The Cardinals announced a series of roster moves prior to today’s game, with righty Jordan Hicks being activated from the 15-day injured list. Lefty Matthew Liberatore was also recalled to take a spot on the active roster. To create room for those two hurlers, the Cards optioned righty Jake Woodford and designated righty Nick Wittgren for assignment. The club’s 40-man roster now sits at 39, though T.J. McFarland and Genesis Cabrera are currently on the COVID IL and will need roster spots when they are eligible to return.
Wittgren, 31, spent the first three years of his career with the Marlins and the next three with Cleveland. In that time, he established himself as a solid if unspectacular bullpen piece. At the end of the 2021 season, he had 271 1/3 innings under his belt with a 3.75 ERA, 23.5% strikeout rate, 6.7% walk rate and 39.9% ground ball rate. He had never posted an ERA above 5.00 until 2021, and even then, it was just 5.05. Cleveland could have controlled him for one more year via arbitration but decided to move on, after which he was scooped up by the Cards on a one-year deal for $1.2MM.
It’s been a difficult season to evaluate for Wittgren, with many of his stats differing from career norms. His strikeout rate has plummeted to 12.7%, barely half of his mark coming into the year. He’s allowed a .333 BABIP, well above his .292 career rate. However, his HR/FB is just 2.9%, well below the 12.4% rate of his career. All of that has resulted in a 5.90 ERA, though advanced metrics are divided as to whether that’s deserved or not. SIERA gives him a 4.73 with xFIP at 5.14, but xERA and FIP have him at 3.83 and 3.85, respectively. There’s some wide variance there, but all of those metrics feel he’s better than his ERA suggests. According to Statcast, Wittgren is in the 99th percentile in terms of barrel percentage and 78th percentile in terms of hard hit percentage. Any team that needs bullpen help and believes that Wittgren’s suppression of hard contract is sustainable could be interested in acquiring his services. The Cardinals will have a week to work out a trade or put him on waivers.
As for Hicks, he returns after just over a month on the IL due to a forearm strain. Though the Cardinals tinkered with adding him to the rotation earlier in the year, he seems ticketed for a return to the bullpen now. In his four rehab outings, he tossed five total innings, with all but one of those appearances being of the one-inning variety. Despite tantalizing stuff, Hicks has been limited by injuries in recent years. After throwing 77 2/3 innings in 2018, he’s thrown just 67 1/3 total frames in the four subsequent seasons.