Edward Mujica doesn’t have a fastball in the upper 90s. He doesn’t have a knee-buckling slider, and his most used pitch is a splitter that reaches 89 mph on his best day.
He’s a closer without a traditional closer’s repertoire — and none of that matters because he happens to be one of the best in the league in spite of it.
If there is a current argument in the bigs against teams needing to have a high-strikeout fireballer in the ninth, the St. Louis Cardinals have found it. Since taking over for the struggling Mitchell Boggs as the replacement for the injured Jason Motte, Mujica has been absolutely brilliant, converting all 13 of his save opportunities with barely a blemish on his record.
Including his latest 1-2-3 performance to earn the handshake on Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers, the right-hander has been perfect in 12 of his 19 outings on the year, and six in his last seven.
No, Mujica doesn’t strike out batters at a double digit rate despite a career-high 14.9 percent swinging strikes rate, but that scarcely matters when he never walks batters. In fact, the 29-year-old has handed out just one free pass all year, good for a 0.47 BB/9 and giving him a rather ridiculous 18 K/BB that ranks fourth in the bigs today. Oh, and because he’s been incredibly tough to hit (.136 BAA), his .0.53 WHIP is second in the league as well.
Okay, so it’s not as though the guy can’t buy a strikeout or anything (8.53 K/9), but that’s simply not been his calling card.
Rather, his impressive numbers can be primarily attributed to a couple of things — he generates relatively weak contact (10.4 percent line drive rate) when batters do get some wood on his offerings, thus partially explaining his .152 BABIP, and he also get a whole lot of help from the baseball gods (97.2 percent strand rate) … also explaining his BABIP.
In short, what the Cardinals have right now is someone who is good enough to be lucky, and who is showing uncanny command of the baseball to put him in that situation. It’s not likely that he’ll be able to strand almost all of his runners all season, but with the way things are going these days, Mujica simply isn’t going to be giving up many runners to strand anytime soon.