When the trade deadline came and went without the St. Louis Cardinals making a move, fans were rightfully angry. After all, the team told the public all summer long they were chasing the Chicago Cubs, but didn't make any upgrades to help the cause. Well, it turns out a late upgrade to a beleaguered bullpen may prove dividends not only this year, but in 2018 as well.
Say hello to Juan Nicasio, the new flamethrower in town.
The 31 year old spent time with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies this year before finding himself in a September swap to St. Louis. For the worn down Cardinals bullpen, it was like a fresh tank of gas on a hot summer road trip.
With Trevor Rosenthal down and Seung Hwan Oh completely losing the ability to close late games, Nicasio's role was quickly defined with the Redbirds. On September 8th at Busch Stadium, Nicasio nailed shut a 4-1 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, collecting the final four outs and screaming like a banshee off the mound after the final pitch. He had found a new home.
The next night, Nicasio closed a 4-3 game against the Bucs, striking out two batters in the process. It is a role that is built for the six foot four, 255 pound righthander with gas fumes coming off his hand.
Nicasio only needed 13 pitches on Saturday to help the Cardinals complete a six run comeback and eliminate the division rival Milwaukee Brewers. He faced four batters, inducing a strikeout on the final hitter. He treats every save like a long climb up a hill, bursting with emotion immediately after the 27th out has been safely confined in his catcher's mitt.
How does he do it? Nicasio's four seam fastball is deadly, coming in hot around 95 miles per hour with movement and he mixes in a slider that lands at 88 mph to keep a hitter's feet on the ground. According to Brooks Baseball, when Nicasio fires a fastball, there's a 28 percent chance that the hitter is going to swing and miss. He can also finish a batter off. When he gets a hitter 0-2, the at bat has resulted in 238 career strikeouts and only 12 walks. Once he has a hitter 0-2, Nicasio has only given the hitter a .206 success rate with the bat and doesn't allow comebacks.
I know what you are thinking, and you aren't the only one: why haven't you heard about this guy before? The role of late inning igniter is a new one for the journeyman arm. Before this season, he made starts in every season, including 31 in 2013 with Colorado. He posted a 3.86 ERA in 2015 with the Los Angeles Dodgers and won 10 games last year with the Pirates, but never found true success in a rotation. Sometimes, a pitcher just needs to dial his abilities down to the role that best suits his skill set and also helps a team in need.
Nicasio's skills were made for the ninth inning. He throws hard, doesn't walk a lot of batters, and works fast. He doesn't take the ball and examine it like a clue. He gets it and throws it, as if a clock is ticking down on him and the game only has so much time to be won. He is a no-nonsense pitcher and the Cardinals need him next year.
Since Rosenthal is going under the knife for Tommy John surgery and Oh is heading out of town, the Cardinals will need some ninth inning bullets. According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the interest is mutual.
#cardinals have already made overtures to RP Nicasio about re-signing. Nicasio told agent, "Try and make a good deal. I want to stay here."— Derrick Goold (@dgoold) October 1, 2017
Nicasio isn't a perfect pitcher. Out of his nine appearances as a Cardinal, there has only been two clean innings. Nicasio has thrown over 20 pitches in five of those nine outings with the Cardinals. He allows the other team to paint a picture of home plate before he erases it with a series of heaters.
Sure, the Cardinals could make a play for a seasoned closer in the offseason, but there are too many other needs on this team to ignore the resurgence of Nicasio's career. After coming to the team in a time frame that wouldn't allow him to pitch in the postseason even if the Cardinals made it, it's a fitting match to allow the two sides to continue to do business.
Few writers know pitching better than former Viva El Birdos scribe Joe Schwarz-and even he is smitten with the new Cardinal pitcher.
Re-sign Juan Nicasio. That fastball is amazing.— stlCupofJoe (@stlCupofJoe) September 27, 2017
It's simple. The Cardinals have a need and Nicasio has an answer. He could easily continue to close for them next season, giving the team one less thing to worry about in what sets up to be an eventful offseason. Or he could return as a setup man should the team find a better answer in the ninth.
I don't think they will, nor should they. Nicasio has shown enough to warrant a full season look. The Cardinals should retain him and give him the ball in the ninth inning. He's proven that relieving suits his skill set, with his career average of ten strikeouts per nine innings in relief. Some things are indeed too good to be true, but Nicasio and the Cardinals won't know which until a full 162 game season is ordered.
It's true. September was a failure for the Cardinals, with the team being eliminated from playoff competition, by the rival Cubs no less. But they did find a diamond in the rough with Nicasio. A man who is capable of being more than a serviceable arm that can throw hard.
For Juan Nicasio and the St. Louis Cardinals, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.