Monday, October 21, 2013

2013 Goose Gossage Award - AL Reliever of the Year

In my series of Baseball Bloggers Alliance award winners, today I am revealing my vote for the Goose Gossage Award for reliever of the year.  On a side note, there is an Alberta connection here as Mr. Gossage was in Calgary earlier this year.

This award always seems to stay in the East. In 2011, in a vote that was controversial with many of my readers, I selected the Yankees David Robertson over our own Jonathan Papelbon.  Last year, despite Baltimore's Jim Johnson leading the world in saves, I voted for the Tampa's Francisco Rodney.  This year is no different. In early August I might have needed to pore over stats carefully to determine who was most deserving, but after the way Koji Uehara finished the season, this one is a no-brainer.  

First some raw numbers:

74.1 IP, 1.09 ERA, 9 ER, 7 UIBB, 101 Ks, WHIP 0.57, 12.2 K/9, 11.2 K/BB

Pretty good, but here’s where it gets better.  He was the 4th closer the Sox tried, after season ending injuries to Hanrahan, Bailey and Miller.   Here is what he did in the second half:  In 29 games he pitched 32 innings, giving up 1 run(!) for an ERA of 0.28, and an OPS against of .231.  He struck out 41 batters, while walking one.  You don’t need a calculator to figure out his K:walk ratio. (hint: it's over 40!)

It's rare for relievers to have as much value as starters due to how few innings they pitch in comparison. (and a reason I was a proponent for Bard as a starter... even a #4 starter is likely to be more valuable than a closer, I once argued - wrongly).

Anyhow, Koji ended up with a WAR(b-ref) of 3.6, besting  Lester who pitched 200+ innings and went 15-8 while accumulating 3.0 of WAR.  

To put this into historical context, when Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley won the Cy Young award in 1992, he contributed a 2.9WAR and had a 10.5 K:BB ratio. His career bests: WHIP  0.61 (1989), K/9 10.7 (1993) WAR 3.3*(1990).   Koji beat the Eck’s career bests all this year.   Mariano Rivera’s career best WHIP was 0.67 in 2008, and ERA was 1.38 in 2005.  Both also beaten by Koji this season.

* As a reliever. He bested 7 as a starter for Boston in the late 1970s.

Uehara wasn’t just the best relief pitcher this year – He had a historic season that on closer inspection may be one of the greatest relief pitching accomplishments of all time!

His great season overshadowed some other excellent relief performances.  Kansas City’s Greg Holland, recorded 47 saves while having an ERA of 1.21 and a K/9 close to 14.  Jim Johnson again led the league in saves, with his second straight 50 save season, but just like last year, I remain unimpressed with his peripherals.  Joe Nathan saved all 43 games the Twins won (ok, maybe they won a few others), with a 1.39 ERA and a K/9 above 10.  Grant Balfour again headed  the bullpen in Oakland who surprised many by winning another division title.

My ballot:
#1: Koji Uehara
#2: Greg Holland
#3: Joe Nathan

On a side note, I saw several bloggers selecting Mariano Rivera. If this was a lifetime achievement award, then sure.  He had a good but not great season. In fact David Robertson was probably a more valuable member of the Yankee bullpen.  Lower ERA, pitched more innings, same WAR, more strikeouts, less home runs, same WHIP. An argument could be made that Rivera was better than Robertson, but it would be close. And nobody has mentioned Robertson for this award, so I’m not sure where the support for Rivera is coming from. Before all the hate mail from the Yankee fans comes in, let me just say that I have a lot of respect for Mr. Rivera.  One of the highlights of my summer was being at Dodger Stadium in his last appearance there and seeing Mrs. Jackie Robinson give him a video tribute. 

Rivera and Magic Johnson

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