The Cardinal Nation blog

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

TCN Blog 2015 Top Story #10: Rosenthal Steps Up

On one hand, Trevor Rosenthal is still a very young baseball player. Having turned 25 years of age in May, the right-handed relief pitcher is just becoming arbitration eligible for the first time this winter. That means he has three more seasons ahead with the St. Louis Cardinals before being able to test the free agent waters for the first time.

On the other hand, despite earning just one save as a minor leaguer, the Missouri native is already one of the team’s more experienced closers ever. His 96 career saves rank fifth all-time in franchise history, up from a tie for 12th the year before.

Ah, the year before. What a difference 12 months makes.

One year ago, Rosenthal was a target for fan criticism. During his first full-season as St. Louis’ primary ninth-inning man, he saved 45 games, just two off a share of the team’s single-season record.

Yet, observers knew all too well that a ride with Rosenthal in 2014 was often bumpy. Among the top half of National League closers, determined by the eight with the most saves, he had posted the:

• Second-most hits allowed (one from a share of the most)
• 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 in 2014, Rosenthal’s six losses were tied for fifth-most, while his six blown saves were tied for sixth.

In 2015, however, Rosenthal was tough as nails, as he set the club’s single-season save record of 48. That total was second-highest in the National League. Rosenthal blew just three saves all season long, including only one between May 3rd and September 27th, for an overall success rate of 94 percent. That is up from 88 percent in 2014.

One key factor in his improved consistency and better results with his first batter faced (from under 60 percent retired in 2014 to 72 percent in 2015) appears to be a spring decision by the former starter to stop pitching out of the windup and go entirely from the stretch.

From May 5th through July 2nd, Rosenthal forged a 23 2/3 inning scoreless streak and had two long save streaks – of 18 straight appearances (from May 5th through July 9th) and 21 appearances (from July 17th through September 21st). In the NL, the right-hander ranked in the top 10 in relief ERA (2.10) and strikeouts (83).

While much credit was given to St. Louis’ starters for their primary role in establishing a team ERA of 2.94 that was the lowest in all of Major League Baseball over the last 27 years, Rosenthal’s steady success cannot and should not be underestimated.

No longer is the Cardinals closer consistency an issue for anyone. Rosenthal has made sure of that.

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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15 Responses to “TCN Blog 2015 Top Story #10: Rosenthal Steps Up”

  1. crdswmn says:

    Unpopular opinion alert.

    Trade Rosenthal. I mean have you seen the hauls some of these closers are getting? I don’t believe in closers anyway, so get a nice return for him and let someone else pitch the 9th inning.

  2. Bw52 says:

    I believe in a closer.That being said I don`t believe going to your closer if another bullpen guy who is pitching very well is available over a struggling closer.To not use a usuable asset to win a game because of title or designation is stupid.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Agreed. Adhering to overly-rigid roles can lead to bad results.

      A related point is that many times, the most crucial situation in a game is in the seventh or eighth inning, not the ninth. Yet the supposed best reliever, the closer, is usually not used. Sometimes, managers are afraid to use their closer with men on base period. If the reliever is the best, he should be able to handle any situation, no matter how tough. Manage to win the game instead of managing to the save stat. This is a problem across the game, not specific to St. Louis.

      • blingboy says:

        Brian, you have pointed out in the past that those 7-8th innings pivotal moments often develop too quickly for the closer to get up and get warm, so the 7th-8th inning guy who is already up as a precaution gets the call. You can’t have your best guy popping up and down getting loose and sitting and back up again. I imagine that the role thing has developed as the most effective way to have suitable resources ready at the right time as often as possible.

        • Brian Walton says:

          Yes, but I submit there is not a one-size-fits-all answer for all 162 games. The closer can’t always be ready in the seventh or eighth, nor should he always be held for the ninth. In some cases, you can see how the game is evolving – eg. tired starter pitching into the eighth with a one-run lead and/or top and middle of lineup scheduled to hit – and make an educated guess your very best reliever might be most needed early.

          I firmly believe the existence of the save stat drives sub-optimal behavior by managers.

          • blingboy says:

            I agree that there is pressure on the manager to give his closer as many save ops as possible and that it causes less effective pen usage. I will have to think about how the daily educated guess thing would work out. It is possible that employment of roles and adherence to formulas is for the best these days, even though it seems to have played a part in the poor state of the team at the end. I say that earnestly and do not envision any change any time soon.

  3. WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

    TR begins the cycle of arbitration this year, with the Scott Boras war room threatening. Bill always avoids that when possible. If he starts high on the scale, which he will, that gets pretty expensive by the third year. Does Bill try to make a 3yr deal here? That is his style. Then he insures him well, drives him like a rental, and says goodbye. What iiisssss it going to be?

    • blingboy says:

      All top closers get driven like rentals, including Rosenthal these last 2 years. That’s what they get paid for.

      Since closers tend to flame out without warning, Boras will be wanting to lock in the big payday as soon as possible. Putting it off a year is a big risk. Mo knows that, of course.

      • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

        But he hasn’t been paid! Walden helped out? Bill will hold Tulev out becasue he is the replacement. Broxton will be whipped like a mule until he breaks down. He has the contract and the insurance that guarantee’s that. They never fully used their long men last year, starters going deeper. I can’t say that Bill looks to be building a winner here. A loser is much more profitable in 2016 than not. Parity, Cubs, and riots in Ferguson look to be on the menu.

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