Though it was not always the responsibility of the bullpen, I cannot get out of my head the fact that the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals are just 16-30 in one-run and two-run decisions this season.
I guess in a way it is sort of the ugly underbelly of all the MLB-best run differential talk we have heard of late. After all, it would seem such a club should be a division-leader instead of resting in third place.
Where there is still time remaining, the clock is down to 52 games and counting.
The relief corps has looked much sharper overall since the acquisition of Edward Mujica to stabilize the seventh inning ahead of Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte. Still, I can’t help but wonder, “what if?”
What if the Cardinals were 30-16 in one- and two-run games instead? Assuming the worst case – that none of those turnaround games would have been against the Reds – it would still flip what is today a six-game division deficit into an eight-game lead.
OK, maybe that isn’t realistic. Instead, let’s pretend the Cards just managed to split those tight games down the middle. That isn’t setting the bar unreasonably high. At just 23-23 in those contests, St. Louis would still lead the once-surging Reds by one game and would tie the Washington Nationals for the best record in baseball.
How might they have accomplished that, you ask? I suggest by having fixed their set-up problem from the start of the season. Or, more accurately, by not letting it get away from them in the first place.
Last summer’s megatrade brought some very important pieces to the eventual World Champions. Much has been written about lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski and starter Edwin Jackson, both of whose contributions were considerable.
Maybe it is because he is the definition of journeyman, now on his 13th team in 14 years, but Octavio Dotel seemed more of an afterthought to most, both then and now.
After all, right-handed set-up men are a dime a dozen, right? The Cardinals had a bevy of young relief arms ready to take over, right?
While I admit that liked the youngsters as well or better than most, I also worried all along about the lack of veteran leadership in the pen. Other than scrap-heap additions J.C. Romero and Scott Linebrink, both quickly jettisoned, Kyle McClellan was the club’s most veteran reliever at four seasons of MLB experience coming into 2012. Motte was next at a tad over three years.
Knowing what we know now, I submit that Dotel may have been the loss that contributed most to that 16-30 mark this season.
Let’s review how dominant Dotel was.
After joining the Cardinals last summer, the now-38-year-old allowed 15 hits, struck out 32 and walked just five in 24 2/3 innings. That K:BB rate of 6.4:1 almost doubled the next-best ratio in the pen.
Dotel retired 79.7 percent of first batters faced last season, again better than any other member of the Cardinals pen. Only 16 percent of Dotel’s inherited runners scored in 2011. Yes, that was also tops on the club. As a point of reference, Motte’s rate was just over double at 32.1 percent.
Without quoting the details chapter and verse, suffice it to say that Dotel still has ample fuel in the tank. In fact, his 2012 results to date with his new club, the Detroit Tigers, are quite comparable to his stellar stats with St. Louis. (Click on his highlighted name above to view his numbers at Baseball-Reference.com.)
Perhaps there is still time for Mujica to become “Dotel II.” In fact, he has a nice start at doing just that.
Even so, I still can’t help but think “what if” “Dotel I” had just been kept around for 2012 in the first place?
Next time, I will come back at this subject from the business perspective – money, draft picks, trade value and the like.