THE REDBIRD REVIEW
On Wednesday night at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals showed us a replay of too many games we’ve watched this season. They reminded us of who they really are, and why it’s crazy to count on them.
Despite having leads of 6-3 and 7-5 over the Houston Astros, the Cardinals couldn’t put the visitors away.
This season when the other 29 MLB teams score exactly seven runs in a game, they’re 132-27 for a winning percentage of .830.
Ah, but when the Cardinals score exactly seven runs in a game, they’re 4-3 for a winning percentage of .571.
Predictably, it’s all about the pitching.
The starting pitching.
The relief pitching.
The incompetent construction of a pitching staff assembled by a complacent, haughty front office.
There’s the questionable managing by an increasingly smug manager who rarely if ever owns up to his poor decisions. Wednesday night Oli Marmol laughed at a reporter’s legitimate question about keeping reliever Giovanny Gallegos in the game during a disastrous eighth inning. Marmol, lacking in self awareness, doesn’t seem to realize that Cardinals fans are laughing at him.
There’s the largely inexperienced staff that includes first-year pitching coach Dusty Blake and his trusty iPad. Look, I frequently use Google to learn how to solve minor technical issues. I’m a klutz and I know it. But I don’t think Google can explain how to fix a pitcher, so Blake’s iPad is out of luck … and answers.
I know Marmol and Blake are at a disadvantage because of the front-office failure to improve the pitching staff last offseason. Not just the rotation – the bullpen too. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak flunked, leaving Marmol and Blake to turn poison ivy into tulips.
That said, the St. Louis pitching shouldn’t be as hideous as this, and it’s up to the brains in the dugout to find ways to make the best of what they’ve been given.
If you disagree with that, fine — and I don’t hesitate to blame the front office. But here’s a question: if Marmol and Blake aren’t part of the problem, then why are so many STL pitchers that remain from 2022 doing worse in 2023?
Here’s the list of Cards pitchers who have a higher ERA this season compared to last year: Miles Mikolas, Adam Wainwright, Jordan Montgomery (slightly), Jack Flaherty, Giovanny Gallegos, Ryan Helsley, Steven Matz, Andre Pallante, Genesis Cabrera, Chris Stratton, Jake Woodford and Zack Thompson.
The only pitchers with improved earned-run averages are Jordan Hicks, Matthew Liberatore and Drew VerHagen. But Hicks is the only true success story. Liberatore’s ERA is still too high (5.60), and VerHagen wasn’t healthy in 2022.
And Marmol’s bullpen management has turned shaky.
Using Gallegos for a second consecutive game – after he’d thrown 24 pitches in 1 and ⅓ innings on Tuesday – was asking for trouble. And from the outset of the eighth inning, you could tell right away that Gallegos had nothing. And there were warning signs in his profile that shouldn’t be ignored. More on that later.
Three-run homer by Jose Altuve.
Astros lead 8-7.
This would have been a sensible time to bring in another reliever … but no.
Two-run homer by Jose Abreu.
Astros 10, Cardinals 7.
At that point Marmol belatedly replaced Gallegos with Drew VerHagen. Too late, and the damage was severe. Using Gallegos is one thing; he’s been a helluva reliever for several seasons. But how can a manager fail to react when Gallegos has no steam and is clearly vulnerable?
The Astros were all over Gio. But Marmol did nothing. He watched. Just as he did nothing and watched Ryan Helsley implode and ruin a 2-0, ninth-inning lead in Game 1 of the NL wild-card game against the Phillies last fall.
Irony is, Marmol pushed back in the post-game media session, rejecting the idea that decisions should always be based on numbers. Instead, Oli suggested, a manager should also go with what he’s seeing.
Really? Marmol couldn’t see Helsley’s rapid disintegration against the Phillies? He couldn’t see Gallegos serving up meatball pitches to the Astros? Good grief. This is Mike Matheny stuff. The eye test? And this is coming from a manager who is supposedly fluent in analytics? If Marmol was using the eye test while monitoring Gallegos then he’d better get his eyes checked.
The Cardinals offense rescued starting pitcher Miles Mikolas after the Astros flogged him for three first-inning runs. The St. Louis hitters immediately responded by plating four runs in the bottom of the first. Gifted with a 6-3, Mikolas was pinned for two runs in the top of the sixth, and the Astros cut the lead to 6-5. Mikolas let his team down.
The late cave-in came after Andre Pallante and Chris Stratton held the Astros off until Gallegos entered the conflict. Boom. Boom.
The Cardinals had 17 blown saves in 162 games last season; this year they’ve barfed on 16 save opportunities in 79 games — tied for the most in MLB. Overall the Redbirds have squandered 25 leads, and have a 56 percent save percentage that’s 25th overall and worst in the NL.
This year St. Louis has lost nine times after taking a lead into the seventh inning; six times when holding a lead into the eighth; and five times when carrying a lead into the ninth.
On the front end of games, their starting pitchers have a first-inning ERA of 6.04, the sixth-worst in the majors. And their starting-pitching ERA during the first three innings is 5.04, the fourth-worst in the bigs.
Frequently bad during the early innings.
Frequently bad during the late innings.
Here’s a tidy metric that sums it all up. Do your pitchers enhance their team’s probability of winning? Or do your pitchers decrease the team’s probability of winning? This is covered via Win Probability Added, or WPA.
Cardinals pitchers are 28th in the majors this season in WPA. And they have the worst overall WPA in the National League.
St. Louis starters and relievers each rank 14th in WPA among the 15 NL teams. You won’t have much success when your pitchers reduce your odds of winning.
And I’ll close this section with this: The Cardinals’ pitching WPA is so awful this year, it would be their worst in the 28 seasons that Bill DeWitt Jr. and partners have owned the franchise.
Their 33-46 record is no mystery.
THE GALLEGOS FILE
I have immense respect for the work Gio has done as the team’s primary set-up reliever since 2019. From 2019 through 2022, Gallegos ranked 8th among major-league relievers in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and 12th in Win Probability Added. That’s excellent.
But in 2023 the warning signs are there … and they are flashing:
– In 2022, Gallegos struck out an average of 11.1 hitters per nine innings. This season he’s striking out 8.2 hitters per nine.
– Going into 2023, Gallegos had five consecutive seasons with a strikeout rate of 30 percent or higher. This season his strikeout rate is 22.5%.
– In his last 11 appearances Gallegos has a strikeout rate of only 18.75 percent with a 9.82 ERA.
– In his last four appearances Gallegos has faced 18 hitters and has one strikeout.
– Opponents have a sweet-spot contact rate of 41 percent against Gallegos this season; that’s the worst of his career.
– After getting tagged for a 37 percent hard-hit rate over the previous two seasons, his hard-hit rate against him in 2023 is an alarming 47.3%. That’s a huge increase.
– From 2018 through 2022, Gallegos never yielded a slugging percentage higher than .338. This year the slug against him is .483.
— Gallegos has endured an astronomical increase in the number of home runs he allows per nine innings. From 2019 through 2022, he gave up 0.9 homers per nine innings. This year Gallegos has been pounded for 2.0 homers per nine. In fact, he’s been strafed for five home runs in his last nine innings.
— As a Cardinal, Gallegos had never allowed more than one home run in a game through 2022. This season, opponents have hit two homers against him in a game three times – and they’ve done it twice this month.
– According to Statcast metrics, the value of his four-seam fastballs and sliders is down from last season. This year he’s allowed a .400 average, .500 slug and 51 percent hard-hit rate on the four-seamer. His strikeout rate when using the pitch is down 10% from last season. As for the slider: in 2022, opponents had a hard-hit rate of 24.6 percent against the pitch; this year that’s jumped to 44.7%.
— Last season opponents had a contact rate of 81 percent against Gallegos on pitches in the strike zone. This season that’s jumped to just under 86%.
There’s more, but you get the picture. Gallegos is not the same guy, and he appears to be tiring, and at some point you’d hope the manager would recognize that.
1. Despite winning six of their last nine games, the Cardinals are stuck at nine games behind the first-place Reds.
2. The Brewers beat the Mets 5-2 Wednesday with five relievers combining for five innings of scoreless, four-hit relief. This is a Brewer tradition: finding low-cost, high-value relievers that other teams pass on including St. Louis.
3. Why are the Brewers (42-38) and Reds (43-38) so much better than the 33-46 Cardinals? Well, here’s one prominent reason: The Milwaukee and Cincinnati bullpens rank first and second in the majors, respectively, in Win Probability Added. St. Louis is 25th in the majors in WPA.
4. Miles Mikolas ended June with a 6.07 ERA in five starts, getting clobbered for 40 hits in 29 innings while striking out only 12 hitters. In his 17 starts Mikolas has a first-inning ERA of 8.47.
5. St. Louis starters have a 4.95 ERA in June which is 27th in the majors. It’s their highest starting-pitching ERA in any month so far this season.
6. Brendan Donovan had another strong game Wednesday, going 2 for 4 with a walk and solo homer. In his last 16 games Donovan is batting .359 with a .446 OBP and .500 slug. He has two homers, three doubles, nine RBI and has scored 11 runs during his hot streak.
7. In seven combined at-bats against the Astros on Wednesday, Paul Goldschmidt teamed up for four hits and five RBI including ‘Nado’s three-run homer in the first. I hope Arenado’s back is OK.
8. Perhaps the heavy workload is catching up to Gallegos. Since the start of the 2019 season only three big-league relievers have pitched more innings than Gallegos.
9. Another problem for Gallegos: he’s struggling to wriggle out of trouble when pitching with men on base. This season, when he’s on the mound, 44% of the 39 runners on base have scored. This includes runners that he put on and is responsible for. The 44% is the highest of any St. Louis bullpen guy. This season opponents have four home runs and a .547 slug with men on base against Gallegos. And they have a .703 slug against him with runners in scoring position. Problem: a 17 percent strikeout rate with runners in scoring position. Last season Gallegos had a 35.6% strikeout rate with RISP.
10. Cardinal pitchers walked eight Astros and hit another, and three of the nine scored. Can’t be giving away runs, fellas.
Good luck to Adam Wainwright tonight as the Astros and Cardinals compete for the series win.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Sports Info Solutions, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.