Something is wrong with Edward Mujica, and it needs to be corrected if the St. Louis Cardinals plan on making a deep run in the playoffs. Sure, Mujica successfully nailed down last night’s save to give the Cardinals a two-game lead in the Central, but he did not do it very convincingly.
After a lead-off single, sac bunt, fly out, intentional walk, infield single, Mujica found himself with the bases loaded and the winning run on second base. Thankfully, he was able to blow a 94.5 MPH fastball by the slowed bat of Todd Helton for the third out.
— stlCupofJoe (@stlCupofJoe) September 19, 2013
This is an alarming statistic for a pitcher who has a WHIP of 0.89 on the season. I realize that Mujica’s main pitch is his devastating splitter, and it is tailored towards contact. Averages show that all “contact pitchers” eventually have to allow hits, but don’t forget that this pitch has a 19.5 whiff percentage in 2013 and has helped him record 45 strikeouts in just under 63 innings. Thus, he’s really not a pure “contact pitcher,” he just does not get nearly as many strikeouts as pitchers like Trevor Rosenthal or Aroldis Chapman.
I decided to break down these five outings (two hits allowed per outing) further to see if I could spot anything of note. In each of the five outings, Mujica allowed the lead-off hitter to reach base via a double (vs. Pittsburgh), single (vs. Cincinnati), double (vs. Milwaukee), single (vs. Seattle), and single (vs. Colorado). Allowing the lead-off hitter to reach can spell disaster for a late-inning reliever, especially in one-run ballgames.
From April 13th through June 19th, Mujica had 26 appearances and recorded 21 straight saves. During that span, Mujica had 15 appearances (57.7%) in which he did not allow a single hit. For comparison and disregarding the one-out outing on September 6th, Mujica has not had a hit-less outing since August 26th–7 appearances ago.
Also during that span, he allowed the lead-off hitter to reach base only three times (11.5%) in 26 opportunities. As I stated above, Mujica has allowed the lead-off hitter to reach in five of his last six appearances–not a good
Trying to figure out what has been different, I took the time to graph each at-bat that resulted in hits against Mujica in these five troubling appearances, and a pixelated image of it is shown below:
If you look closely (probably not possible given the pixelation of the image), of the 10 hits he has allowed, seven of them have come against his splitter and three against his fastball. Only four of the hits have come on pitches near the middle of the strike zone–with two of them being the singles last night by the Rockies. I also noticed that he is still setting up his pitches well by changing the hitters’ eye levels on the pitches prior to the hits.
Thus, Mujica is still pitching well in my opinion–changing speeds, locating well, and changing hitters’ eye levels throughout the at-bats.
So what’s different, then?
Well, during that span in which he had 21 straight saves, Mujica’s splitter averaged 87.45 MPH and its average horizontal movement was 8.22 inches (tailing action). Over his last six outings, his splitter is averaging just 85.8 MPH and its horizontal movement has been averaging 7.28 inches.
In these appearances, his splitter is averaging 1.65 MPH slower and is tailing 0.94 inches less. This may not seem like much, but for a “contact pitcher,” this is a big deal. He relies on that extra bit of movement to lead to less solid contact from the hitter. Also, the slower speeds can lead to hitters being able to sit back and read the pitch’s break before taking their swings.
It’s a long season, and he has the second most innings pitched by a Cardinals reliever behind Rosenthal. The numbers above show that he is either tiring or has a lingering injury that is affecting his performance.
If the Cardinals want to make a legitimate run at their 12th World Series title, they need Mujica to return to the form he was in earlier this season. This may not be possible given the innings he has logged, but he at least needs to get closer than where he is at right now.
Allowing two hits per outing in the 9th inning of playoff games is simply not going to cut it. Thus, he either needs to get rest now or figure out if there is some mechanical flaw in his motion. Like I said earlier, he is still pitching well mentally and is locating his pitches, hitters are just being fooled like they were earlier in the season.
In short, if Mujica is unable to figure out what is going on, the Cardinals need to insert Rosenthal into the closer role. Mujica is one of my favorite Cardinals, but if he cannot figure out what is going on, the team needs to remove him from such a crucial role.
Until next time…
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- Mujica not worried about recent slump (stltoday.com)
- Mujica feeling fatigue (stltoday.com)
- Mujica is held out of action (stltoday.com)