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Hochman: Besides ‘lefty or righty’ strategy, Cards just need bullpen strikeouts. And Andrew Miller Ks. | National

Batted balls and base on balls. The best bullpens bypass them. In baseball today, relief pitching strikeout rates are at historic highs. The 2018 Milwaukee Brewers (at 10.38) had the highest strikeout per nine innings rate … in National League history.

The Cardinals? They were 12th of 15 in 2018 at 8.31 K/9.

The record Milwaukee broke had been set the previous year — the Dodgers set the mark in 2017 at 10.24. Of course, those two teams made playoff runs.

Much will be made in the coming days (weeks, months) about the likely signing of lefty Andrew Miller — and his ability against lefty hitters. But more simply, the Cards’ bullpen needs more strikeouts in general — and Andrew Miller, even at his worst, has a high strikeout rate. Last year, hampered by a trio of injuries, he was at 11.91. He only pitched 34 innings, but if the 11.91 K/9 qualified, it would’ve been 11th best in the American League. And again, that’s in a down season for Miller, who had a 4.24 ERA.

There are reasons for hesitation about the Miller signing. His velocity is down. He’s 33. He was injured last year. But he still found ways to strike batters out, even if other numbers fluctuated.

The Brett Cecil signing shouldn’t scare fans off the Andrew Miller signing. It’s for fewer years. Oh, and remember, they missed the playoffs the past three seasons. As John Mozeliak, president of baseball ops, said after the Paul Goldschmidt acquisition: “Simply, we realize the importance of 2019.” The likely Miller signing is maybe perceived as a gamble, but it’s definitely worth a shot.

More strikeout rate perspective

The World Series Champs of Boston were third in the AL at 9.62 (two playoff teams – New York and Houston – were above them in the rankings). Remember for comparison, the 2018 Cards were at 8.31.

In 2017, the NLCS teams were the top-two in K/9 with the Dodgers (10.24) and Cubs (9.98). The Cards were sixth a 8.98, just below the league average of 9.00.

The AL leaders were playoff-bound New York (10.92), a tick ahead of the playoff champs, World Series-winning Houston (10.91).

In 2016, the Cubs won the league and the World Series. They led the NL in K/9 with 9.92. The Dodgers lost to Chicago in the NLCS. They were third in K/9 at 9.65.

In the AL, four of the top-six teams in K/9 were playoff teams.

A look at K rate

Miller’s career strikeout percentage is 27.0. In his stellar 2017 it was 38.9. In his even-more-stellar 2016, it was 44.7.

Last season, it was still 29.2 in his 34 innings pitched.

Here’s the 2018 Cards’ bullpen strikeout rates of returning relievers:

As for total bullpen strikeouts … 

In 2018, two of the top three NL teams in relievers’ strikeouts were the two teams in the 2018 NLCS.

The Brewers finished second with 708 strikeouts, and the NL champion Dodgers finished third with 625. The Cards were 12th of 15 with 522.

In 2017, the top two teams in relievers’ strikeouts were the two teams in the NLCS – the Dodgers were first (637) and the Cubs were second (620).

One more tidbit

In 2018, the Cardinals’ bullpen had the lowest strikeout to walk ratio in the National League (1.91).

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