News broke Saturday that St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Motte has a mild elbow strain which will keep him off the mound for at least a week. Motte accounted for all 42 saves for St. Louis in 2012 after winning the job late in 2011. In ’11, Fernando Salas was the closer for the majority of the season but after a series of blown saves, it became a closer by committee.
While still under the management of Tony LaRussa, the hard-throwing Motte won the role and has held it ever since.
The talk right now is that Mitchell Boggs will handle the majority of the save opportunities. Boggs has four career saves — all in 2011 — and seven total blown saves through the past two seasons. However, Boggs was able to record 34 holds during 78 appearances in 2012.
Typically, you want a closer to be a swing and miss type of pitcher with excellent velocity on his fastball. Boggs is (roughly) a 7.0 K/9 pitcher and is more inclined to induce ground balls. While this isn’t a bad thing as defense isn’t much of an issue for the Cardinals, relievers like Trevor Rosenthal and Salas are closer to 9.0 K/9, which makes them more appealing as closers.
Though Salas is the only reliever in the bullpen that has any significant save experience save for Motte, that doesn’t make him the best option. Salas’ ERA has jumped just over two runs from 2011 to 2012, and his BB/9 rate was just over four last season. That combination is cause for concern if you decide to put the game in his hands for the ninth inning.
Rosenthal might make more sense given his pitching skill set; his fastball reaches 100 mph and his K/9 rate is a touch below 10. The move to closer might be too much of a mental adjustment since he’s already gone from preparing to become a potential starter to a reliever. Rosenthal will be in his first full season with the Cardinals and is too young to be jerked around (so to speak) — never mind he’s only pitched 22.2 innings in his career.
And don’t bother wondering aloud about available free agents.
Right now, there isn’t any reason to think that Motte’s injury will be anything more than a 15-day DL stint. Yet you can’t ignore that damage to ligaments, especially in the elbow, could turn into a serious problem. Boggs will do a serviceable job in Motte’s absence and giving him a save opportunity off from time to time makes plenty of sense.
However, as a long-term solution, Boggs might not be the best option. But, the Cardinals can cross that bridge when they come to it, as Motte could be fine within a few days.