There seems to be plenty to love about the Cardinals bullpen here in 2014, particularly from a fantasy standpoint. And we’re not just talking about saves here. Should your league count holds and use stats such as K/9 or HRA, then this is the pen you want to sift through on draft day. The arms are young, electric and should miss an awful lot of bats this season.
Rosenthal had a dynamic first full season in the majors last season, notching three saves and 29 holds with an impressive 108 strikeouts over just 75.1 innings. His 2.63 ERA was solid, but when you see his 1.91 FIP (2.34 xFIP), you realize just how well he actually pitched. He’s got a nasty 97 mph fastball which he throws nearly 80-percent of the time, but last year began to incorporate his changeup a lot more (15.4-percent in 2013 up from 2.2-percent in 2012) which helped contribute to his 14.7-percent swinging-strike rate. Though it had originally been a consideration early in the season, the Cardinals did not install Rosenthal as their closer until September. He finished out the regular season well so the Cardinals opted to stick with him as their closer through the post-season where he shined even brighter with 11.2 scoreless innings, four saves, and an impressive 18 strikeouts to just three walks. He walks into 2014 with the job in-hand and has already been tabbed as a top-five closer based on projections and current ADP rankings.
The Set-Up Men
Things in the bullpen started out a little rough for the Cardinals last year as Motte, the closer walking into 2013, tore a ligament in his elbow late in the spring and required Tommy John surgery. Edward Mujica was eventually named the closer, but the bullpen was in flux for the first month/month and a half. Finally in June, the team called up Siegrist, a southpaw, and things seemed to stabilize as he and Rosenthal became the primary set-up men for Mujica while Maness was called upon the inning prior.
The 25-year-old Maness, a right-handed ground ball specialist, put together an outstanding season for the Cardinals last year. He posted a 5-2 record with 15 holds, a 2.32 ERA and just a 1.89 BB/9 over 62 innings. He was extremely reliable in helping the team get out of jams and he led all relief pitchers with 16 double plays induced. When Rosenthal was moved into the closer’s role, it was Maness who became the primary right-handed set-up man.
Meanwhile, Siegrist had also put together a fantastic season for himself. The 24-year old lefty didn’t give up a run until his 13th appearance and finished the year with a 0.45 ERA and a 11.34 K/9 over 39.2 innings (45 appearances). His 11.8-percent walk rate was a little high, but high-strikeout guys tend to do that. While it’s tough to see him repeating his ERA and 0.88 WHIP over a full season in 2014, he was a big part of the Cardinals bullpen resurgence last year and will be a trusted reliever moving forward.
Now that Motte is working his way back and should be ready to go this spring, it’s likely that he and Siegrist slot in as the primary set-up men with Maness falling back into more of a seventh-inning role. With the strength of their arms and ability to shut down the opposition, the team shouldn’t have many issues holding leads. From a fantasy standpoint, it looks like all three could be a great source of holds with Motte and Siegrist adding in strong K/9 numbers as well.
The Lefty Specialist
After posting 15 holds with a 2.29 ERA and a solid 2.55 K/BB over 35.1 innings, Choate is entrenched as the Cardinals’ resident LOOGY. There will be times when he’ll be asked to go a full inning, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary for him and there’s no need to worry about him outperforming his FIP as that’s been a regular occurrence for him and something you tend to expect from a guy sporting a 60-plus percent ground ball rate. He should be a solid source for holds once again this year.
The Middle Relief Corps
Both Freeman and Lyons are the least experienced members of the pen, but both should earn spots this season. Lyons had a 4.75 ERA over 53 innings in his first full season in the majors, but his 3.73 FIP (3.84 xFIP) indicates that he pitched slightly better than his final totals might represent. He doesn’t have much heat (his fastball tops out just under 90 mph), but he’s got a quality slider and can mix in a changeup and a curve as well. Freeman put together a strong season in Triple-A and received a September call-up where he posted a 2.19 ERA over 12.1 innings. He doesn’t strike many batters out but should pitch effectively in low-leverage situations this year. Neither are really worth much of a look in fantasy circles, though.
On the Fence
Martinez will be given an opportunity this spring to compete for the fifth starter’s job, but many within the Cardinals organization are still on the fence as to whether he is better suited for that or a late-inning relief role. He looked great in the minor last season, opening the year in Double-A and, after just three starts, earned a quick promotion to Triple-A where made 13 starts and posted a 2.51 ERA while increasing his strikeout rate by more than a batter per inning. The 22-year-old right-hander saw a few call-ups throughout the season, but never really settled in until September when he posted a 3.48 ERA with 10 strikeouts over 10.1 innings. He could be an interesting late-round flier should he make the rotation, but if he lands in the pen, he’ll probably start off in late-inning low-leverage situations until he earns the opportunity to see his role increased.
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