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

TCN Blog 2014 Top Story #17: Rosenthal’s Rocky Road

Unlike 2013, when he came into camp competing as a starter – only to become the closer in September – Trevor Rosenthal spent the entire 2014 season as St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny’s ninth-inning man.

When a closer accumulates 45 saves, just two off a share of the team’s all-time single-season record, and then goes three of four in the post-season, one might assume he had generally smooth sailing. That was not the case, however.

Cardinals fans know all too well that a ride with Rosenthal was often bumpy. Among the top half of National League closers, determined by the eight with the most saves, he had the:

• Most pitches thrown (by a considerable margin)
• Second-most hits allowed (one from a share of the lead)
• Most walks issued (by a considerable margin)
• Highest WHIP (also by a considerable margin)
• Highest ERA
• Most blown saves
• Most losses
• Lowest bWAR (tied)

If we lower the bar to include all NL relievers, Rosenthal’s six losses were tied for fifth-most, while his six blown saves were tied for sixth-most in the entire league. His total of 1,263 pitches thrown in game action was second-most by any NL reliever in any role.

By any of these measures, it was far from a dominating year for the 24-year-old, who was called into action in a team-high 72 games. That includes pitching on four consecutive days during May and three consecutive days three other times – twice in June and again in July. Rosenthal was also asked to throw more than one inning four times – all in the first half.

Perhaps most frustrating was Rosenthal’s struggles retiring his first batter faced (just over 40 percent reached base), partially fueled by an alarming walk rate of 5.4 batters per nine innings. The latter was up dramatically, in fact over double his 2012 and 2013 rate of 2.5 with St. Louis. It rarely seemed easy as Rosenthal averaged over 17.5 pitches per appearance during the course of the season.

Pat Neshek came to 2014 spring camp as a non-roster invitee, yet it was the veteran setup man who went on to earn a National League all-star berth, not Rosenthal.

Even as the bases on balls increased to an alarming rate in August, 11 in 11 1/3 innings, manager Mike Matheny stuck with Rosenthal as his closer. Results in September were better, but Rosenthal was back to dodging bullets in the post-season, with a whopping 10 baserunners allowed in 3 2/3 innings. Two came around to score, including one in his pivotal NLCS Game 2 blown save against San Francisco, in what became St. Louis’ final home game of the year.

Though in recent years Rosenthal has expressed a desire to start games again, the current arrangement appears to be remaining in place for 2015. One must hope for more consistency – in usage and results – this coming season, however.

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

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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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8 Responses to “TCN Blog 2014 Top Story #17: Rosenthal’s Rocky Road”

  1. blingboy says:

    Closers don’t rebound after losing their mojo. We all know that. Nonetheless, the Cards will start 2015 hoping for a miracle. My feeling is that Rosie will not be the closer by the end of the season. Maybe not even by the All Star break. The questions are how much damage will be done by the time they throw in the towel, and what will be done about a replacement.

    I almost wish they would announce that Rosie will be a rotation candidate from report day, and start addressing the closer slot then. That will never happen, of course, and things will follow a predictable course. Worst case is Mo has to off load him to keep Mike from continuing to trot him out there to get his head handed to him.

    If Mike does any 1+ inning saves he should be shot. Then burned at the stake, then shot again. He needs to figure out how to not burn up the set up man too. I am afraid that calls for flexibility and the nimbleness of mind to react to what is happening and change direction on the fly. That, of course, is not going to happen.

    • JumboShrimp says:

      Mo needs to manage Mad Mike. This includes establishing some rules that Mike has to follow. One is no appearances for Rosenthal longer than one inning. Another can be no use in three successive games. The less Rosenthal is used, the better his control and the better his performance. Another rule could be obtaining a save per month from a reliever not named Rosenthal. Spread out the saves within the pen.
      Rosenthal is a great talent and he deserves sensible handling. This has to be imposed by the front office.
      Mad Mike’s job should be focused on PR and saying nice things about players. The front office needs to decide how players are used and tactics. Phone down personnel moves to the dugout for Mike to relay to the umps.

  2. Bw52 says:

    the only way to keep Matheny from mismanaging his players is to give him more players he likes so he has more choices.Some more low cost bullpen guys and more options for the bench and a better backup option for Molina.

  3. crdswmn says:

    I start from the premise that I don’t like bullpen “roles”. No “closer”, no “8th inning guy”, etc. You use your relievers according to their strengths and when in the game their strengths are best utilized. Best reliever should be used in highest leverage situations, even if that is in the 6th inning.

    My point of view is a minority one, however, so it isn’t going to be followed.

    You have a potentially no win situation with the Cardinals. There is a manager with limited experience who doesn’t seem to understand how to manage effectively and who stubbornly refuses to change. Then there is a general manager who won’t cross the manager/general manager line apparently for any reason. With those parameters, it seems we are doomed to 3 more years of mismanagement. Trying to make the roster Matheny proof has limited effectiveness when your manager can’t be trusted to make smart decisions.

    Personally, as far as Rosenthal is concerned, I don’t think he is a lost cause. His strikeout rate remained pretty consistent, it was the walks that killed him. Getting those under control would change the whole picture entirely. Utilizing him more effectively (which requires the rest of the bullpen to be used effectively) doesn’t seem to be something Matheny is capable of. Therefore, unless the manager/general manager dynamic changes from what it has been the last few seasons, I don’t see how 2015 is going to be any different than 2014.

    • Bw52 says:

      Matheny needs to be more flexible with his thinking.If Rosey falters will MM use Walden (a former AS closer) or ride Rosey to the ground? I hate the 12 man pitching staff because it limits the bench………….but I understand that 12 seems to be a growing trend.

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