Of that group of 24, the same hurler led the team in both ERA (1.03) and WHIP (0.873). In other words, he was best at both keeping runners off base and inhibiting them from coming around to touch home plate.
His other leadership areas included the lowest walk rate on the 2012 Cardinals (1.0 per nine innings) plus the best strikeout to walk ratio (7.0:1) and stingiest home run rate (0.3 per nine innings) of all Cards with at least 14 innings pitched.
For the sabermetrically-inclined, consider wins over replacement value. Despite appearing in just 26 games, among relievers he trailed only full-season Cardinals Boggs (1.7) and Jason Motte (1.4) in WAR at 1.2. He also picked up 18 holds.
This pitcher was not even a part of the club to start the season, nor was he a member of the organization’s vaunted minor league pipeline of young hard-throwing arms.
I am talking about 28-year-old right-hander Edward Mujica.
On July 31, Triple-A third baseman Zack Cox was sent to Miami in return for Mujica. Marlins management joyously celebrated picking up a first-round draft pick in return for a middle reliever.
Yet, the Cardinals may have realized their final opportunity to “sell high” on Cox. Considered a “can’t miss” hitter coming out of the University of Arkansas in 2010, Cox had an inconsistent two years as a Cardinal. Further, with David Freese and Allen Craig locked in to the corner infield positions for the foreseeable future, Cox’s route to a starting role with St. Louis was seemingly blocked.
After the trade, the Marlins sent Cox back to Double-A, where he did not hit well in his first month in the organization. In need of a major league third baseman for 2013 and Cox clearly not ready, the Marlins went out and signed free agent and former Cardinal Placido Polanco.
Upon his arrival with St. Louis, Mujica immediately helped calm an unsettled and inexperienced bullpen ahead of closer Motte and eighth-inning man Boggs. Mujica’s role was clearly defined from the start, as he pitched in the seventh inning in each of his initial eight appearances as a Cardinal.
He took the mound on his very first day with the club, August 1, and did not allow a score until his 19th outing with St. Louis. Mujica yielded just three regular-season runs in total with the team.
In his seventh partial year in the majors, Mujica made his first post-season. In 7 2/3 innings over nine playoff games, he logged a 2.35 ERA and a 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio.
For a Cardinals club that had made mid-season blockbusters in recent years, such as the Matt Holliday and Colby Rasmus deals, the Mujica-Cox trade engineered by general manager John Mozeliak caused some to shrug their shoulders and others to scratch their heads.
As it turned out, the addition of Mujica was precisely what the 2012 Cardinals needed to help fuel their strong finish.
Even better is that the Venezuelan native will be back for 2013. Arbitration-eligible this winter, Mujica should receive a raise over his $1.625 million salary last season. He can become a free agent following the upcoming campaign.