Who Closes in St. Louis?

After word that an MRI revealed a torn ligament in Jason Motte‘s elbow, fantasy owners should be assuming the worst. If Motte will indeed succumb to Tommy John> surgery, then someone is going to have to close the rest of the season for the Cardinals. But who will that be? The team opened the season with Mitchell Boggs in that ninth inning role, while Trevor Rosenthal waited patiently in the wings as the setup man. But after recent performances, the pecking order may have shifted.

Since moving to the bullpen full time, Boggs has been a pretty solid reliever for St. Louis. He has featured a mid-90s fastball to go along with a slider and induces ground balls at a 50%+ rate. In all, his SIERA has hovered around the mid-3.00 range, which is acceptable, though hardly spectacular for a reliever a team is placing its trust in to hold the lead in the ninth. Given his pure stuff, I always wondered why he didn’t generate more swings and misses and strike out more opposing batters. His strikeout and walk rates are both rather averagish for a reliever. Also, as you might suspect from a fastball/slider guy, Boggs has major issues with left-handed hitters. Throughout his career, he has allowed a .369 wOBA and 5.12 xFIP. So really, he should be best utilized as a ROOGY or RTOGY (if he has to come in to face two right-handers).

So far this season, he hasn’t done anything to keep Mike Matheny‘s faith that he’s the right choice to close games in Motte’s absence. He blew his opportunity during his second outing of the year, imploded a week ago while allowing six runs over a third of an inning and was then yanked yesterday in a save opportunity after allowing two hits to start the inning. Whether we think Boggs has the skills to rebound or not is irrelevant. After yesterday’s performance and resulting departure before having the chance to record an out, I would be shocked if Matheny allowed Boggs to handle the next save opportunity.

Next in line was thought to be Trevor Rosenthal, the fire-balling rookie who lost out on the fifth starter job and returned to the relief role he pitched in last season. Including yesterday’s game, he has now pitched 8 innings, while striking out 10 and walking just 1. That’s all fine and dandy, but he also has two blown saves on his ledger and allowed a two-run homer to Ryan Braun to allow the game to get within one run yesterday. Although his ERA stands at 4.50, he has actually pitched quite well. But managers don’t care about SIERA or xFIP, so I would be surprised if he was given the next save opportunity. In fact, the Cardinals broadcasters were even talking about Rosenthal as a closer and that he hasn’t even proven he could handle the 8th inning yet.

Who is left in the Cardinals bullpen? A pair of LOOGYs, Edward Mujica, Fernando Salas and Joe Kelly. We could immediately eliminate the LOOGYs from consideration, unless Matheny decides to pull a Jim Leyland and ignore the splits. Salas was good in 2011, but saw his control regress last season and he allowed the game-winning home run to Jonathan LuCroy yesterday, so he’s probably out. And Joe Kelly was originally a rotation candidate and has thrown just 3.2 innings in relief, while he hasn’t been used in any high leverage situations.

Say hello to your new Cardinals closer, Edward Mujica. The 28-year-old was fantastic for them after coming over from the Marlins last year and has been a pretty reliable reliever since 2010. Of course, he has no real closer experience and has tallied just four saves over his career. He also doesn’t sport the prototypical closer skill set or repertoire. He has typically relied on a three-pitch mix, mainly leaning on his fastball and splitter, while throwing his slider almost 10% of the time. This season, he has yet to throw the latter pitch. Relying on just a fastball and splitter is fine, and over his career he has no platoon split issues whatsoever. His control is fantastic and strikeout rate acceptable. Even better would be if he continued to induce ground balls at the rate he has over the past two years.

So by process of elimination, it seems likely that Mujica will be given the next save opportunity. He didn’t screw up yesterday, has had a history of success and owns a solid skill set that may very well keep him in the role all season. While I do believe that Rosenthal will prove to be the best reliever in the bullpen, that’s moot right now. Mujica is plenty good enough to get the job done if Matheny does indeed give him a try.



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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.


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Clayton
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Clayton

Mujica has been so solid since coming over last season. Rosenthal probably should have just been sent to AAA to work on his complimentary stuff so we could develop him into a starter – for Post Jake Westbrook. Of course, I’m making this statement in hindsight. But, still think the better move is to get Rosenthal out of the bullpen and into a position where he has a lot more value.

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