St. Louis Cardinals: Looking At The Future Of Matt Bowman

St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Matt Bowman emerged as a reliable arm out of the bullpen during last season. The upcoming 2017 season will be the follow up to his successful rookie season.

Matthew Bowman, who is with the St. Louis Cardinals now, was originally drafted by the New York Mets in round 13 of the Amateur Draft in 2012. He made it to Triple-A with the Mets going 7-16 with a 5.53 in 2015. Despite that down season, the Cardinals selected the then 25-year old  in the Rule 5 draft last year. This meant that Bowman was required to be on the Cardinals MLB roster for the whole season.

In the 2016 season, Bowman broke out as a successful bullpen pitcher. He took on a similar role to what Cardinal fans were accustomed to seeing Seth Maness be used for. Both proved to be guys that can come in and produce ground balls. With more years of control and his successful season, Bowman looked like the stronger option for this role going forward. This resulted with the St. Louis Cardinals deciding not to tender the contract of Maness.

Last season Bowman ended with a 3.46 ERA in 67.2 innings while striking out 52. But those numbers don’t show the true value added by the righty. When a ball was hit off of him, 61.7 percent of the time they were ground balls which is exactly the type of production the Cardinals wanted.

The success of Bowman creating ground balls comes from smart use of his four pitches. His main ground ball pitch is his two-seam fastball. This pitch will come in at around 91 MPH and will move away from a left-handed hitter and into a right-handed hitter. He also features a slider that will has an average velocity of 86.6 MPH that moves more than the two-seamer with the opposite action.

He uses his four-seam fastball to set up these pitches while also creating outs with his change-up. However, the change-up was only thrown 14.5% of the time. The knock on Bowman is his relatively low velocity. His fastball doesn’t have the velocity of relievers like Trevor Rosenthal or starters like Carlos Martinez and the current game has a standard of a mid-90s fastball out of the pen.

Forbes contributor Marc Edelman recently wrote an article recently that uses Cubs pitcher and Harvard graduate Kyle Hendricks as an example of what smarts on the mound can do. He cites Bowman as another Ivy League graduate (Princeton) who can use their brain power to out-do what their physical tools may allow.

It takes more than smarts to be successful in the majors. It takes just as much skill. He needs to be able to command all four of his pitches and mix up the speeds in order to throw the hitters off. He only walked 20, which shows good control out of his young arm and the game calling experience of Yadier Molina helped Bowman too.

As a pitcher who throws for contact, his hits allowed will generally be higher than that of a strikeout pitcher. In the case of his rookie year, Bowman gave up 59 hits which resulted in a 1.16 WHIP.

Looking forward to his sophomore campaign, Bowman will be able to find more success if he can continue to develop his change-up into a pitch that can be thrown more often. Using his four pitches at a more even rate will give him more options to throw off opposing hitters’ timing. Considering the change-up is the biggest velocity change from his fastball, at an average 81.2 MPH, it will be an important pitch for him moving forward.

As is, Bowman is still a very reliable option to use out of the bullpen. He will undoubtedly be called upon to create an endless amount of ground balls in the middle to late innings of games as a bridge to the designated eighth and ninth inning guys.

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Entering his 26-year old season, the St. Louis Cardinals will have a solid young reliever to trust with the ball. Bowman becomes free agent eligible in 2022, which presents control of him for several years and which aided in the decision to non-tender Maness’s contract. The righty ground ball pitcher chosen by the club is expected to have another solid year in 2017.

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