The Cardinal Nation blog

Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

The Cardinal Nation Blog 2011 top story #17: Closer changes

The closer situation for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011 was quite fluid – one might even be justified in calling it volatile. Yet, the reason this story is only ranked number 17 among the other top stories from the World Champions’ year is resiliency.

Every time the team seemed to struggle behind one pitcher throwing regularly in the ninth inning, a new hurler stepped up to handle the job.

Of their 90 wins, the 2011 Cardinals accumulated a save in 47 of them, fifth-most in the National League. The history books will forever indicate that eight different hurlers recorded at least one save. Five of the relievers unofficially held the job at one point over the six-plus months.

In terms of raw numbers, Fernando Salas led the way with 24 saves, followed by Jason Motte with nine, Eduardo Sanchez with five and Mitchell Boggs with four. The other stray saves were picked up by non-closers Octavio Dotel (two), Trever Miller and Lance Lynn (one each).

Then there was Ryan Franklin, also with one save. I would hazard a guess that coming into the season, no one would have forecast the incumbent closer if healthy would end up with just a single save. Yet, that is precisely what happened.

The 38-year-old had entered 2011 with 82 saves accumulated over the previous three seasons and a firm hold on the closer’s spot. Before June was out, Franklin not only had lost the ninth-inning job, he was unemployed, his playing career over.

Franklin’s bookend in the role was Motte. After an impressive run of 29 consecutive outings without having allowed an earned run, Motte picked up his very first save of the season on August 29th. He held the role during the final month and through the post-season despite never having been named the closer by manager Tony La Russa.

In a clear departure from La Russa’s coyness, new skipper Mike Matheny stated the obvious when he recently identified Motte as the incumbent closer heading into 2012 camp.

In between, here is how a most eventful 2011 unfolded for the Cardinals’ ninth-inning corps.

The Cardinals stumbled on opening day in 11 innings versus San Diego as Franklin blew the save. He absorbed two defeats and blew three more saves through game 16 as the Cards lost their first three series. At that point, Franklin was removed as closer. His appearances dramatically dwindled over time until his June 29 release.

Boggs’ reign as closer passed in the blink of an eye. The right-hander logged three saves at home in late April but lost the job after a meltdown in Houston on April 26. In an odd move, Boggs was optioned to Memphis on May 23 to become a starter and work on his secondary pitches. After three weeks in exile, he returned to St. Louis’ bullpen, but never had another shot at closing, or starting, for that matter.

Sanchez, the youngest of the group at 22 years of age, next held the job briefly. His first save was on April 27, the very next night after Boggs’ Waterloo. Sanchez added four more saves over the next four weeks, but also took a loss and two blown saves.

Sanchez was placed on the 15-day DL retroactive to June 13 with what was called at the time a “mild right shoulder strain.” His original late July estimated return ended up extending well into September. It cost him another shot at the closers job and kept him off the post-season roster.

Salas, St. Louis’ version of Rodney Dangerfield, was next in the barrel. After being sent down to Triple-A Memphis six times in 2010, Salas did not make the Cardinals out of spring training in 2011, either. He did all he could as his ERA in Florida spring games was 0.73.

After being recalled in mid-April, Salas saved his first game of the season on April 28. It also happened to be the third game of that fateful Houston series. Over the last 12 games of May, Salas was a perfect 6-for-6 and had a total of 10 saves heading into June.

By August 11, the native of Mexico had converted 22 of 25 save opportunities (88 percent) and had a record of 5-4. Then came two blown saves in his next two outings. Though he allowed just one run in each game, Salas was out. He was given just three more opportunities the rest of the season as Motte took control.

Despite Motte ending the year as the club’s closer after that very strong stretch as set-up man, Salas actually logged a higher save percentage (80%) than Motte (69.2%) over the course of the regular season.

Still, Motte was a big part of the Cardinals September resurgence as he saved nine of ten opportunities and added two holds, two wins and three no-decisions in his final 17 regular season appearances after taking over.

Overall, the pen had evolved to the point it was a strength in the post-season. Motte appeared 12 times. He went 5-for-5 in save opportunities, though he took one loss, in Game 2 of the World Series. His post-season ERA was 2.19.

Heading into 2012, it is clear the job that no one could seem to hold is now Motte’s to either solidify or lose.

Note: To view detailed stats of all the Cardinals’ 2011 relievers, click here to be taken to the article “St. Louis Cardinals 2011 Reliever of the Year” at TheCardinalNation.com.

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 20 stories of the year countdown

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36 Responses to “The Cardinal Nation Blog 2011 top story #17: Closer changes”

  1. JumboShrimp says:

    If the Cards succeed in trading Lohse or Westbrook, this could open up a rotation slot for Lynn, and a bullpen slot for Ottavino or Fick. The Cards have been doing a good job of producing right armed relievers, in recent years, including Chris Perez, Luke Gregerson, and Blake Hawksworth, who have moved on. Fick and Ottavino are candidates for 2012, with Adam Reifer another possibility if he recovers from injury.
    Some veteran closers, like Papelbom, are pricey. The Cards showed a cost efficient approach during 2011, with Salas and Motte. Best to have a bunch of relievers at low cost than waste a huge amount of dough on a famous reliever. We won the World Series in 2006 the same way, with rookie (bargain) Adam Wainwright doing the closing.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Ottavino and Fick will have to wait for the guys ahead of them. Even without trading a starter, the Cards already have six RH relievers with MLB experience for what appears to be just five spots.

      Further, if the Cards could unload one of the starters, many think they would go out on the market and add another rather than promote from within.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        Lohse had a solid season during 2011, though did not excel in three playoff starts. Both Westbrook and Lohse threw more than 180 innings. They have some trade value.
        Yet it might get complicated to 1) trade one and 2) land a better veteran starting pitcher.

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    Mo’s next challenge is finding another hitter, one who swings left with some pop.
    Fielder would be pricey. After striking out on Albert, would DeWitt instead shower money on Prince?
    Another possibility is a 2 or 3 year deal for Carlos Beltran. He is probably $10MM/yr and has had injuries.
    Another idea is Jason Kubel. Walt Jocketty is kicking the tires on Kubel.
    Another candidate is Albert’s 1999 fellow draftee, Coco Crisp. Coco steals bases and plays defense, but is not a slugger.
    Rick Ankiel HGH’ed himself into a slugger during 2007 and 2008, but has not been as fearsome a hitter during 2009-11. On the plus side, Rick’s a nice guy, has a RF arm, and should be cheap. Might take a minor league contract.
    Ryan Ludwick should be cheapish and plays D, though swings right.
    A guy who slumped in 2011, but who has good numbers across years is Tony’s aging nemesis, J D Drew. TLR is gone now. It will be interesting to see where JD signs for 2012.

    • JumboShrimp says:

      One reason vets are known as journeymen is teams like fresh players and images, so vets move to different franchises. It might be a turnoff for fans to see Drew, Ankiel, or Ludwick return.
      If Beltran is too pricey, maybe the Cards could look to trade for another OF.

  3. crdswmn says:

    So the Cardinals are not in any hurry to sign Beltran. Maybe they will not sign him at all. In the meantime, I am bored, so while waiting on the Beltran deal to either happen or not happen, I want some other team to sign Fielder to an obscene contract so we can all analyze it to death. This is has been slowest and most boring offseason in recent memory.

    I realize that others have a life and I don’t but that doesn’t mean you all can’t be a little more talkative. Does anyone have an opinion on where Edwin Jackson might end up? Is he being put on hold by Boras while he is shopping Fielder?

    • Brian Walton says:

      My perception is that Boras prefers to wait until others set the market. Then he hopes he can start a true bidding war as the available options disappear. Once in awhile, he misreads the market and gets caught having to take a lesser deal, but more often than not, his patience seems to be rewarded.

      • crdswmn says:

        What other SPs are left on the market? Wilson and Buehrle are both gone. Oswalt is still out there but I wouldn’t think he would be much of a comp for Jackson, being much older and having health issues. Seems like a lot of the SP talk of late involves trades as opposed to FA signings.

        • Brian Walton says:

          Good point. Kuroda and Javier Vazquez are the only two FAs in his neighborhood that come to mind. With a trade, the cost is understood coming in.

          • crdswmn says:

            I don’t know a lot about Vazquez but I haven’t heard that much talk about him. Kuroda has been talked about a little, primarily about whether he will even sign with another club or go back to Japan. But I have heard no talk at all about Jackson. It’s as if people don’t even remember he is out there. That’s why I wondered whether he was on hold pending Fielder.

            The pitching talk has primarily been trade related. A lot of talk about Gio Gonzalez. Some talk about Jair Jurrjens. The whole Yu Darvish thing has taken up a lot of conversation. There has even been more talk about the Cardinals trading Lohse or Westbrook than there has been about Jackson. I just don’t get how the Lohse/Westbrook talk is even gaining any traction at all. Neither one of them is going to waive their NTC.

            • Brian Walto says:

              Cash can fix just about whatever might ail a no-trade protection situation. (I don’t believe Westbrook enjoys that protection. His issue is simply an over-value contract.)

              • crdswmn says:

                Are you sure Westbrook doesn’t have a NTC? The MLBTR announcement from Nov 2010 said he did.
                http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/jake_westbrook/

                I realize MLBTR could be wrong, but everyone who has talked about the trade Westbrook rumors, including the PD , has mentioned a NTC.

                • Brian Walton says:

                  You are correct and my memory was faulty. Does that indicate which side of 52 I am on? ;-)

                  However… you hit another hot button of mine (bad week for you and me on that!). MLBTR is not the source. They just repeated the real news which came from Matthew Leach, who I trust inherently. In all fairness, MLBTR credits Leach at the bottom, but probably bank on the fact that few pay attention, instead giving them credit as actually breaking news. Don’t get me wrong – they serve a valuable purpose – as a faster, better sorted alternative to a Google search.

    • blingboy says:

      Jackson has the problem of never sticking with anyone. I don’t know the reasons behind that, but GMs probably do, or at least would want to. Boras will be talking 3/30 or some nonsense. With a no-trade clause. kkkkkkkk. He won’t get left on the shelf.

      By the way

      Wonk : (1) Noun – An expert in a field, typically someone who is fairly young and very intelligent.

      I am told that the term has an internet slang meaning that is unrelated to the above and negative, I didn’t know that, and didn’t mean it that way.

  4. JumboShrimp says:

    Jackson is like Matt Holliday. Rep’d by Boras and going to free agency. This helps make somebody tradeable. Holliday has now “settled down” with a 7 year deal.
    Jackson should get a good contract this winter from somebody.

  5. blingboy says:

    Berkman was on TV and had good things to say about Beltran, a former teammate.

    He’d be a superb addition if he’d accept a role other than everyday RF all year long. He’ll be pricey. I think Matheny would get him plenty of playing time without keeping Craig on the bench, and would be the big switch hitting bat off the bench when he wasn’t starting. And remember, Tony is gone so we wouldn’t have to worry about seeing Carlos turning DPs at 2B :)

    • JumboShrimp says:

      Once healthy, Craig can fit in diverse ways. If Berkman gets injured, Craig can play 1B. If Holliday gets injured, Craig can play LF, as in Game 7. TLR discovered Craig could be an Utley or Jeff Kent at 2B. Craig could makeup for the loss of Albert’s firepower by slugging from 2B.

    • JumboShrimp says:

      Its clever the way the Cards recruited Lance. He used to be the Man in Houston. Berkman is used to being a celebrity. So after Albert ascended to the Angels, Berkman and Holliday are already in place to serve as team leaders and spokespeople to reporters.

  6. blingboy says:

    TLR deserves credit for dealing with the pen thing last year. Especially handling all the young guys.

    There was nothing wrong with the job Salas did as de facto closer. And it was a larger sample size than Motte. Still, Tony probably was right to get the greenhorn out of the high pressure role the moment he faultered. Motte had ups and downs, too, last year. But he was the hot arm at the end, doing a great job, so its right he should go in to ST as the one to beat out for the job.

    Sanchez will be an intriguing part of the pen mix also. He was the hot arm for a while until he got bunged up. And Boggs has the arm to be a force, if can figure it out.

    • Kansasbirdman says:

      I can’t wait to see Lynn out there with a full healthy season. I still remember the away game at the Marlins where he struck out (three batters?) all with fastballs. Incredible.

      I think good things await for him (he did pretty well as a starter too last year).

      Even if he didn’t throw me a bullpen ball (I was in the stands yelling for one of the two he had and he looked right at me and threw the ball to a very drunk girl near me). Course, I asked for one from Salas too – in Spanish, and he didn’t even look into the crowd or give away the ball (Senor Salas, Por Favor, puededarme la pelota!?!) :-(

  7. JumboShrimp says:

    Mo deserves a lot of credit for having the courage to make bold changes:
    –giving up 3 high draft picks for a rental of Holliday, then landing Holliday with a 7 year deal;
    –moving Skip to 2B in order to make room for Rasmus;
    –moving Edmonds for Freese;
    –swapping Rolen and Glaus;
    –moving Rasmus for rental of Jackson;
    –adding Furcal and Rhodes in 2011, though some thought them too old;
    –trading for Westbrook and extending him;
    –giving a two year deal to Pineiro (08/09);
    –giving Berkman a deal for 2012 before Albert flew the coop.
    –recruiting a new manager.

    GM jobs have to be stressful. Lots of high stakes decisions.

  8. crdswmn says:

    My twitter timeline blew up really fast and I thought maybe the Cards had signed Beltran or Prince Fielder had signed.

    Turns out it was just football. The Chiefs beat the Packers. This is why I hate Sundays—football. Bleh.

  9. CariocaCardinal says:

    The starting pitching market (trades and signing) will heat up after the Darvish sweepstakes (Japanese pitcher) is done. most teams looking for a good starter probably bid there and are awaiting the reuslts.

  10. bigchieftootiemontana says:

    It will be interesting to see how Darvish does against mlb hitters and if he can be consistently good for even 5 years. Surprises me that the huge posting fees required to negotiate with some Japanese players is okay with Bud Selig but it is not okay to go over slot for an amateur draft pick signing.

    Last week I was against pursuing Carlos Beltran but am changing my tune today, he had a pretty nice 2011 season without playing in a hitter’s park. GIDP was the highest he has had, 18 this year, previous high of 11 in 2008, so that is a bit of a caution but his slugging and obp were good.

    This was his first full season since 2008 so hopefully he is past the injury problems. Wonder if he would accept 2 years?

    • Brian Walton says:

      Apples and oranges on posting fees, chief. The Japanese players are already pros under team control, so the posting fees are a payoff to the Japanese owners.

      • bigchieftootiemontana says:

        Sure Brian, I understand the posting fee framework, but money is money. The only difference is MLB owners paying Japanese owners for negotiating rights to the player from Japan. MLB owners paying
        amateur players and their agents a signing bonus after they have negotiated.

        I would suggest it is MacIntosh and Winesaps ! (;>)

  11. crdswmn says:

    Brian, somebody at MLB.com must read your blog. This article appeared this morning.

    “GMs eye trade route for starting pitching help” http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20111218&content_id=26193634&vkey=news_mlb&c_id=mlb

  12. crdswmn says:

    I’m waiting with baited breath to see who won the Yu Darvish bid, isn’t everyone? :P

    Get on with it please, so we can move on to something I care about. Twitter is abuzz with nothing and I’ve spent the better part of the day observing the Skip Schumaker Wars on VEB. Not to mention the continued saga of why Albert Pujols will never be happy in LA on the Scout Board.

    Gaaaaahhhhhhh.

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