Posts Tagged ‘Relief Pitchers’

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: 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.

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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.

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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.