Why Dominic Leone should be the Cardinals closer.

The struggles of the St. Louis bullpen were an obvious concern in 2018.  The lone highlight being the emergence of Jordan Hicks as a force in the 8th inning.  The Cardinals went into the offseason looking to add some depth to the bullpen and potentially a closer.  To this point the only impact piece that has been added is the versatile lefty Andrew Miller. Miller and Hicks will create a two way highlight reel of nasty pitches that will undoubtedly be a boost, but neither have performed as a closer in their careers for more than a few weeks. Another writer on this sight suggested John Brebbia, I too saw Brebbia as a potential closer going into 2019 but after digging into the numbers a different player stood out to me.  Someone that most of us have most likely forgot… Dominic Leone.

Let’s first work under the assumption that Miller and Hicks will most likely be middle to late inning relief.  Let’s also work under the assumption that the competition will be between Brebbia and Leone.  Brebbia’s career has taken off the last two seasons in the majors but he was actually drafted in 2011 by the New York Yankees while Leone was drafted by the Blue Jays in 2012.  Both have paid their dues in the minors to establish themselves of as more than effective relievers.  Both have great strikeout potential, Brebbia (10.66 K/9), Leone (9.75 K/9) in 2018.  Both have average fastball velocity of 95 MPH. Both have similar WHIP’s, BB/9 and so on and so on. 

Basically, they have very similar traits.  Leone was hampered by an injury in 2018, ironically his injury is one of the many reasons that Brebbia was recalled from Memphis during the season. A place that he should not have ever been, but that is an argument for a different day. Cardinals fans that will play recency bias will look at Leone’s start to 2018 and not see the real pitcher that Leone can be when healthy. In 2017 Leone excelled for the Toronto Blue Jays in the stacked American League East. In 70.1 innings, Leone held hitters to a .202 average and a skeletal .360 slugging percentage. He inherited the fourth-most runners in baseball, 54, and stranded 42 of them (a mark which put him among the very best in the American League).What stands out the most to me was his exceptional numbers against lefties, holding them to a slash line of .183/.261/.366.  Leone features a premier secondary pitch with his cutter which generates an extremely high number of swings and misses compared to other pitcher’s cutters. It is especially stingy against left handed hitters. His effectiveness against lefties is the reason he has the advantage over Brebbia whose line was not on the same level .250/.330/.455 in 2018.

Leone is not a standout closer with tons of experience but if given the chance in the backend he has shown to be effective against hitters from both sides of the plate. Going into spring training I believe all relievers will have a chance to close, assuming we don’t have another Greg Holland late signing type situation.  Leone has the velocity, secondary pitch and hopefully the opportunity. 

Who Can Close? Cards Free Agent Options

The St. Louis Cardinals entered the offseason with a few glaring holes.  The need that caught most fans attention is the lack of the middle of the order bat.  Cardinals management took an obsessive approach in filling that hole, eventually landing slugger Marcel Ozuna from the Marlins.  Cardinals fans have turned their complaints to a new place, the bullpen, more prominently the closer position.  Relievers have become a commodity in the MLB garnering contracts that just a few years ago would have been laughable.  If we assume that the Cardinals don’t use one of their current relievers as a closer what options are left on the open market?….and what will it cost?

With the biggest free agent reliever on the market signing 3year/52million dollar contract with the Colorado Rockies, many believe the market is set.  What direction should the Cardinals go in?  Let’s rank the options.

3. Tyler Clippard, 32, Career Saves 61

Tyler Clippard is coming off of arguably his worst season in the major leagues, most probably don’t even realize he was actually on the World Series Champion Astros roster at the close of the MLB season.

Clippard is not your prototypical closer, he doesn’t throw 100 every pitch he relies on deception, movement and a plus changeup in order to get outs.  Clippard has performed well as a closer, 2012 with the Nationals Clippard posted 32 saves for a team that walked into the playoffs. While Clippard has not been able to repeat those numbers he does bring an intriguing element to his game, he is a fly ball pitchers.  50% of Clippard outs are recorded through the air.  The Cardinals have one of the most athletic outfields in baseball entering the 2018 season.  With the addition of gold glover Marcell Ozuna in the outfield and the further development of Tommy Pham to center field Clippard can have more confidence in pounding the strike zone.  The spacious Busch Stadium outfield can also give Clippard the confidence to pound the strike zone.

While Clippard isn’t the sexy pick for closer, his veteran presence can be a nice stop gap to help young relievers like John Brebbia and Tyler Lyons develop more confidence to one day take the job.

 

2. Greg Holland, 32, Career Save 189

Greg Holland is going to be a closer somewhere in 2018. Holland established himself as a true star pitching in the confines of Coors Field finishing the season with an astounding 41 saves.

Holland’s negatives are the fact their is a health risk.  Missing the entire 2016 season and parts of the 2017 really hurt Holland’s value leading into 2018 free agency.  His experience and ability are unquestionable, but the injury risk and high cost that Holland will command may turn off the Cardinals.  Their is also the lingering question of why Holland’s former team would decide to shell out the money to Wade Davis when they have the connection to Holland.

Statistics are always in Hollands favor but the fact that he sits atop of the current available reliever pull could demand multiple years and a lot of money.  While the Cardinals have stated that money is not a problem a projected $15million a year for a guy with a recent injury history could be to much of a gamble for an organization that tends to be cautious in these situations.

1. Addison Reed, 28, Career Saves 125

Addison Reed entered the 2018 free agent market as an after thought as his Reed role changed mid-way through the season after being dealt to the Boston Red Sox.  Before he was Craig Kimbrel’s setup man, Addison Reed was recording saves for a pretty pathetic Mets team. One of the best things about Reed is his low walk rate. His career walk rate is 2.3 per nine innings, and over the last two years it’s even better, 1.6 per nine innings, to go along with a 9.8 per nine strikeout rate. His WHIP of 0.996 over the last two seasons (total of 153⅔ innings over 157 appearances) is outstanding.

Reed will enter 2018 in his age 28 season with very little recent injury history.  A pitcher in his prime playing for a contending team is the right mixture to equal success for the Cardinals and Addison Reed.  The Cardinals can get a quality reliever that is ready to close now for $8million per season. Picking up Reed could be the move that solidifies the Redbirds bullpen for years to come at an extremely affordable rate.

 

Honorable Mention:

Huston Street: Career Saves 304

Too old and to Injury prone.  Worth a look if its cheap.