In the latest in a League-wide series, we will look at one reliever who outperformed expectations and one who failed to live up to them, along with some honorable mentions. Here are your Bullpen Breakout and Washout performances from the National League Central.
It’s basically a given at this point in time that the St. Louis Cardinals are able to pluck hugely valuable contributors from a seemingly neverending supply of nondescript minor leaguers. It’s a well documented and incredibly successful strategy that goes from the top to the bottom of the organization and I will not restate that point here any further than I already have. Trevor Rosenthal in 2013 established himself as another feather in the cap of GM John Mozeliak and co. in that regard; a 21st round pick out of a Kansas community college, Fangraphs had Rosenthal as the Cardinals 6th best prospect going into 2013 and considering the names ahead of him, that feels about right. Rosenthal made a brief 2012 cameo, posting strong numbers over 22.2 innings, but broke out in a huge way in 2013. The 6’2″, 220lb right-hander struck out almost 13 batters per nine innings for the fifth best mark in the majors. He paired it with excellent control only walking 2.39, the third lowest of the top-10 strikeout pitchers, trailing only Koji Uehara and Kenley Jansen and their brilliant seasons. His combination of groundballs, velocity and a crazy-whiffable slider is basically the prototype for an elite closer, and his superior command gives him a chance to be something truly special. Rosenthal’s 75 brilliant innings did not go unnoticed (they never do with the Cards, it seems) and he ended the year carrying the closer’s mantle into the playoffs and eventually the World Series after the Cardinals wrung the closer page of their depth chart through the first half. Rosenthal figures to be a fixture at the back of St. Louis’ bullpen for years to come, or until six more autonomous pitching machines rise through the ranks and force them to trade him for even more superior talent.
Due to injuries to Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs entered 2013 as the Cardinals’ closer after a 2012 in which he danced between the raindrops toward a career year. He appeared in 18 games for the Cards, going only 14.2 innings and managing to cost his team -0.8 fWAR, an incredible achievement in and of itself. He struck out only 6.75 batters per nine innings but that doesn’t cost your team nearly a win in only 15 innings of work, to do that you need to do something really noteworthy. Walking over a batter an inning will do it, though, and Boggs proved it when the Cards flipped him for Cash to the Royals, who saw only 8 innings from the grisly looking righty and then went on to non-tender him at the end of the year, making him an eminently available free agent. I’m guessing he’ll sign a minor league deal
(-) In the first year of his three year, $21 million dollar contract (albeit the cheaper year since it’s frontloaded) forearm strains limited Jonathan Broxton to 30.2 ineffective innings in 2013. He’s failed to recover his strikeout rate since it fell off a cliff in 2011, and he posted a mildly impressive -0.4 fWAR in his limited action.
(+/-) The Curious Case of John Axford. Axford put up the sixth lowest fWAR amongst qualified NL relievers with a -0.5, in spite of striking out exactly a batter per inning and walking a pretty average amount of them at 3.6 BB/9. The Indians clearly took a look at his .339 BABIP in 2013 and hoped for a rebound to his career norms as well as crossing their fingers for a return to the kind of HR/FB rates he posted prior to his 2012 implosion.