Edward Mujica was an All-Star for the first time in his career this season, and he was well deserving of the honor. The St. Louis Cardinals are 25 games over .500 right at 62-37, and a pretty big reason has been Mujica’s performance as closer. However, as weird as this may sound to some people, Mujica is not the answer for the Cardinals if they want to make a deep playoff run to the World Series.
Don’t get me wrong, Mujica’s statistics through 99 games have been nothing short of incredible for St. Louis. He is an NL-leading 30 for 32 (93.75%) on save opportunities, and he has appeared in 45 games out of the ‘pen.
In 44 and two-thirds innings pitched, he has 38 strikeouts and just two walks. His earned-run average is near the league lead for relief pitchers at 2.01. He is holding hitters to a stifling batting average of .198. Lastly, for the sabermetrics guys, his 2.76 SIERA is still in the “excellent” range.
However, for as good as Mujica has been this season, Trevor Rosenthal has been even better. Rosenthal has 23 holds compared to just two blown saves thus far this season. Like Mujica, he has also appeared in 45 games.
In 48 and one-third innings pitched, he has racked up 71 strikeouts to just 10 walks. His earned-run average rivals Mujica’s at 2.23. Batters are hitting just under .230 against him, which is slightly higher than Mujica. However, his SIERA is over one point better than Mujica’s at 1.71–4th best of pitchers who have pitched at least 40 innings this season. A SIERA as good as Rosenthal’s basically means that he is striking out a lot of hitters (71), walking very few (10), and if hitters do make contact, it is usually not very solid contact.
Also, he is highest among relievers with 71 strikeouts–just three above the 68 tallied by the almighty Reds’ closer, Aroldis Chapman. (Reds fans, if any of you are even reading this, I realize that Chapman has pitched in 8 less innings than Rosenthal so calm down.)
Mujica and Rosenthal have had fantastic seasons so far, and both would have been worthy All-Star selections. However, this is just the regular season, and even if the Cardinals stay hot and finish with the best record in baseball, they cannot take home their 12th World Series trophy without first making it all the way through the playoffs.
Well then … what are the biggest differences between regular season games and playoff games?
1. Increased pressure. (Duh!)
2. Fewer runs scored.
3. Cooler temperatures–leading to more defensive swings, less solid contact, and ultimately fewer runs scored (point #2).
Thus, one of the most important characteristics for a closer in the playoffs is his ability to make hitters swing and miss, and this is where Rosenthal clearly outperforms Mujica. Rosenthal strikes out just under 36% of the batters he faces, while Mujica strikes out just 22% of them. This point can be further accentuated by Rosenthal’s 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings compared to Mujica’s 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings.
According to PITCHf/x, hitters make contact 70.6% of the time they swing at a Rosenthal pitch, while they make contact 77.3% of the time they swing at pitch thrown by Mujica.
Rosenthal is giving up a home run every 18 innings compared to Mujica giving up one every nine innings. This can be a game-changer, especially in one-run save opportunities. One late-inning home run allowed can not only determine the outcome of one game, but it can also play a key role in deciding the series as a whole. Advantage: Rosenthal.
Critics have made a point in saying that the Cardinals’ defense is not as good as the fielding percentage may show. I have not had the time to analyze this much, but it is believed by many that the reason the team’s fielding percentage is so high is because the defense as a whole lacks range. If the defense lacks range, it gets to fewer balls, and by getting to fewer balls, it has less chances to make an error.
If proven to be true, this “lack of range” will probably be exposed in the playoffs and become a much bigger deal since runs come at a premium in October. Thus, this is just another reason why Rosenthal is the better choice for the Cardinals in the playoffs.
Mujica has done a great job as closer, and as long as he remains effective, I recommend the Cardinals to still use him till the beginning of September. The reason I say this is because Rosenthal is still a rookie, and I don’t want him to have too much stress put on his arm before the playoffs.
Sure, Rosenthal has pitched more innings than Mujica so far, but let’s be honest “closer innings” can be more stressful than “set-up man innings” at times. Now I am not undervaluing the set-up man role here, just saying that the stress of “closer innings” can add up, especially on a 23 year old rookie like Rosenthal.
The main reason I believe Rosenthal should take over in early September is so he can get comfortable in his new role and get whatever “growing pains” he faces out of the way by the start of the playoffs. This will also give the team ample time to evaluate Rosenthal and see if he is truly ready to take over as closer for the most important parts of the season–the stretch run and the playoffs.
A huge thank you to Mujica for what he has done and will continue to do in the closer role until September, but if the Cardinals want to get #12in13, it is in the team’s best interest to move Rosenthal into the closer role.
Until next time…
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- Bird Bytes: concern over Mujica? (stltoday.com)
- Rosenthal’s heater keeps the K’s coming (stltoday.com)
- The Year of Stan Musial: St. Louis Cardinals Get 6 All-Stars (stlcupofjoe.com)