Now that the 2013 season is mercifully over, we now have to wait only a few more days until the start of free agency. There are many obvious needs the Yankees have, and one of those needs includes the bullpen. About a month ago I suggested the Yankees turn to the free agent market to help improve the bullpen, and one name that comes to mind is Edward Mujica of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Mujica had a solid season in 2013, pitching to a 2.78 ERA and 3.71 FIP in 65 games out of the bullpen for the NL Champion Cardinals. In fact, 37 of those 65 appearances were saves, as he filled in for the injured Jason Motte and the ineffective Mitchell Boggs. It was smooth sailing for the first five months of the season for Mujica; he pitched to a 1.73 ERA, allowed a .538 OPS to opposing batters, and pitched to a ridiculous 14.3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He was looking like one of the better closers in the game, and, more importantly, was looking at a pretty nice payday this winter.
However, once September rolled around, Mujica's production dropped off in a huge way. From September 1 through the end of the season, the right-hander pitched to an ugly 11.05 ERA while allowing opposing batters to hit him to the tune of a 1.483 OPS (!!!) against in 10 outings. That OPS against is right about smack dab in the middle of Miguel Cabrera's 1.078 OPS in 2013 and David Ortiz's 1.878 OPS he posted in the World Series. Those are different samples of data, obviously, but the point is Mujica was that bad in the regular season's final month. It's worth noting, though, that Mujica pitched through a groin strain he suffered during his September collapse before ultimately losing his closer's job to Trevor Rosenthal late in the month.
Looking deeper in Mujica's numbers, it's pretty apparent that the guy flat-out throws strikes. In 2013 he posted a career-low 0.7 BB/9 and 73% of his total pitches were strikes, which is well above the league-average strike rate of 63%. Over the course of his career, Mujica has a 1.4 BB/9 and 69% strike-rate, which are both very impressive. Mujica doesn't mess around, he pounds the zone with regularity.
Mujica does have a career 7.2 K/9, which isn't bad, but it's a little underwhelming for a reliever. That 7.2 K/9 is also a few shades higher than his 6.4 K/9 he posted in 2013. What scares me a bit, even more so than his low strikeout rate, is his career 1.2 HR/9. Generally a 1.2 HR/9 isn't too bad, but a 1.2 HR/9 while primarily pitching his home games in Petco Park, Marlins Park, and Busch Stadium, is a little left to be desired, to put it mildly. His career road HR/9, which spans 197.2 innings, is a very Phil Hughesian 1.46.
Although Mujica certainly doesn't come without his negatives, I feel like this is someone the Yankees could target as potential closer insurance if David Robertson struggles/gets hurt. The "Veteran Closer Experience" thing gets thrown around a little too lightly, but I doubt the Yankees want to mess around in case the Robertson experiment goes awry. Even though he struggled mightily down the stretch, Mujica does have closer experience, and, if he doesn't sign elsewhere where he's guaranteed to close (which may very well happen, actually), I would not be surprised if the Yankees scooped up Mujica off the market to fill the need in the back-end of their bullpen.