Tony La Russa overused his fair share of relievers. It's weird to say so, since his most lasting fame will come from carving every pitching role into tiny slices, but if you look at the Cardinals who've made the most relief appearances since 1996 you'll find a lot of weird seasons to half-remember from his tenure.
Early on you'll find a ton of long relievers, a role modern bullpens have largely La Russa'd out of existence—Manny Aybar threw 97 innings in 65 games, Mark Petkovsek 96 in 55, John Frascatore 95 in 69, all before 2000. In the middle years you'll see Steve Kline and Ray King.
All the way through you'll see guys getting leaned on like the Cardinals are leaning on Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez now. Here's every righty between 2000 and 2011 who threw at least 65 games for the Cardinals, organized by batters faced. I apologize for jarring all your Gene Stechschulte memories loose.
Now here's the Mike Matheny list, organized by batters faced.
Now here's the difference:
Mike Matheny plays favorites. In two full years as manager Matheny has qualified six players for this chart; La Russa had 20 in 12. This year Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal, and Pat Neshek (and Kevin Siegrist, from the left side) are on pace to qualify. #Mubogmot isn't just a great piece of Photoshop work, it's a usage pattern.
Tony La Russa loved old guys. It verges a little too much on the Gladwellian to laud Tony La Russa for his unwavering loyalty to baby boomers after 15 years of rolling our eyes at it, but look at that Tony La Russa list—Kyle McClellan, may he rest in peace, is the only guy on it under 25.
Ryan Franklin, Dave Veres, Braden Looper, Jason Isringhausen—in exchange for a steady job a year or two after they deserved to have one, Tony La Russa worked his aging relief pitchers like Boxer the Horse.
Trevor Rosenthal is on pace to throw 77 innings this year, and if he doesn't bring his walk rate down he's on pace to face 337 batters while doing it. For Carlos Martinez, who is 22 years old, those numbers are 85 and 348.
This isn't about portraying Tony La Russa as an enlightened young-arm conservationist; whether by luck or design he rarely had the chance to ruin a young arm, so it's hard to say what would have happened if Jimmy Journell or Blake Hawksworth had reached the major leagues with his faculties intact. Things hardly turned out well for Kyle McClellan.
This is what it's about: Mike Matheny has found himself in a terrible situation, one where his third most-dependable right-handed reliever is Pat Neshek and his fourth is nobody knows. And he's dealt with it by using Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez like they're Ryan Franklin.
Tony La Russa was a major league manager for 19 years before he showed up in St. Louis, and I'm sure he had learned a lot of hard lessons by then. I hope Mike Matheny learns fast.