8 and 9: A bullpen love story
Last season the Cardinals began the year with Ryan Franklin as their closer and some guy named Miguel Batista as their setup man. Quickly the Cardinals learned that this combination would not work so they released them both and later traded left handed relievers Brian Tallet and Trever Miller to the Blue Jays in the Colby Rasmus deal that brought Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, and Marc Rzepczynski to revamp the bullpen. They also moved Kyle McClellan back to the bullpen, called up guys like Lance Lynn, Eduardo Sanchez, and signed veteran reliever Arthur Rhodes to create a new and improved bullpen. At the end of the season Jason Motte had become the closer and recorded history by getting the final out in the 2011 World Series. Quite the turn around from an ugly beginning to the season, so what is the point to all of this? Well this year we have a new 8 and 9 man, the set up and closer combination that is sure to provide quite the upside.
First we should take a look at the new set up man, Mitchell Boggs. Boggs who spent time doing a little bit of everything in his brief major league career has been up and down since 2008. Once an average starting prospect, Boggs was called up in 2008 to start a few games due to the ailing rotation. He did the same in 2009 starting a few games and appearing out of relief in a few games, and it was in 2010 that he became a full time reliever for the Cardinals.
Last season the Cardinals thought very highly of the young reliever, some even said he had the best stuff in the bullpen besides a young Eduardo Sanchez. But Boggs never really could put it all together, some believe (including myself) that this had a large part to do with then manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan who put a huge amount of tension and stress on the young Boggs. After he blew one save, the Cardinals immediately sent Boggs down to AAA Memphis and wanted to stretch him out to be a starter once again, a move that made absolutely no sense.
So far this year Boggs’ mentor, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist along with new manager Mike Matheny have focused a lot of attention on the young Boggs. He seems like a whole new man, full of potential, nasty pitching, and confidence something he has lacked in his young career. So far this season, Boggs has been excellent despite his one blown save, Boggs has 7 appearances pitching nine innings with just one earned run, racking up 4 holds. In those 9 innings he has recorded 9 strikeouts and NO walks, while holding batters to a .148 AVG. If Boggs can keep it up and finally show that he can pitch to his potential the Cardinals will have one very effective set up man.
Next we shall turn our attention to the not so new, new closer Jason Motte. Motte once a catcher in the farm system made his debut late in 2008 where he showed that he had high potential with his nasty fastball. He immediately stole my heart and became one of my personal favorites, even so much that I paid 30 dollars for a T-shirt for a young reliever that may not even make it. But I had faith in him and so did the Cardinals. After failing to be the closer in 2009, he kept healthy and became a crucial part of the bullpen in ’09, ’10, and especially in ’11.
Last year Motte set a record for the Cardinals, making the most appearances by a right handed pitcher with 78. He also was the only member of the bullpen to remain their the entire year, no health problems and he was not sent down. Motte also proved viable with new pitches and still having the intensity and his signature fastball. He became the closer down the stretch in which he made 9 saves and 5 more in the postseason. Even with this success TLR refused to name Motte his closer, even though it was pretty clear that he was the man.
This year was the first year Motte came into camp knowing his role on the team. He was the closer as it was finally announced by Matheny and Mozeliak. And so far so good for Motte who is off to a great start to the 2012 campaign. In 6 games, Motte has 3 saves in 3 chances as well as 7 k’s, only one walk, and only one earned run. If Motte can stay like this he will be a bargain as one of the cheapest and most effective closer’s in the majors.
Together Boggs and Motte who have both struggled with missing identity in the past are new and improved. Both are having success early and it has come to the point where when it is time for the 8th inning and the Cardinals have the lead you know they are going to win. It is nice to know that you can rely on these guys and the fact that together they are making less than 2 million dollars makes it all the better.