Opening Day didn’t go as most Cardinals fans hoped it would. Carlos Martinez was erratic and, when Matheny turned the game over to Matt Bowman, things just got more out of hand. There were a couple of positive takeaways, with Yadier Molina and Jose Martinez homeruns, and Jordan Hicks lighting up the radar gun. However, perhaps the biggest bright spot happened about 2 hours before first pitch. That was the surprise signing of closer Greg Holland to a no-risk, 1-year, $14M deal. As unexpected as it was, the move is a slam dunk.
Having “The Guy”
First, coming out of spring the Cardinals lineup looks potent, the rotation looks to have upside, and the bullpen looks deep. They are widely seen as a Wild Card contender, if not as the clear favorite to be the NL’s 4th best team. We have complained about a seeming lack-of-urgency from the front office over the last couple years. They have had teams that were in contention but needed pieces to put them over the top, but we haven’t seen them reach for that elite player. Marcell Ozuna is looking like that type of move. Greg Holland is definitely that type of move.
When you look at the team, the one thing that is missing is a “dude” to lock down victories. The Dodgers have one, the Cubs likely have one. The Cardinals didn’t, and I say that as a fan that was a big believer in this year’s bullpen cast. The Cardinals were comfortable with allowing the large number of options play out in a committee format until someone emerged. That’s why they added Jordan Hicks to the mix at the last minute. However, there have been some telling signs from John Mozeliak over recent weeks. I’ve read an interview he did with MLB.com and listen to interviews with Tim McKernan and Bernie Miklasz. All asked him about Mike Maddux’s statement about preferring to have a defined closer, and how he wants to see the bullpen play out.
This excerpt from his interview with MLB basically provides his stock answer:
What you don’t want to do is feel like you’re bullpen-by-committee and you’re not having success. That phrase, “bullpen-by-committee,” if you’re winning and closing out games, is fine. But if you’re not, it becomes a little bit frustrating. My hope is we don’t go down that latter path. Eventually you hope the roles become defined and we have confidence in them.
The trick with Mo is being able to read between the lines. The key sentence was the very last one, which indicates that the ultimate desire for defined roles over the committee-style. It was coy, but it was there. Just a few days later, Mo defined the roles himself.
Holland Was Elite in 2017 (Except for 5 games in August)
So if you go and look at Holland’s stat line from 2017, you probably won’t be super impressed. Overall he sported a 3.61 ERA across 61 games, allowing 7 HR’s. He also had 41 saves.
However, the thing to note about his 2017 is this: In early August, he cut his right (throwing hand) index finger with a kitchen knife. We think of elbows and shoulders a lot when it comes to pitchers. Those are the injuries that shut them down. How ever, cuts, blisters, and fingernail issues are extremely detrimental to pitcher performance, even though they don’t always land them on the DL.
So, after cutting his finger, Holland had 5 awful appearances in August, the first coming on the 6th. Up until that point, he had a 1.56 ERA on the year and opponents had hit him at just a .168 clip. That is dominant, especially with home games at Coors Field. In the 5 games that he allowed runs in August, he pitched just 3.1 innings and gave up 14 ER (37.84 ERA), along with 4 HR’s. His final “bad” game was August 26th. From there until the end of the season, he bounced back to have a 1.69 ERA and opponents hit just .105 against him.
So, I subtracted those 5 appearances from his season totals, because they were clearly the result of his injury affecting performance. Here is how it comes out:
56 Games, 54 IP, 9 ER, 3 HR, 68 K’s, 1.50 ERA, 11.33 K/9
Do you think we can handle that at the end of games Cards fans?
Depending on who the Cardinals demote, and I think Mo and Girsch pull the plug on struggling Matt Bowman, the Cardinals will have a ton of strikeout firepower in the bullpen. And being a 1-year deal, it doesn’t block the progression of the heralded young arms in the system for 2019 and beyond.
(BTW, check out this great work by Zach Gifford detailing how Bowman’s overuse has altered his mechanics in an alarming way.)
And in 2018, the Cardinals now have a dude to lock down victories. Notice has been served, it’s now an 8-inning game when you’re facing the Cardinals.
Thanks for reading!