Does anyone want to guess which Cardinal reliever leads the team in fWAR? Jordan Hicks, with his seemingly endless supply of blazing fastballs and wicked sliders? Nope. Bud Norris, with his solid 1st half performance and team-leading 28 saves? Guess again. Brett Cecil? What are you f&*king crazy? Nope. It’s John Brebbia, the same guy who has the 4th most innings of any Cardinal reliever so far this season.
And yet manager Mike Shildt, for some reason, does not appear to have much faith in the bearded righty. Fangraphs has a stat called gmLI which measures the leverage index of each reliever when they enter the game. The higher it is, the more the reliever is trusted in high-pressure situations. 1.00 is average. John Brebbia’s gmLI is 0.61. Dakota Hudson’s is 1.61. Daniel Ponce de Leon, who has been on the mound about once in the last 2 weeks, is at 0.87. Brett Cecil is 0.72. Matt Bowman’s gmLI (1.24) is twice as high as Brebbia’s. Among relievers who have been on the team for more than just one game, only Luke Weaver, whose performance has essentially led to his banishment from the Cardinals’ pitching staff, has a gmLI lower than Brebbia’s.
Last night as John Flaherty was loading the bases without allowing a hit in the 6th, and as Hudson was walking batters in, and as Hicks was walking the bases loaded in the 7th, I kept wondering over and over where in the hell Brebbia was. Some pointed out to me on Twitter that maybe he hadn’t entered the game yet because he had pitched an inning in Sunday’s game. It’s true that he did pitch Sunday – 1 inning only – and he pitched a meaningless inning in a 7-2 game. When he entered that game on Sunday the LI was 0.26. What, was Greg Garcia unavailable? Then, possibly because he pitched that inning Sunday, not only did Shildt select Hudson over Brebbia in a tough position against Monday last night, but even down only 1 in the 9th inning, Shildt turned to Mike Mayers – and then, when he failed, Dominic Leone – over Brebbia. Unsurprisingly, the 1-run deficit turned into a 2-run deficit and now the Cards are only a half game ahead of the Rockies in their race for the Wild Card.
What the heck is going on? Just to be clear, by nearly every measure Brebbia has been extremely good this season. His K-BB% of 22.5% is the best on the team – better than Hicks’, better than Flaherty’s, better than Mikolas’ and everyone else’s. He has a 30% K rate (Hudson, for example, is half that, at 15.1%) and a 7.5% BB rate, again half of Hudson’s 15.1%. So Hudson is trusted by Shildt far more than despite that fact that Hudson is HALF as likely to strike batters out and TWICE as likely to walk batters. Hudson’s K:BB ratio is 1:1. Brebbia’s is 4:1. Brebbia’s ERA of 3.35 is 15% better than average and his FIP of 2.95 is 27% better than average and is the lowest on the team.
Maybe Brebbia gives up too many homers, right? No, not really. It’s true that Hudson does have a fantastic GB% which does help him get outs when he’s not walking batters and because of that he is yet to give up a major-league home run. Brebbia, on the other hand, is more of a fly ball pitcher (when batters are actually able to put their bats on the ball) but still has a home run rate that is lower than Leone’s, Mayers’, Norris’, and Chasen Shreve’s. Chances are if Brebbia throws to as many batters over the course of a season as Hudson, he’ll give up more homers but I can’t help but think that he’ll make up for it by striking out so many more and walking so many fewer batters.
I decided to check out Baseball Savant to find out if maybe there was something in terms of Brebbia’s contact quality in comparison to the other relievers that might provide some clue as to why the team doesn’t trust him. I pretty much came up empty there as well. By expected wOBA, Brebbia is 1st on the team – better than Flaherty, Hicks, Mikolas, and every other Cardinal pitcher. By actual wOBA, Brebbia’s .287 mark is better than both Martinez and Norris. By average exit velocity, there are actually a couple of relievers (Martinez, Hudson, Shreve, Norris) who have Brebbia beat, but only slightly. Brebbia’s average exit velocity of 86.7 mph is a full 1 mph below the league average of 87.7. Aside from exit velocity, the only other area I could find where Hudson beats Brebbia is their wOBA against right-handed batters where Hudson’s is .197 and Brebbia’s is a still-very-good .245. Despite that distinction, Brebbia’s xwOBA against righties of .236 beats Hudson’s along with every other Cardinal reliever’s.
The fact that Brebbia’s expected wOBA is lower than his actual wOBA indicates that Brebbia, despite the excellent results this year, has actually been slightly unlucky on balls in play. Hudson, Leone, and Hicks, on the other hand appear to have been slightly fortunate since their wOBA’s are lower than expected.
Despite basically being a fastball-slider guy, Brebbia’s xwOBA against lefties is a solid .327, better than Hicks, Hudson, and most of the other pitchers in the Cardinals’ pen. He’s outstanding against righties – and has perhaps been unlucky where others like Tyson Ross and Hudson have been quite lucky – and a solid option against lefties.
Maybe despite the excellent actual and expected numbers, the team sees something in Brebbia’s spin rates that would indicate those numbers won’t hold up but that doesn’t appear to be the case either. The spin rate on Brebbia’s fastball is lower only than Ross’, Norris’, Shreve’s, and Gant’s and high spin rates tend to be associated with more strikeouts. His slider’s spin rate is better than everyone else’s except Norris and Ross who both have thrown less than 100 sliders all season.
In looking around at all the numbers, the only thing I could find on Fangraphs, Baseball Savant, or Baseball-Reference that might possibly scare Shildt or the powers-that-be are his numbers on 1 and 2 days’ rest from B-R. One 1 day’s rest, his OPS against is .862 and on 2 days’ rest, it’s .956. Still we’re only talking about a total of 97 PA’s all season long. It’s strange that he’s been most effective actually on 0 days’ rest (.448 OPS against). If the team was putting a lot of stock into these numbers, they’d have surely used him last night BECAUSE he had just pitched the previous day.
So let’s some up. He has one of the best ERA’s among the Cards’ relievers. He has one of the best FIP’s. He has one of the best wOBA’s. He has one of the best expected wOBA’s. His exit velocity is below league average. His strikeout rate is the best on the team and his walk rate is lower than most of the team’s pitchers. His K:BB ratio is 2nd only to Mikolas’ on the roster and is, obviously, the best of all the relievers. His average fastball velocity is higher than most of them. His slider and fastball have great spin rates. He does give up more fly balls and fewer ground balls than most of the team’s pitchers but he still manages to keep the ball in the yard better than most. And if batters don’t make contact due to all the K’s, it’s hard to hit home runs.
The bottom line is this: I don’t at all understand why Shildt (and maybe those in the front office) don’t trust Brebbia and are only inclined to use him in low-leverage situations. It’s pretty clear from all the obvious and not-so-obvious numbers that the team needs to have more faith in Brebbia, especially as there are reasons to have a little less faith in some of the others. Brebbia appears to be one of the team’s best relievers and needs to be someone the team relies on in situations like the ones they faced last night.
All the stats here come courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Savant, and Baseball-Reference.
Thanks to you all for reading.