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Marty Mason’s on-field scorecard

Performance of his relief pitchers was not the reason the St. Louis Cardinals fired bullpen coach Marty Mason.

Marty Mason and Jason Isringhausen, 2007 (AP/Charlie Riedel)A typical knee-jerk reaction to the news of the dismissal of St. Louis Cardinals bullpen coach Marty Mason was a message board post at The Cardinal Nation that said this:

“Considering how many games the bullpen blew this year, that doesn’t surprise me.”

That seemed off base to me. Given the myriad of problems of the underachieving 2010 club, such as poor baserunning, sloppy defense, lack of timely hitting and so on, the relief corps had not often come up as a problem during the season.

I decided to pull out the numbers from recent seasons to see what they had to say about Mason’s charges in 2010.

While bullpen meltdown games are often notable, especially the July 6 loss in Colorado in which the relievers coughed up a six-run lead while yielding nine runs in the ninth inning, they were relatively few and far between.

In fact, the pen had a better save conversion percentage in 2010 than in either of the previous two seasons, showing improvement for the second consecutive year. The problem was not theirs, considerably fewer opportunities presented them, down to 42 from 73 just two years prior.

St. Louis Cardinals, relievers, 2008-2010

Pen Saves Opps Save %
2010 32 42 76.2%
2009 43 58 74.1%
2008 42 73 57.5%

In terms of innings pitched, despite the starters generally having a good season, the relievers were called upon to pitch 25 2/3 more innings in 2010 compared to 2009, but the total was less than in 2008. To put that into context, in 2009, the Cardinals tossed the fewest relief innings in the National League (16th of 16), and still pitched the fourth-fewest this past season.

Won-loss record is included for completeness, but seems a more random stat, in my opinion.

The Cardinals bullpen ERA was up ever so slightly, by 0.06 year-to-year, and from fourth-lowest to sixth-lowest in the NL. Each of the last two seasons was considerably better than 2008 despite the Cardinals having a younger crew overall.

Pen IP NL Rank W L % ERA NL Rank
2010 462 2/3 13th 18 20 0.474 3.73 6th
2009 437 16th 22 18 0.550 3.67 4th
2008 499 10th 22 31 0.415 4.20 11th

The next table includes home runs, walks, strikeouts and opponent batting average. What is especially notable to me is the considerable drop in free passes issued for the second consecutive year. That continued a positive trend in terms of strikeout-to-walk ratio, to the point the pen in aggregate had a solid 2:1 distribution in 2010.

2010 48 169 346 2.0 0.250
2009 43 194 340 1.8 0.238
2008 53 230 381 1.7 0.264

The relief corps did have a couple of areas which could use improvement. In 2010, they did not do as good of a job retiring their first batter faced as in recent seasons. The relievers also allowed a higher rate of inherited runners to score, crossing the 30 percent mark.

Pen 1st Btr Ret 1st Btr % Inh Rnr Score IR %
2010 304 455 66.8% 65 204 31.9%
2009 338 474 71.3% 56 242 23.1%
2008 331 491 67.4% 67 228 29.4%

As has been made clear since the initial announcement, Mason’s firing was due to off-field issues, specifically criticism of the organization’s player development processes, not the performance of the Cardinals relief pitchers. It should not have been numbers-related, as they back up my initial impression that the bullpenners did a pretty good job overall in 2010.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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