 'pen did have Jason Isringhausen posting his second-best season in a Cardinal uniform. He posted an ERA of 2.36 that year, good for a 175 ERA+. (ERA+ is a comparative statistic that relates a player's performance to that of the league average; 100 is exactly average.)

Unfortunately, the rest of the bullpen that year wasn't quite up to those standards; 2003 was the year the Cards saw Esteban Yan make 39 appearances with a 6.02 ERA. Jeff Fassero, in his age 64 season, posted an ERA of 5.68. Guys like Jason Simontacchi, Lance Painter, and Dustin Hermanson all put up ERAs in the five and a half range. Even Russ Springer, the savior of the 2008 'pen, was brutal in '03, with an ERA north of eight (!), before being shut down due to injury.

It's not quite as awful this season, but it's still pretty ugly. The problem this year is that we don't have a top-form Jason Isringhausen at the end of the game. The 2003 team couldn't bridge the gap to Izzy; this team can't close games out once they get there. Ryan Franklin's ERA isn't awful, at 3.69, but he's been getting steadily worse as the year has gone on. (I hate to point out when I'm the bearer of bad news, but I did call this one back in April.) Both of the Cards' lefties, Ron Villone and Randy Flores, have ERAs nearing the 5.00 mark. Villone's actually been pretty good when used strictly against left handed hitters, but Tony seems to think that he has a better idea. Flores, on the other hand, has just been awful. There's really no way around it. Kelvin Jimenez has put up a 5.40 ERA but is still apparently being counted on to stabilize the bullpen.

Of course, the worst offender of all this season has been the 2003 team's go-to guy, Jason Isringhausen. Izzy was dynamite in '03; this year he's more like gasoline. So far this season, Izzy has thrown a total of 33 innings. In those innings, he's posted an ERA of 6.27. He's walked 17 batters and struck out 25. He's allowed 38 hits and four home runs. To put it simply, Izzy has hurt this team. Badly.

The good news is that there are players in the minors that could probably help. Chris Perez was recently sent down to the minors to work on his command and his slider, but while he was here he proved he could already get major league hitters out. He struck out nearly a batter an inning, proving that there's nothing wrong with the quality of his stuff.Jason Motte, the fireballing former catcher, is striking out literally everyone right now in Triple A ball, with 78 Ks in 48.1 innings. He's also sporting a nifty little 2.27 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, a measure of all those things for which a pitcher is specifically responsible. The formula is (HR*13+(BB+HBP-IBB)*3-K*2)/IP, plus a league-specific factor (usually around 3.2) to round out the number to an equivalent ERA number. FIP helps you understand how well a pitcher pitched, regardless of how well his fielders fielded.)

Justin Fiske, a left-hander, has been pitching in relief this year and is currently at Double A Springfield. Fiske currently has a 2.84 FIP and is striking out 32.7% of the batters he's faced since joining the S-Cards. Is a guy like Fiske ready to help at the major league level? I don't really know, but I doubt that he could possibly be worse than running Randy ''Walk-o-matic'' Flores out there on a nightly basis. Of course, instead of giving Fiske a chance to contribute in the big league bullpen, the Cardinals recently decided he was going to move into a starting role for the first time in his life. Makes perfect sense, right?

I've written ad nauseam about the bullpen this season. Honestly, I'm sure you're probably all tired of hearing about it by now. Hell, just yesterday I looked at some relievers the Cards might be able to try and trade for. But even if they don't make a move for a single reliever, the Cardinals could improve this bullpen. Of course, the question is whether or not they will. Will they make some sort of move to bring in an arm that can potentially give the whole 'pen a big lift? Or will they continue to trot out the exact same faces night after night, expecting different results from the same actions?

Unfortunately, I think I may know the answer to that question.

- Aaron Schafer