When White Sox spring training officially begins next weekend, Job One is to make sure that 2013 never happens again.
Even though Mitchell Boggs just got here by signing a $1.1 million deal on Friday, he's going to be on the same page with his new teammates, because everybody hopes his 2014 will look a lot more like his 2012.
When Boggs is on, he slots right into the groundballing bullpen as a guy who throws a 95-96 mph sinker that does something like this:
And a slider that does this:
But his stuff flattened out last year, resulting in a lot of moments like this.
So ... wha' happened? As far as anybody can tell from the outside, Boggs had a real mess on his hands, so much so that it's difficult to tell symptoms from causes. So let's just call them four factors:
Boggs' collapse caught the Cardinals by surprise, because he was Mike Matheny's favorite toy the year before. He threw 73⅓ over 78 appearances, topping his previous highs of 67⅓ innings and 61 appearances, both in 2010. Then again, it's more like 81 innings over 87 games when you count his postseason workload.
Straying further from the routine, Boggs pitched for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. Then again, he didn't pitch much -- four outs over two games. He rejoined the Cardinals on March 16, hoping to throw more.
He could have been pitching through some health issues -- if not a true injury, then maybe fatigue. That would explain his ...
He lost 1-2 mph on his four-seamer and sinker, and all his pitches had diminished movement. It especially showed up with his breaking ball -- he struggled to throw his slider for strikes, and when he did find the zone, hitters didn't miss it nearly as often as they did before.
Velocity was also a problem with his slider, but in the other direction. He actually threw his slider about 1-2 mph harder than the year before, so hitters might have had an easier time timing it.
If he threw his breaking ball harder, his arm might be in OK shape. So maybe he struggled the most with...
Boggs began the season with a delivery that started with him almost turning his back to the batter. He has opened up since to help gain better command. He’s identified his slider as the culprit for the recent hiccups. The breaking ball that Matheny urged him to find a way to throw for a strike back in 2012’s spring training now is getting too much of the plate. The last four hits Boggs allowed came on breaking balls.
"That pitch has to be a better pitch," Boggs said.
The Cardinals demoted Boggs to Triple-A Memphis for mechanics repair at the beginning of May, and recalled him a few weeks later. That didn't work, and when the Cardinals traded him to Colorado, he started his Rockies career in Double-A Tulsa for the same reason.
How did Boggs' delivery get thrown off? He pointed to...
Boggs opened the season as the Cardinals' closer, and that's where he said he thinks his problems began.
"When I came into camp I was in a really good spot," said Boggs, who was the league-leader in holds and one of the best setup righties in the majors last season. "I felt good. I think when they moved me into the closer role after Jason (Motte) got hurt it was, for whatever reason, my mind-set changed to try and do more. When you get in that spot and you start struggling and you’re trying harder and harder, it’s just not a good recipe. It snowballed. That’s the only explanation I have.
"It was almost like grabbing for answers in the dark."
As he tried to get his delivery back on track, he dealt with one role change after another. First, it was a steady slide down the leverage ladder in the Cardinals' bullpen, followed by two demotion-callup cycles. During his second stint in Memphis, the Cardinals tried to stretch him out into a starter -- partially to get him more work, and partially to address a starter shortage in the upper minors. That didn't help, either.
Unless Boggs has a reset button, it sounds like an awful lot for Don Cooper to fix. At least he's got plenty of video from 2012 that he can review.
The Sox don't need Boggs to get all the way back, however. Given the timing of the signing and size of his contract, I'd guess they just hope he can buy some time for the high-minors righties. If everybody gets through the spring intact, only one of Daniel Webb, Jake Petricka and Andre Rienzo will break camp with the club. They'll probably all be needed at some point, but whichever pitchers start the year in Charlotte can still use the experience.
At $1.1 million, the worst-case scenario won't really harm anybody. It's pretty easy to tell the Good Boggs and the Bad Boggs apart in terms of stuff -- not just location or results -- so if he can't get back to his old self, the Sox can pull the plug quickly and start looking harder at their depth.