Intrigued by this comment, I wanted to take a very brief look into the Cardinals relievers for the last three years. Given the aggressive nature that the organization handles prospects and the rapid nature at which you’d expect relievers to rise through an organization, 2007 would be the absolute earliest we could have any expectation of seeing Jeff Luhnow’s fingerprints on the major league pen.
Looking back to 2007, however, shows that no one who pitched in relief that year was an original signee or draftee under Luhnow. It wasn’t until the following year (3-ish years after Luhnow’s first draft) that those individuals would emerge to make a dent in the bullpen innings.
In 2008, relievers threw 499 innings for the Cardinals. Individuals signed or drafted by Luhnow since 2005 (this does not include minor league free agents) accounted for 11.1% of the innings. The breakdown looks like this:
Chris Perez, while sporting an tepid 4.33 FIP, made up a significant portion of that himself. Developing one “full-time” reliever for the bullpen goes a long way toward payroll relief.
In 2009, the Cardinals made little ground in absorbing innings via home Luhnow’s grown talent clocking in at 11.4%. Some players like Blake Hawksworth, Kyle McClellan and Jason Motte would continue to spend significant amounts of time in the pen with varying degrees of success but the players selected by Luhnow remained limited to AAA starters and Chris Perez.
Three of those players are no longer with the organization as Perez and Todd were traded for Mark DeRosa and Mortensen was moved to Oakland in the Matt Holliday deal.
It’s often difficult to project playing time with any degree of accuracy even a meager year into the future. It seems doubly difficult to try and do so for relievers. Heading into 2010, there’s no obvious Luhnow draftee that has a guaranteed role in the pen but there are several players who could wind up contributing:
- Pete Parise – We’ve discussed him recently here. An undrafted free agent who played CF before converting to the mound. His groundball tendencies would seem to lend itself to the Cardinals’ philosophy while his low ceiling would lend itself to some back and forth on highway 55 between St. Louis and Memphis.
- Fernando Salas – A control pitcher with a low 90s fastball and a good breaking ball, Salas was sidelined by a finger injury in 2009 but has the ability to be a nice addition to the back end of a pen.
- Eduardo Sanchez – The only other pure reliever heading into next season with a realistic shot at the big league pen. He features the best combination of stuff and command that the organization has seen in some time.
- Mitchell Boggs, PJ Walters, Jaime Garcia – They’ve all pitched out of the big league pen before and, for various reasons, seem unlikely to get a shot at the 5th starter’s spot in the rotation. Boggs’ fastball in particular would seem to lend itself to being a force out of the pen.
There are options available and lackluster appearances by Kyle McClellan or Blake Hawksworth could lead to more than one of the above getting a shot. Whether the 2009 pen will eclipse the 11% mark of the previous two years remains to be seen.
While this exercise was interesting, it doesn’t answer the initial question I had after reading the comment from VEB by fourstick. Lauding the Cardinals for their draft choices with regards to high octane arms is not unreasonable. Whether those pitchers, or any Luhnow combination of Luhnow products, have made a substantial contribution in relief relative to the rest of the league remains largely unanswered though.