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Is Pat Neshek on Edward Mujica’s Trail?

St. Louis Cardinals reliever Pat Neshek allowed the game-winning solo home run to Los Angeles Dodgers right-fielder Matt Kemp in the eighth inning Saturday night. It extended a series of rough outings by the right-hander onto the national stage, as St. Louis lost a chance to return home with a dominating 2-0 lead in the National League Division Series.

I am not down on Neshek. His story has been one of the best on the Cardinals this season. Plagued by injuries since his early success in Minnesota in 2006 and 2007, the Minnesota native with the unorthodox delivery bounced between the majors and minors in each of the last four seasons with three organizations.

Unable to secure a major league job for this spring, Neshek reported to Cardinals camp as a non-roster invitee. After making the team, he almost immediately began to earn more innings and more important ones. As Carlos Martinez and Kevin Siegrist struggled, the former was temporarily re-made into a minor league starter and the latter was placed on the disabled list, Neshek eased into the set-up role for ninth-inning man Trevor Rosenthal.

It is truly a rare honor for a reliever who is not a closer to make the All-Star Team, but that is what Neshek accomplished in 2014. He contributed seven wins against just two losses and even picked up his first six career saves.

Yet the realities of a heavy workload may be showing.

Neshek is 33 and has already thrown his highest number of innings since 2007. With 1 2/3 innings more work this post-season, he will surpass that and set a new career single-season high in innings pitched.

Through 59 outings, he was lights out. Neshek had allowed a total of five earned runs, four on homers, for an 0.87 ERA. From late August through the remainder of the regular season, it was a different story. Over his last 12 regular season appearances totaling 12 innings, Neshek yielded nine earned runs for a 6.75 ERA. That included a loss and a blown save.

Stop me if you’ve seen this story unfold before.

In 2013, the Cardinals needed a closer with Jason Motte out for the year. A reliable veteran set-up man was thrust into the high-pressure spot and excelled. Edward Mujica earned a National League all-star berth on his way to a total of 37 saves.

But by late August, Mujica’s magic season began to unravel. One factor may have been four multi-inning outings in mid-August, an unusually high workload for a closer.

Whatever the cause, it appeared that Mujica’s tank was nearing empty as the playoffs approached.

Over his final 13 regular season appearances, totaling 10 innings, he was smacked around for 10 earned runs. You can do the math to calculate a precise and unsightly ERA of 9.00.

As Rosenthal took over ninth-inning duties for the Cardinals, Mujica was relegated to non-critical duty during the post-season, allowing one run in two innings. He departed as a free agent later in the fall.

Neshek may follow Mujica’s path this winter, earning a nice contract elsewhere, perhaps to be replaced on the 2015 Cardinals roster with another veteran reliever looking for a chance to rebound.

The question on the table should be what to do in between. The answer may be a difference-maker in the Cardinals’ post-season push.

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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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26 Responses to “Is Pat Neshek on Edward Mujica’s Trail?”

  1. Bw52 says:

    The big question is if Matheny realizes that Neshek is worn out or will MM still stubbornly keep sending Neshek in the 8th inning.
    Bingo…………………….we have winner…………MM says Neshek is still his 8th inning guy…………….
    That`s okay Cards didn`t really want to win.Just happy to be there……………………?

  2. CariocaCardinal says:

    You should substitute BW52 for Cards in the last line except he’s not even happy to be here.

    • Bw52 says:

      Wrtongo CC.Glad to see Cards in playoffs.I just hate to see wasted chances thrown away.Since it`s quite obvious Neshek is trending down because of very heavy workload ( just like Mujica last year and Rosenthal at times this year) it would be smart to prepare for foreseen problem.Maybe Martiez in 8th inning maybe another pitcher.Being inflexible and ignoring the problem isn`t going to make it go away.That`s a poor approach and rarely works.That kind of thinking and managing is simply very rarely right.
      The Cards have won in 1964,1967,1982,2006 and 2011 in my lifetime and I enjoyed every o9ne of them.Cards lost in 1968,1987,screwed in 1985,2004 and 2013 and Cards blew it 1968 got shut down by Twins pitching,2004 Red Sox shut down offense and last WS Kozma set the tone with his poor defense and offense went missing.So I do care very much and I have for many years.So shut up CC unless you got something worthwhile to discuss.

  3. crdswmn says:

    Mujica was dealing with an injury at the end of the season which affected his effectiveness. Unless Neshek has an undisclosed injury I don’t see the parallels. All players go through periods of ineffectiveness at one time or another.

    • Brian Walton says:

      What is the root cause?

      Mujica pitched in six straight games last July. In August, he threw two innings in three of four consecutive games. Right after, he reported shoulder soreness, yet it was not serious enough for him to go on the DL. Was his heavy workload the reason? Many people think so.

      Neshek is on the edge of a career-high inning count at the age of 33. The high level of use would certainly be a suspect when looking for a reason for his substantial downward turn in effectiveness.

      There are plenty of other parallels. For example, both are journeymen relievers who had an all-star season out of the blue with St. Louis.

      In any case, Neshek has not pitched consistently well in six weeks and therefore probably should not be pitching the eighth inning of a tie game in the playoffs like he would have done earlier in the season. That is what matters most, IMO.

      • crdswmn says:

        I am not in any way defending Matheny’s practices of over using certain pitchers, but in looking at both Neshek’s numbers and Mujica’s numbers during their periods of ineffectiveness, the difference in their peripherals is what stands out to me. Mujica’s peripherals were much worse and had taken a steeper dive than Neshek’s have.

        I guess I am just not ready to say the two are the same. I think it is possible that our experience with Mujica’s slide has colored perceptions about Neshek. Now If he reports some type of injury, then I may change my mind.

        • Brian Walton says:

          Neshek might not be hurt at all. But then again, we’ve seen injuries disclosed at strategic moments to help soften painful messages. We saw an example last week when Siegrist was left off the DS roster.

          Also, take the Mujica injury. You are putting far more weight on it than I am. He couldn’t have been hurt too badly since the longest he went without throwing in a game was four days. In mid-Sept, he was back to pitching three days in a row. What was different were the results.

          Maybe Neshek is simply back to being himself, the reliever with a three-plus career ERA, not the unhittable all-star set up man. The latter guy was substantially more valuable than the other guy, though.

          • crdswmn says:

            You don’t think pitching through an injury affects results? Whatever the severity of Mujica’s injury, if you believe what he has said since, he pitched through it. Was it because of over use? Probably.

            I don’t disagree that Neshek may be going through regression. I just don’t see the parallel with Mujica.

            • Brian Walton says:

              Most players are banged up after a long season, and continue to play through, but we only read about a few of them.

              Mujica went through regression as well. Even with the late season problems, he never had a season as good as 2013 in his seven prior years and did not come close in 2014, either.

              In summary, both relievers had unprecedented and surprising starts that lasted four-plus months, only to come down to earth late in the year. The club reacted to Mujica, but not yet with Neshek.

  4. Brian Walton says:

    Credit where due. Great 8th inning by Neshek.

  5. Bw52 says:

    Nice game by Lackey.Matt Carpenter has been unreal.Neshek did the job.Rosey pulling a Izzy and making people sweat a little.All in all good game.Now knock out posterboy today.

  6. Brian Walton says:

    If I was Jumbo, I’d probably take credit for inspiring Neshek. 😉 Instead, I will simply admit I seriously overstated his slide. Two straight dominating appearances to protect narrow leads at home. Great job. You win, crdswmn!

    • JumboShrimp says:

      You and I generally agree that Neshek has been over-used by the Mad One. Your fear Neshek was broken down was reasonable.
      What we did not allow for was the resilience and brilliance of Neshek, who has rallied when the chips were down, despite Mad Mike.

    • CariocaCardinal says:

      mujica’s 2013 era was 11+ in Sept while Neshek’s was 4+ in sept of 2014. but we really dpnt know how mujica would have done in the playoffs of 2013 because he wasn’t really given a chance.

      • Brian Walton says:

        The picture can change depending on where you draw the line. Neshek also gave up four runs on August 29. When I did my analysis, I looked at where the trajectory appeared to change rather than the calendar.

    • crdswmn says:

      It’s obviously a win for everyone. 😉

      I hope he can keep it up. I still wouldn’t be surprised at some regression. I just didn’t think it was Mujica-like.

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