Posts Tagged ‘Greg Holland’

The relief pitcher game is a varied and tough world. From overpowering closers, to strategically placed match up artists, to the jacks of all trades that get the tough outs whenever they come up, there are all sorts of impacts that are requested out of the modern day bullpen.

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With all of those elements considered, 2014 was a year where it seemed that the redefinition of a true impact arm out of the pen took a further step in a new direction. Gone are the days when a big save total and a flashy one-inning arm alone makes for the cream of the relief crop. Now the seventh and eighth innings are arguably just as important and are also manned by some of the most dominant relievers in the game as well. In order to make an elite bullpen today, it takes at the minimum of what could be considered two closer caliber arms. The old adage of an elite reliever making it an “eight inning game” is getting earlier and earlier.

And with that, here are the best in the world at bringing a game to screeching halt today—regardless of when the cease fire may be needed.

 

1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves (#1 in 2014): He is the easy answer to a comprehensive question. No closer has been more efficiently dominant than Kimbrel has been since he debuted four years ago. In 2014 he kept to his usual ways, which included taking at least a share of the National League saves lead for the fourth straight year with 47, and posting a sub-2.00 ERA while holding batters to an average against beneath .200 (1.61 and .142, respectively) yet again.

2-year average: 1.40 ERA, 0.894 WHIP, 48 Saves, 57 Games Finished, 13.5 K’s per nine, .142 avg. against

2. Greg Holland, Royals (#5 in ’14): The final nail among KC’s deadly bullpen toolbox is Holland, who affirmed the fact that he is among the game’s most dominant mound presences a year ago. He nearly replicated his outstanding 2013 performance, finishing in the top 3 in the American League in saves and games finished, while limiting opponents to a .170 average against him.

2-year average: 1.32 ERA, 0.889 WHIP, 46 saves, 60 games finished, 13.4 K’s per nine, .170 avg. against

3. Aroldis Chapman, Reds (#2 in ’14): The game’s most overpowering presence issued over 400 pitches that were at least 100 miles per hour a year ago. He rode this regular abuse of power to a stunning 106 strikeouts in just 54 innings, a rate that would play out to 17.7 per nine innings. Over the course, he set a MLB-record for consecutive appearance with a K, at 49 and struck out 52% of his total batters faced.

2-year average: 2.29 ERA, 0.943 WHIP, 37 saves, 50 games finished, 16.7 K’s per nine, .121 avg. against

4. Wade Davis, Royals (Not Ranked): Dominance was not in short supply out of the Royals pen a year ago. Davis was the second stage of hell in the Royals pen, between Kelvin Herrera and Holland, and was arguably the toughest part of the equation. He allowed just eight earned runs over 72 innings in 2014, while striking out 109 and allowing only 64 base runners.

2-year (in relief) average: 0.98 ERA, 0.829 WHIP, 3 saves, 13 games finished, 9 K’s per nine, .151 avg. against

5. Dellin Betances, Yankees (Not Ranked): During his rookie year, he simmered behind closer David Robertson despite being the clear best arm in the Yankee pen, but now the slow burn is nearly done. Betances is still not the sole owner of the Yank’s ninth inning duties –the newly signed Andrew Miller is in the mix as well – but his 2014 effort (135 strikeouts in 90 innings, a 1.40 ERA) proved that he has the type of stuff that makes an easy translation into the role with Joe Girardi is ready.

2-year average: 1.89 ERA, 0.853 WHIP, 1 save, 6 games finished, 13.7 K’s per nine, .149 avg. against

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6. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers (#6 in ’14): He got off to a slow start with the rest of the Dodgers’ pen, but he turned back into the standard shutdown machine he is beginning to regularly be in the second half. Jansen ran up 101 strikeouts against only 19 walks on the year, in route to a career-best 44 saves and solidifying himself as one of the preeminent power arms in the game.

2-year average: 2.28 ERA, 0.976 WHIP, 36 saves, 51 games finished, 13.4 K’s per nine, .224 avg. against

7. Sean Doolittle, Athletics (Not Ranked): It is tough to beat what you simply cannot reach base against, and regardless of whether he was a situational arm, setup man or closer –all roles he worked in last year— Doolittle was epically stingy. He held batters to a .169 average against him, while walking only eight batters over 62 innings and striking out 89. He followed a 30 game run without issuing a walk by seamlessly sliding into the closer role, converting 22-of-26 situations.

2-year average: 2.94 ERA, 0.851 WHIP, 12 saves, 26 games finished, 10.2 K’s per nine, .169 avg. against

8. Koji Uehara, Red Sox (#3 in ’14): He was bound to come back to Earth some after his once-in-a-lifetime 2013, but Uehara was still his usual very efficient self a year later. He used his pinpoint control and confounding change-up to convert 26 saves and keep a 10-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio (80-to-8). Uehara reaffirmed the fact that he is one of the most efficient final inning options in the game, albeit in a far more finesse way than any of his contemporaries.

2-year average: 1.75 ERA, 0.728 WHIP, 24 saves, 45 games finished, 11.7 K’s per nine, .216 avg. against

9. Mark Melancon, Pirates (Not Ranked): He was one of the NL’s best setup men before becoming one of its best closers, all in the same year. Melancon notched 14 holds before taking over for an injured Jason Grilli in the ninth, when he then ran up 33 saves as well. Armed with a hard turning slider, impressive control and an ability to take the ball as often as asked, he is one of the most versatile relievers in the game.

2-year average: 1.65 ERA, 0.915 WHIP, 24 saves, 36 games finished, 8.9 K’s per nine, .195 avg. against

10. Huston Street, Angels (Not Ranked): He put forth his usual uber-proficient effort between San Diego and Anaheim, posting a sub-2.00 ERA in over 25 innings in both leagues. His overall 1.37 ERA was a personal low and the second time in three years he posted an ERA figure sub 1.90, and he converted a career-high 41 saves overall in the process.

2-year average: 2.02 ERA, 0.983 WHIP, 37 saves, 52 games finished, 8.0 K’s per nine, .196 avg. against

 

Runners Up: Jonathan Papelbon, Jake McGee, Zack Britton, Drew Storen

 

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The MLB awards season continues here today, but where the games usually ended this past summer. It’s time to recognize the top relief pitchers in each league, one that is fairly familiar to these parts, and another that may very well be on his way to digging in the same fashion…

 

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2014 National League Goose Gossage Winner—Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

It is becoming old hat at this point for this nod to go the Braves fireballer. Well actually, the hat probably looks about as worn out as Kimbrel’s does by September, because since he took ahold of the Braves’ reins in the ninth innings four years ago, he has set the curve for all relievers in the game.

For the fourth consecutive year, he landed at least a share of the NL saves title, this time notching 47 in 51 opportunities. It is the third straight season he converted at least 92% of his save chances, and by reaching at least 40 saves this past year, he became the third player to ever reach that mark in four consecutive seasons.

To be only 26 years old, his performances are becoming regularly aligned with history at quite an early rate. He is already the all-time saves leader in Atlanta, as well as becoming the only player to begin his career with four saves titles. Via his combo of power fastball, which he varies between 95-to-100 mph at will, and spiking curveball that scrapes 90 mph itself, he has become a strikeout factory. He became the fastest pitcher to ever reach 400 K’s this year, needing just over 230 innings to reach the mark (a rate of 14.8 k’s per nine innings). For his career, he has rang up strikeouts against 42% of his opponents, and he allowed six less baserunners than innings pitched this year.

The numbers are regularly impressive, but what he represented in Atlanta has continued to increase in value yearly. He is the lynch pin of the Brave pitching staff, the truest example of what it means to make playing a team an “8 inning affair”. In a year where the Braves bullpen had to confront more injuries than in many others, his presence assured that the end result remained the same.

And has long as he continues to man the ninth with that signature glare into home plate, beating the Braves stands to be task done much easier earlier than later.

Runner Up 1: Aroldis Chapman, Reds

Runner Up 2: Mark Melanco, Pirates

 

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2014 American League Goose Gossage Relief Pitcher of the Year—Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals

The American League’s answer to Kimbrel is another compact, fireballer that keeps the opportunities to an absolute minimum. In fact, Holland was even more proficient in slamming the door shut, closing out 46 of the 48 opportunities he was presented with. It was a continuation of the reputation he put into the atmosphere last year: Greg Holland is the best in the biz in the junior circuit.

His 5’10 and barely 200 pound structure belies the fact that he possesses some of the most overpowering raw stuff in the game. Holland’s 46 saves were good for second in the AL, while he converted at least 96% of his chances, the top mark in the league. The top gun in the three-headed KC monster pen of Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera continued his dominant fashion in how he goes about his business, striking out 90 batters in just over 60 innings and allowing only 57 baserunners on the year—of which only 10 runs were credit against him, for an ERA of 1.44.

One of the Royals great strengths as they made their first run to the postseason in 29 years was the reliability of its bullpen. With Holland—who made his second All-Star appearance in as many years—leading the way, the KC bullpen tied for the AL lead in saves, led in save percentage and yielded the third fewest bases of any AL unit. For Holland, it continued a two year streak where he has posted an unworldly

line of converting 93-of-99 save opportunities, while posting a 1.32 ERA over his last 129.1 innings and striking out 193 batters against only 38 walks and a .170 average against him.

The question of who would be the next standard bearer in the ninth inning after Mariano Rivera walked away seemed to be simply answered by saying Kimbrel. But Holland is making quite the push to make that a “not so fast” conclusion.

Runner Up 1: Fernando Rodney, Mariners

Runner Up 2: Jake McGee, Rays

 

Past Winners:

2013: Craig Kimbrel (Braves), Koji Uehara (Red Sox)

2012: Craig Kimbrel (Braves), Fernando Rodney (Rays)

 

For more commentary on the awards year, the free agent bonanza to boom and the game just being the game, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

 

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Seattle Mariners

It has been an interesting half-season of Baseball thus far. It is one that emerges from the break today with only one divisional lead that is greater than four games. The entire National League is wide open, while the American League East and West are shaping up to fight it out for the long run on the other half. Six teams are within four or fewer games in both Leagues’ Wild Card race. Simply put, it has been a vice grip of a struggle for position this summer.

As the second half takes off this afternoon and evening, who is in the driver’s seat for the awards that will outcome as the seasons turn, the fat is trimmed and the postseason takes charge.

Most Valuable Player

American League—Mike Trout, Angels: Every year of his career thus far he has posted an MVP-caliber campaign, while each has seen him reach a higher peak day-to-day. 2014 has been no exception that either, as Trout continues to do everything possible on the diamond with exceptional skill. This year’s Trout Version 3.0 has seen him launch impossibly long home runs with stunning ease, while leading the AL in on-base + slugging% at 1.005 and total bases (209). However, what’s best is that he’s getting to do it while leading a finally successful Angels club, and the numbers always mean more when they are stacking into W’s as well.

National League—Andrew McCutchen, Pirates: After leading the NL in hits two years ago and then winning its MVP a year ago, somehow The Cutch continues to get even better. He is keeping Pirates relevant in the game’s best division via a stunning campaign that seems him in the top 10 in eleven different categories and playing his usual swarming defense as well. It’s a tight race between himself, Troy Tulowitzki and Giancarlo Stanton, but his all-around masterpiece he’s half-finished with is stunning thus far.

Cy Young

American League—Felix Hernandez, Mariners: It looks almost too easy, but the King (who is just touching his prime) has made dominance the norm. He is the owner of the AL’s top ERA, an 11-2 record and comes in second in K’s and first in WHIP as well. Along the way he has allowed more than 2 earned runs only three starts and has nine games of at least 9 strikeouts and 2 or fewer walks.

National League—Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: What is from Kershaw this year is simply awe-inspiring, as he sits in the top five in wins, ERA, strikeouts, WHIP and average against. But what’s most impressive is that he missed a full month and is still there. Imagine if he’d had that time to work? We would be looking potentially at one of the greatest seasons of all-time—not that we still couldn’t be, however.

Rookie of the Year

American League—Jose Abreu, White Sox: He has already exceeded most full-season expectations here as the second half is yet to begin. Abreu comes out the break the Major’s top home run mark, with 29 and is pushing on the door of 80 RBI already. If he keeps at this pace, he has a pretty good shot at meeting Mark McGwire’s record of 49 rookie home runs.

National League—Billy Hamilton, Reds: The Cincy speedster has delivered where expected on the base paths, with 38 first half steals and six triples to boot. But most impressively, he is putting to bed the rhetoric that he is all sizzle, but no steak at the plate, hitting .317 since the break of June.

Manager of the Year

American League—Bob Melvin, Athletics: In the midst of rapidly toughening division, Melvin has held the A’s head above all in the AL for the duration of the season. Armed with a completely all-in for ’14 Billy Beane in the front office and a full cupboard of perfect pieces in his dugout, the Oakland skipper has his club looking like they are ready to break out of the first round (at least) for the first time since 2006.

National League—Nick Price, Reds: The Reds entered the year, and spent a decent part of the beginning of it, in flux towards the bottom of the NL Central. Plagued by injuries both to the lineup and pitching staff, it was an unpredictable day-to-day situation. But their first year manager Price has done a masterful job of pulling the most of what has been available to him. This has included pulling into within ear shot of the Central lead, as well as sending five of his guys to the All-Star Game, with none of them being Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Mat Latos or Jay Bruce.

Comeback Player of the (Half) Year

American League—Albert Pujols, Angels: The reports of his death have proven to be greatly exaggerated. While he is not pumping out the .300+ batting average that used to be standard for him, Pujols has already reached 20 home runs, 19 doubles and driven in 64 runs. It is far from a one-man reason why Anaheim is looking newly minted this year.

National League—Tim Hudson, Giants: After that gruesome ankle injury ended his 2013 in Atlanta, Hudson declared himself ready to go this winter much earlier than anticipated. In turn, the Giants took a flier on him and in return he has given them an All-Star in return. That’s more than fair return on investment, I’d say.

Reliever of the Year

American League—Greg Holland, Royals: The emerging dominance he showed in his first year in the ninth in KC has carried over, and it is fair to say that he has a more than fair claim to be the AL’s premier closer. His strikeouts-per-nine rate is still absurd at 13.7 and has converted 25-of-26 save ops thus far.

National League—Craig Kimbrel, Braves: Let’s see—MLB-best 29 saves, sub 2.00 ERA, batters surviving to a .131 average against and over 20 more strikeouts than innings pitched. In other words: just another run of the mill year at the office for Kimbrel.

Injury Setback of the Year

American League—Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees: After putting to bed any and all doubts about his effectiveness translating to the America and the $120M+ the Yankees inked him to as well, Tanaka took the tumble of many a pitcher this season, by tearing his UCL. He was authoring one of the best seasons in the Majors this year, and now will join CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda as injured impact starters for a Yankee team that is suddenly out of answers off the hill again.

National League—Jose Fernandez, Marlins: The most deflating injury of the year is easily Fernandez’s, who joined the Tommy John list in May after getting off to another sensational start. While the game lost one of its most exciting young properties, the surprisingly competitive Marlins lost the biggest difference maker in what could potentially be a stunning breakthrough season for the franchise.

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Nothing was the same in the middle ground point of the American League last year….well sort of. The Tigers did win the division for the third consecutive year, but they were not pushed by their usual rivals in the Chicago White Sox. Instead, it was a mixture of a coming of age revival in Kansas City, as well as a rebuilt and recharged Indians club that made the division quite interesting for the first time in a while.

2013 Finish

1. Detroit Tigers (93-69)

2. Cleveland Indians (92-70)

3. Kansas City Royals (86-76)

4. Minnesota Twins (66-96)

5. Chicago White Sox (63-99)

Looking ahead at this year, and there is perhaps no division with more clubs in “win now” mode than the Central. The Royals are at a boiling point coming off of their progressive 2013 campaign, with their young studs at a complete maturity point and their rotation anchor, that they traded the farm for just last season, likely in his last year in town. Likewise, the Indians have taken a few losses from last year’s surprise Wild Card-winning club, but are still laden with young talent and a manager in Terry Francona that proved he still has the innate ability to get production out of players they failed to see in themselves. Even the bottom feeders in the division have made strides to get back into the mix. The Twins moved their all-universe catcher in Joe Mauer to first base to get more from him more often, while the White Sox had an understated, but clear overhaul on their roster to attempt to reverse the free fall they spun into last summer.

Even the champs have refused to stay pat. While the Central has been the Tigers’ lair, they saw fit to make some stunning changes, shipping out a franchise cornerstone in Prince Fielder after only two years, and moving on All-Star pitcher Doug Fister, all in the name finding some sort of edge that is more than just being a regular division champion, but fizzling out before becoming much more. Will the winter of change be enough to shake things up in the AL Central? Or will it be more of the same when the summer dust settles?

All-Division Team

1. Austin Jackson—Tigers, Center Field

2. Torii Hunter—Tigers, Right Field

3. Jason Kipnis—Indians, Second Base

4. Miguel Cabrera—Tigers, First Base

5. Victor Martinez—Tigers, Designated Hitter

6. Alex Gordon—Royals, Left Field

7. Salvador Perez—Royals, Catcher

8. Trevor Plouffe—Twins, Third Base

9. Astrubal Cabrera—Indians, Shortstop

Mauer's move from behind the plate is the only thing that keeps him from his division's dream team. He has only hit beneath .315 once in the past six years, including finishing 2nd in the AL batting race a year ago.

Mauer’s move from behind the plate is the only thing that keeps him from the division dream team. He has only hit beneath .315 once in the past six years, including finishing 2nd in the AL batting race a year ago.

Starting Pitcher: Justin Verlander—Tigers

Starting Pitcher: Max Scherzer—Tigers

Starting Pitcher: James Shields—Royals

Starting Pitcher: Chris Sale—White Sox

Right Handed Reliever: Aaron Crow—Royals

Lefty Handed Reliever: Tim Collins—Royals

Closer: Greg Holland—Royals

Cleveland's decision to build around the multi-talented Kipnis was a good one. The fourth-year second baseman leads sneaky balanced team with a pennant chase under its belt now.

Cleveland’s decision to build around the multi-talented Kipnis was a good one. The fourth-year second baseman leads sneaky balanced team with a pennant chase under its belt now.

Lineup

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

Just taking a look back up at the all-division lineup tells you all you need to know about the potency of the Tigers lineup. Even without Fielder, their 1-6 of Ian Kinsler, Hunter, Cabrera, Martinez, Jackson and Alex Avila is just a gauntlet. However the Royals have a relentless balance of speed and line drive hitters, built around the ability to score in bunches. Likewise, the Indians have a lineup that could be more potent this year than last, as their core continues to develop.

Heart of the Lineup

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

Cabrera is the best hitter alive, and has won the previous three AL batting titles and previous two MVPs. Simply put, he’s better than the heart of a few teams lineups himself. However, KC could see an upswing in production from the heart of its lineup with the decision to move Gordon back into it, just as the White Sox should be more potent with the addition of Cuban first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu.

Table Setters

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

The place that the Tigers get most noticeably better is at the top of their lineup, by adding a bonafide speed/contact/power threat in Kinsler to join the ageless Hunter. But the addition of Norichika Aoki (.356 on-base %) in Kansas City, along with former Tiger Omar Infante (.345 OBP) gives the Royals a hellacious duo to lead off games as well.

Depth

1. Indians

2. White Sox

3. Tigers

4. Royals

5. Twins

Cleveland won with an everyman approach last season, and they return a team that is capable of pulling out all stops for contributions. With Mike Aviles and Ryan Rayburn as versatile weapons at his disposal, Francona can compete even at less than 100% roster availability. An increase in MLB-ready youth as made the White Sox deeper, with players such as Dayan Viciedo and Matt Davidson waiting in the wings, and experienced utility man Jeff Keppinger back in a more suiting support role.

The trio of Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez give Detroit three All-Star starters that passed 200 strikeouts last summer.

The trio of Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez give Detroit three All-Star starters that passed 200 strikeouts last summer, all before reaching the promise of Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly.

Rotation

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

Detroit boasts the AL’s best rotation, with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander (winners of the 2 of the last 3 AL Cy Youngs) headlining, and the underrated Anibal Sanchez (the 2013 AL ERA champ) coming out behind them. The Twins still have a ways to go, but added a headliner in Ricky Nolasco and solid rebuild project in Phil Hughes to help resurrect the Majors worst starting five from a year ago.

1-2 Punch

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. White Sox

4. Indians

5. Twins

There is no better 1-2 combo in the game than Scherzer and Verlander, who have combined to win 67 games over the past two seasons. James Shields is perhaps the most indispensable member of any rotation that is slated to be in the pennant race this year, as his presence likely guarantees the Royals stay in the division and/or wild card race or if he is shipped out to help another contenders chances. In Chicago, it is tough (if not impossible) to name a better under 25-or-younger hurler than Chris Sale.

Holland ascended to the ninth inning elite a year ago, closing out 47 games while holding batters to a .170 clip against him.

Holland ascended to the ninth inning elite a year ago, closing out 47 games while holding batters to a .170 clip against him.

Bullpen

1. Royals

2. Tigers

3. Twins

4. Indians

5. White Sox

Spearheaded by Greg Holland, Aaron Crow, Tim Collins and Kelvin Herrera, the Royal pen led the AL in relief ERA by nearly half a run at 2.55 and had the lowest average against at .217. It is one of the premier units in all of the game, even with Luke Hochevar lost for the year. The Tigers’ Achilles heel has been locking down games late, but they spent top dollar on Joe Nathan (43 saves, 1.39 ERA) to end those concerns. Glen Perkins is one of the more underrated closers in the game, closing out 52 of the Twins tough earned wins over the past two years.

Defense

1. Royals

2. Indians

3. White Sox

4. Tigers

5. Twins

By a team defense measuring metric, the superb Royals defense saved 93 total runs last year. With Gold Glovers in Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez leading the way, the Royals cover their spacious home in Kaufmann Field exceptionally well. The addition of Adam Eaton to Alejandro De Aza in Chicago gives the Sox two very athletic outfielders to accompany an equally capable middle infield of Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez.

Manager

1. Terry Francona—Indians

2. Ron Gardenhire—Twins

3. Robin Ventura—White Sox

4. Brad Ausmus—Tigers

5. Ned Yost—Royals

Francona proved his worth as one of the game’s best game managers and motivators last year, pulling the Indians into the postseason in his first year in Rock City and becoming the AL Manager of the Year in the process. Ventura and Gardenhire are held in high regard, despite the lacks of talent they have at their command. Ausmus will be asked to fill in some sizable shoes in replacing the retired Jim Leyland.

Finances

1. Tigers

2. White Sox

3. Indians

4. Royals

5. Twins

The Tigers have shown the willingness to spend the extra dollar to add what is needed to win, and they may have to do so sooner than later to address their suddenly empty shortstop position. Conversely, the Royals and Indians are a pair of franchises that are all in financially entering the season, and finding that extra piece late in the year would take some maneuvering.

Abreu is a major part of both the immediate and impending scene with on the South Side. He has plus power and the chance to be built around in the cleanup spot.

Abreu is a major part of both the immediate and impending scene with on the South Side. He has plus power and the chance to be built around in the cleanup spot.

Impact Additions

1. Joe Nathan (Tigers via free agency)

2. Jose Dariel Abreu (White Sox via free agency)

3. Ian Kinsler (Tigers via trade)

4. Omar Infante (Royals via free agency)

5. Norichika Aoki (Royals via trade)

The Royals made a series of moves in the offseason to add quality depth, at reasonable costs. The outcome was Infante, Aoki, Jason Vargas and Danny Valencia. Going in the completely different direction, the White Sox made a leap of faith in giving $60+ million to Abreu to add some needed life to a shiftless lineup.

Leap Forward

1. Danny Salazar—Indians

2. Drew Smyly—Tigers

3. Jose Quintana—White Sox

4. Adam Eaton—White Sox

5. Kyle Gibson—Twins

Salazar played so well down the stretch he was chosen to pitch the AL Wild Card game after only 10 games. The club believes in him enough that it was comfortable with letting Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez leave this winter. A similar belief in Smyly allowed the Tigers to move on from Doug Fister and his impending contract negotiations.

Rookies/Propects To Watch

1. Jose Dariel Abreu—White Sox

2. Nick Castellanos—Tigers

3. Yordano Ventura—Royals

4. Matt Davidson—White Sox

5. Erik Johnson—White Sox

No longer is Castellanos log jammed behind an out of position Cabrera at third base, and he will enter the season as a favorite to push for AL Rookie of the Year. The White Sox youth movement is based around acquiring a handful of quick to play rookies such as Abreu and Davidson, who they will put into the mix immediately this year.

PREDICTIONS

1. Detroit Tigers

2. Kansas City Royals

3. Cleveland Indians

4. Chicago White Sox

5. Minnesota Twins

The AL Central has long been a class struggle of a mix: the bourgeoisie, the proletariat and the impoverished all very clearly separated. But if things play out the way they could this year, it could be a mostly competitive division. The White Sox are better, as are the Royals. It doesn’t seem like it, but the Twins are slowly pulling it together and have one of the game’s best managers to oversee it. The Indians have more fight than any other team, and while some pieces are gone, they are far from has beens.

Then there are the Tigers, and they are….well different than they have been before. But that is a good thing, because what was in place, while good enough to win the division every year, had peaked and needed to be adjusted. They made some stunning moves, but stayed strong where they already were and got more versatile in the process—all while keeping the game’s best hitter and two of its premiere pitchers in two.

But the Royals should not be underestimated. In many ways, they resemble the Pirates of last year in they got a taste of the race, return an improved mix of vets and matured talents and have talent on par with both of the teams that finished ahead of them the previous year. In the end, the Tigers are still the class of the division and will push for the league’s best record as they always do, but the Royals will push them all summer and break into the postseason for the first time in a generation.

For more on the year as it approaches in the Central, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Pittsburgh Pirates

There is no job in the game with a more concise, to the point job description than being a relief pitcher: get out there and get the job done, quickly. While this happens in far more than just the ninth inning, more often than not, eventually the most prevailing non-starters will find their way to the game’s final frame to deploy their craft.

Some are built for it, some aren’t, but while the save stat can often be misleading on a pitcher’s effectiveness; it does in many cases show who has the confidence of their club to weigh the team’s day-to-day success squarely on their shoulders.

It is a new day for the race for the head of the table in the world of elite relievers, as the unapproachable greatest closer of all-time, Mariano Rivera, has finished his final game. Yet while the standard setter is gone, the cupboard is far from bare, as there are an impressive and menacing group of late game arms vying for elite status either in or around the game’s most important inning.

Because to reach the upper rungs of this group, simply means you are among the most indispensable players in the game today—here are the top guns setting the new standard today.

10. Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals: Only a few blow the eye test out of the water quicker than the new closer in St. Louis does. He had 29 holds and ran up 103 strikeouts as a rookie, before assuming the ninth inning in the postseason—and establishing a strangle hold on the role going ahead. In two career scoreless postseasons, over 20 innings he has surrendered only six hits against 33 strikeouts.

9. Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies: Steady and effective, the fiery and sometimes boastful Papelbon has the attitude that seals the deal—and is bred from his type of results. He has only finished one of his eight full seasons south of 30 saves, but is coming off a career-high seven blown save effort. But his track record indicates that’s an exception over a rule.

8. David Robertson, Yankees: It is no small task replacing the greatest closer of all-time, but Robertson has performed up to the task. As a setup man, he had a 1.91 ERA over the past three seasons and since 2010, is 325 strikeouts are nearly 30 more than any American League reliever.

Balfour_Rays

7. Grant Balfour, Rays: If he continues at the level he has been at over the past three years, the Orioles may have made the error of the offseason backing out of their pact with him. Since leaving Tampa in 2011, he has run up 64 saves and 41 holds, and has failed to convert only 5 of his last 83 save situations.

6. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers: An important part of the Dodger ship righting itself was giving Jansen the ball back to in the ninth, and he took the role in an impressive fashion. He struck out 111 in 78 innings, in route to 28 saves and a 1.88 ERA.

5. Greg Holland, Royals: The overpowering Holland made the most of his chance to anchor the superb Royals bullpen, leading all AL relievers with 103 strikeouts, amid a miniscule 1.21 ERA. He closed out 47 games, while only failing on three save attempts, settling a Royals record high in the process.

4. Joe Nathan, Tigers: He re-affirmed his slightly hidden status as one of the great closers of all-time with a vintage effort in Arlington. Two years removed from elbow surgery, he turned in 43 saves on a 1.38 ERA, including closing out a memorable All-Star Game. With his next save, he will break a tie with Rollie Fingers for tenth all-time.

3. Koji Uehara, Red Sox: A long-dominant setup man, Uehara moved to the ninth halfway through the year and began to author one of the greatest relief seasons in MLB history. After June 1, he surrendered one earned run for the remainder of the season, finishing with a 1.09 ERA and 101 strikeouts. At one point, he retired 37 straight batters—good for 12.1 perfect innings.

Cincinnati Reds v Arizona Diamondbacks

2. Aroldis Chapman, Reds: When he is on his game, he is the most intimidating and unhittable pitcher in the game. Armed with a fastball that lives over 100 mph on most days, and a slider that appears as if it is going to run straight through the batter, before dying at the last second, batters have survived to a .154 average against him to start his career. Over the last two years, he has struck out 50 more batters than innings pitched.

1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves: He has been the game’s premier closer since day one of assuming the role. Over his three year career, he has led the NL in saves each season, and done so in an undeniably dominant fashion. For his career, he has averaged 15.1 strikeouts per nine innings (381 K’s in 227 innings) and has converted 139 out of 154 career chances. He’s a two pitch pitcher that can choose which one he wants to win with on any given day. And at only age 25, he’s set a curve that should be his for a long while.

Just A Bit Outside: Sergio Romo, Glen Perkins, Jim Johnson

Thanks for following this year’s ‘Top 10, Today’ countdown. Head over to I-70 Baseball to recap the rundown over the next few days, via a slideshow format and recap. For in the moment analysis, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Boston Red Sox

The first 162 (and even 163) have come and gone, the playoffs have had their day and the Red Sox have the year’s title in hand (and beard). Now is the part of the year where time both looks forward, with free agency, but backwards as well, as it is time to honor the very best of the best from the year that was.

For the third year here in the CHEAP SEATS, the wrap on the baseball books for the year will be done via my vote for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance Awards, which serves as the collective vote for the network of independent sites which chronicle the game throughout the year. Each is named after a past performer that has embodied the best of what he does, and the CSP submissions will start, at the end, by rewarding the best relief pitchers in each league.

2013 American League Goose Gossage Reliever of the Year—KOJI UEHARA, Boston Red Sox

For many, the spotlight was shined on Koji Uehara only this October, when he took the act his act to the highest stage in the postseason. But for anybody that’s followed the Red Sox across the course of the season, this was probably when Uehara was at his most mortal throughout the year, mostly because he actually gave up hits by then.

In a season that saw him be a jack of all trades in the Red Sox pen, starting has a bridge reliever in the seventh inning, to not only being passed over for the closer role three, but four times. Yet eventually, John Farrell realized there was no other place for the type of dominance his veteran righty was displaying to be place. Armed with only two pitches, a splitter, which he occasionally offset with a fastball that realistically sat in the high 80’s, but looked like it was topping 100 when following said splitter, he mowed through the Majors this season. Batters managed only a .130 average against him this season, has he surrendered only 33 hits across 74.1 innings.

A further look inside of that stinginess makes an even greater point: Uehara was the toughest reliever to reach base against in baseball history this season. Let that sink in for a second, and now let’s continue. In between those scattered hits, he struck out 101 batters, while walking only nine, which equates to an insane 0.57 WHIP, the lowest such number in baseball history. He fell behind in the count only 11 times the entire season, threw a de facto Perfect Game (plus some) by retiring 34 consecutive batters from August 21 to September 17th. He also authored 29 consecutive scoreless innings, ran up 21 saves and 13 holds along the way. In a game that his obsessed with power stamps being put on the end of games, Uehara redefined how dominance can be finessed as well, and with more effectiveness than ever seen before.

The Rest:

2. Greg Holland—Royals: 47 saves/3 BSV, .170 average against, 103 strikeouts, 1.21 ERA, 0.87 WHIP

3.  Joe Nathan—Rangers: 43 Saves/3 BSV, .162 average against, 73 strikeouts, 1.39 ERA, 0.90 WHIP

4. Mariano Rivera—Yankees: 44 saves/7 BSV, .236 average against, 54 strikeouts, 2.11 ERA, 1.05 WHIP

5. Grant Balfour—Athletics: 38 saves/3 BSV, .206 average against, 72 strikeouts, 2.59 ERA, 1.20 WHIP

Craig_Kimbrel

2013 National League Goose Gossage Reliever of the Year—CRAIG KIMBREL, Atlanta Braves

It is nearly to the point where this award could be named after Kimbrel, which is insane considering he’s only 25 years old. But in a game that routinely has many open ended, debatable questions, there is one that is not open for discussion: Craig Kimbrel is the best closer in the game. Open and shut case, much like the games he has an impact on.

No player has started his career on a door-slamming warpath such as Kimbrel is on; three years into his career, three times leading the NL in saves. He set a new career high with 50 in 2013, and has closed out 139 already in his career. For the second consecutive year, he allowed less than 10 earned runs and finished with a sub-1.25 ERA on a .166 average against. In the course of closing out 60 games for the second time, and showing a brilliant amount of control for the power approach he takes. While running batters off with his mixture of triple digit fastballs and virtually unhittable slider, he walked only 20 batters and surrendered 39 hits.

It could be argued that despite his eye-popping numbers that 2013 was his “worst” year statistically (which is relative to only the standard he’s set for himself). However, there was has been no season where he meant more to the Braves than this one. After injuries ravished the Atlanta pitching staff, his presence kept the boat steady for the club, by being the rock at the end of the game. He stopped any bleeding that might have reached them, and continued to be a human eight inning game creator. There aren’t many certainties in this game, but more often than not (precisely 139 times out of 154), games that meet Kimbrel meet their end soon after.

The Rest:

2. Kenley Jansen—Dodgers: 28 saves/4 BSV, 16 holds, .177 average against, 111 strikeouts, 1.88 ERA, 0.86 WHIP

3. Aroldis Chapman—Reds: 38 saves/5 BSV, .164 average against, 112 strikeouts, 2.54 ERA, 1.04 WHIP

4. Steve Cishek—Marlins: 34 saves/2 BSV, .211 average against, 74 strikeouts, 2.33 ERA, 1.08 WHIP

5. Sergio Romo—Giants: 38 saves/5 BSV, .226 Average against, 58 strikeouts, 2.54 ERA, 1.08 WHIP

This is just the beginning of the awards run in at CSP. Here is the slate of my upcoming 2013 accolaides, as I wrap the year that was, before looking ahead at what’s to come this winter:

Thursday: NL/AL Willie Mays Rookie of the Year

Saturday: NL/AL Connie Mack Manager of the Year

Friday: AL Walter Johnson Pitcher of the Year Award

Monday: NL Walter Johnson Pitcher of the Year Award

Tuesday: AL Stan Musial Most Valuable Player Award

Wednesday: NL Stan Musial Most Valuable Player Award