Chuckie Fick And Other Bullpen Questions
WHY CHUCKIE FICK?
News broke late last night that the Cardinals had demoted struggling right-hander Fernando Salas to Memphis and called up right-hander Chuckie Fick to replace him. While most Cards fans were probably ecstatic to see Salas out of there (despite the tremendous contribution Salas made in 2011), they were also scratching their heads about this Chuckie Fick kid. Who?
Well, here’s an interesting fact about Fick: he’s the tall, lanky son of Cardinals farm director Chuck Fick. Can you say nepotism?
Based on statistics, Fick should not be anywhere near a relief opportunity in the majors. In 21 innings, Fick has a decent 3.86 ERA, but is averaging nearly 2 home runs per nine innings and nearly as many walks as strikeouts. His fielding independent ERA (which measures earned runs directly caused by the pitcher) is a hideous 5.25 this season. Salas, the man Fick is replacing, has a FIP of 2.85.
For some bizarre reason, Fick leap-frogged over fireballer Maikel Cleto, who has a FIP ERA of 2.44 in 22 minor league innings at Memphis, and a stunning 4:1 ratio of strikeouts to walks. Fick is beating Cleto in just one category – Left On Base % (LOB%). So far, Fick has stranded 79% of inherited runners, while Cleto is at 56.9%.
Still, it seems like a weird move to bring up an untested rookie with not-great statistics rather than promote Cleto, who has a track record in the majors. I sincerely hope the move for Fick wasn’t a pat on the back for our scouting director, which certainly sets an uncomfortable precedent early in Mike Matheny‘s tenure.
Nobody expected Matheny to charge out of the gate in his first year like a seasoned veteran. In fact, I think many people actively looking for problems with Matheny might be surprised at how well he’s done in the first two months of his managerial career.
But Matheny has certainly exhibited some problems, particularly in his use of the bullpen. Matheny has shown a tendency to pitch closer Jason Motte and selected others in multiple innings, or bring Motte in during a tied situation (both scenarios played out last night).
We can see examples of this during the Cardinals’ rough May. For instance, Matheny brought Mitchell Boggs into a tied game in the eighth inning on May 14th. Boggs gave up the lead run in that inning and looked bad doing it. So Matheny brought him back out in the ninth (Motte had pitched twice within three days), and Boggs gives up another, uglier run on a HBP and two errors. The Cards lost that game.
It makes little sense to pitch Motte in a tied game in the ninth, and, as last night showed, it rarely works. Veteran Phillies manager Charlie Manuel played it correctly – he waited until his team gained a lead, and then brought out Jonathan Papelbon to finish it. It makes no sense to have a specialized closer if you’re not actually using him in that role.
WHERE IS SANCHEZ?
In his post-game interview, Matheny said that three relievers were “unavailable.” Two of the relievers were Brandon Dickson and Marc Rzepczynski. One could assume that Salas was the third given the move made later in the evening. That means Eduardo Sanchez should be available.
So where is he? Sanchez hasn’t pitched in a game since May 19th, when he allowed three runs to score (one charge to Westbrook, and two to Sanchez) and showed some general wildness. Is Sanchez hurt? Is he being reprimanded for something? Have they suddenly lose faith in this kid’s ability?
If Matheny doesn’t want to use Sanchez, then he shouldn’t be on the team. Wasting a spot in the bullpen makes no sense, particularly when the situation is reaching a crisis point. This is something TLR would do from time to time, and I cannot believe I’m seeing it from Matheny. Wouldn’t it be better to demote Sanchez and call up Cleto?
It’s been a frustrating month watching this develop. Hopefully the Cardinals will make some wise moves to address these problems soon.