Pitchers and their roles with the organization

by on June 23, 2008 · 2 comments

If you read this site with any regularity, you know that I’ve fairly staunchly defended Mike Parisi and his performance up until yesterday. He performed well enough as a reliever prior to yesterday’s loss that he had really, in my opinion, earned the right to be with the big-league club in the long relief role.

I still to some extent believe that, and here’s why. Parisi seems to have fallen into the unenviable role of being what I call Brad Thompson-ed by the organization. What I mean by that is, they expect the guy to yo-yo from relieving to starting and back again. The problem I see with that is prior to his Major League debut, Parisi had never pitched in relief. That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be a reliever, obviously many pitchers far better than Parisi have made the transition from starter to reliever with great success. The problem is that they brought Parisi north to be a reliever, yet when the time came to plug a hole in the rotation, they tell Parisi that he must make a start. Two poor starts later, and the kid “sucks”, if you listen to the Cardinal fan-dom. So he’s sent down, and is a starter at Memphis. Two outstanding starts at Memphis later, he is called back to St Louis – as a reliever.

To me, it was no surprise that he would struggle to succeed upon entering yesterday’s game. It’s not that Parisi doesn’t want to, or can’t, pitch as a reliever as he indicated in a Q&A with Viva El Birdos:

if a bullpen role got you to the majors more quickly, would you be open to that?
absolutely. when i was in college i pitched a little bit out of the bullpen, and my arm can bounce back pretty quick. so i’m open for anything.

I’m just not sure Parisi can flip back and forth between the roles real easily.

Thompson seems to be able to handle the “yo-yo” role, or at least is comfortable with it. I’m not sure every other pitcher in the league has such ability. I know, I know – they’re professionals, this is what they get paid to do – suck it up and pitch, I don’t care about the mental preparation or strain. But as Cardinal fans are all too familiar, the mental part of the game can really affect pitchers (read: Rick Ankiel, Jason Isringhausen, Randy Flores).

Now, before you think I’m just angling for Parisi again – this goes for the entire bullpen. Ryan Franklin, despite his relative success in the closer role (he’s only blown one save opportunity since taking over for Izzy after May 15th), has posted a 4.30 ERA in the closer’s role, versus the 1.80 he carried as the primary setup man for Isringhausen. I realize that move was made necessary by Izzy’s breakdown, but that could be reversing itself soon following Isringhausen’s successful outings in Boston.

Ron Villone is not suited for the long-relief role he quasi-assumed when Parisi was made a starter (May 27th was Parisi’s last relief appearance) and subsequently demoted. Since Parisi was first called upon to start, Villone has posted a 9.35 ERA.

Flores is just, well, he’s not right. Not much else to say about that, the guy has imploded and can’t find his way out.

Now there’s continuing talk swirling around of Kyle McClellan getting a start if necessary? Are you kidding me? Whether it’s this season in emergency, or trying to convert him to full-time starting next season, a la Adam Wainwright, I think that would be a monumental mistake. For a guy who hasn’t been a regular starter since two elbow surgeries (2005 and 2006) put his career on a different path to the majors, why would the Cardinals now decide he should go back to starting? Doesn’t the organization already have a wealth of starting pitching, both in the majors and throughout AAA Memphis and AA Springfield? What they need are reliable bullpen arms instead of going through the retread bin every season looking for some other late-30s rubber-arm to throw in there in the 6th and 7th innings. KMac has been nails this season as the most-called-upon arm out of a battered bullpen, and as a rookie to boot. Waino was a starter before he was forced into duty as the closer in 2006, and he had success because they LEFT HIM THERE. You didn’t see Wainwright being forced into starts because of rotation injuries that season, right?

Prior to the 2008 season, Cardinal pitchers were shuttled around like pawns in Tony and Dunc’s game of chess to fit organizational holes. That’s how we wound up with Braden Looper and Todd Wellemeyer in the rotation. Not coincidentally, at least in my opinion, that’s also how both of those guys wound up with fatigue and injuries once they reached the breaking point of previous career highs in innings pitched. They have been successful by most accounts, but I would still regard those as exceptions, not the norm.

Now the organization has depth. We have guys like Mitchell Boggs, Jaime Garcia, Jess Todd, Jason Motte, Mark Worrell, and the youngsters already up with the Cards like McClellan, Chris Perez (he’ll be fine), and yes, Parisi too. Hell, I’m still not convinced we’ve seen the last of Anthony Reyes.

Get a reliable left-handed reliever, fine. But beyond that, let these kids pitch where they fit best, and leave them there.

And for goodness sakes, don’t make McClellan start.

Writing about the Cardinals and other loosely associated topics since 2008, I've grown tired of the April run-out only to disappoint Cardinal fans everywhere by mid-May. I do not believe in surrendering free outs.
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Double A June 24, 2008

Good assessment…Parisi seems to be falling into that AAAA player…and I’m not sure the Cards would have the patience if he wasn’t a farm-grown selection. They should probably have let him run his hot streak out at Memphis…get him a month or three of confidence built up…and focused on the disaster that is our LHP in the bullpen. That situation will probably only be solved with a trade. While Flores is salvagable (IMO), Villone should not be a major league reliever at this point. If I have to watch one more tailing outside fastball to RH-ed hitters, I’m going to puke.

PHE June 24, 2008

Yeah, based upon his success in Memphis after the disastrous starts with the big club – I still think he could be a serviceable 5th starter. But I also think he has the mental makeup that is going to require that he know his role and be able to settle into it with a good amount of time and confidence.

I think some of these callups might be a parade of potential trade bait to get either a LHRP or 2B, or both. Hey, one can dream…

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