When it was announced that the St. Louis Cardinals had traded third base prospect Zack Cox to the Miami Marlins for reliever Edward Mujica, it was at best a head scratcher. Now he is quickly becoming another deal where Cardinals GM John Mozeliak saw a diamond in the rough.
Prior to coming to the Cardinals, Mujica was a home run machine–well, those batting against him were at least. He had quality pitches and put together a sub-3.00 ERA in Miami, but was susceptible to the long ball.
For instance, during his two-year stint with the San Diego Padres (where he pitched in one of the largest ballparks in the MLB), he had consecutive 14 home run seasons. Those are hefty numbers for a reliever.
When Mozeliak went after Mujica, he was looking to fill a very specific need: a seventh-inning specialist. A quick glance at his numbers show what the front office saw in Mujica.
They saw a solution.
Once he arrived in St. Louis, the Cardinals put him in a position to succeed. The seventh inning was his home, and with good reason. In 110 career appearances in the seventh inning, Mujica boasts a 1.88 ERA and has given up only 32 runs against 320 batters with a 6.91 SO/BB rate.
Without Mujica, the chances of the Cardinals making it to the postseason, let alone the NLCS, are slim at best.
Now, the Cardinals see Mujica as a potential solution to another problem.
In the absence of closer Jason Motte, the Cardinals have been looking for a closer to step forward. Mitchell Boggs had his shot, but after two blown saves in four opportunities and 12 earned in 8.2 innings, his chance has passed.
Boggs was highly successful as an eighth-inning setup man in 2012, but that didn’t translate well into the closer role. Opposing batters are hitting .351 off of Boggs in his 10 appearances this season. When compared to the .211 average he held batters to over 78 games in 2012, the contrast makes it difficult to argue against moving him away from the ninth.
Boggs is a quality reliever, but his rough start to 2013 has cost the Cardinals three wins so far. In the tighter than ever NL Central, three wins will likely be larger than the margin between first and second place in late September.
Enter Edward Mujica.
In his 3.2 innings as a closer, Mujica has surrendered two hits and no runs. He’s 2-for-2 in save opportunities and had a solid 10-pitch ninth against the Washington Nationals on Monday to close out a one-run game.
He seems to be well composed on the mound in the ninth inning and has yet to be seriously shaken, showing great command of his four-seam fastball and his splitter.
His splitter, the only other pitch he’s thrown in 2013, has been reserved mostly for getting the count back into his favor when the batter is ahead, according to Brooks Baseball.
Coincidentally, it seems to be working since he’s drawing called strikes on it a full 50-percent of the time.
Regardless of what he’s throwing, they all look nasty and seem to be keeping batters on their toes.
Whether his newfound home in the ninth inning is short-term is entirely up to Mujica.
If he owns it like he has so far, the job will be his.
Of course, the rest of the bullpen has to get him into save situations. While they have struggled early on, if Mujica hangs onto his new role it should give the other arms a better idea of their own day-to-day roles with the club.
The Cardinals need someone to steady the ship and right now Mujica is getting things done.