Cardinals news from a Sabermetric point of view

Is righty relief really a concern?

During spring training, small samples combine with objectives that are different from the regular season to fabricate statistics that are often misleading. Compound that by looking at stats that themselves have a lot of noise built in and you might as well be getting travel advice from a psychic. Take for instance the notion that the right side of the bullpen has been questionable this spring. With the not-insignificant exceptions of Ryan Franklin and Blake Hawksworth, who between them have struck out only four of the 52 batters they’ve faced, Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs, the team’s main righthanded setup men, and Fernando Salas have been outstanding.

Of course, the naysayers about Boggs and Motte are looking only at their ERAs, which are 9.00 and 6.00, respectively. In spring, pitchers deal with all manner of abnormalities, such as wind or simply some inexperienced fielders behind them. Indeed, by our calculations, Boggs and Motte have been hard-bitten in the luck department, with unreasonably high BABIPs of .423 and .348. The point is that if you’re going to make judgments on spring stats, at least use some that the players have more control over, such as strikeout and walk rates. And in these, Motte, Boggs and Salas have excelled:

PA K/BB K/9
Boggs 36 3.00 11.57
Motte 29 4.00 6.00
Salas 30 9.00 11.05

What makes this concern du jour worse is that the pitcher whose name is being bandied about as an outside chance at making the big club, Adam Ottavino, features ERA eye candy (1.93) built on an unsustainably low BABIP of .161. And his walk rate (4.82) and K/BB rate (1.40) are unworthy of a reliever role.

To be sure, spring strikeout rates may also be difficult to rely on; we noted yesterday how Brad Penny’s preseason work seems to correlate poorly with his regular-season performance. But, taken with these so-called “peripheral” pitching stats, these pitchers’ ERAs should at least be considered iffy, too, rather than grim prophecy that the team needs to find some replacements for their bullpen. As for Boggs and Motte, they appear to be just fine, if not in good shape for the season.

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