Johnson City Cardinals 2011 Reliever of Year

Logan Billbrough, a 22-year old undrafted free agent from the College of William and Mary, is The Cardinal Nation/ 2011 Johnson City Cardinals Reliever of the Year.

For the first time in the last four years, the Johnson City bullpen was deployed much like a major league bullpen as the Cardinals moved away from the "piggyback" or tandem pitching system used since 2008.  Most relievers are overshadowed by the starters but this report will hopefully give them some of the credit that they deserve.  This review will list who was eligible for "Reliever of the Year", provide detailed end-of-the-year statistics, and will break down the statistics to support the final reliever rankings. 


This is the second in a series of four post-season reports on the Johnson City Cardinals:


2011 Johnson City Cardinals Team Review (Sep. 21, 2011)

2011 Johnson City Cardinals Reliever of the Year (Sep. 30, 2011)

2011 Johnson City Cardinals Starter of the Year (Oct. 10, 2011)

2011 Johnson City Cardinals Player of the Year (Oct. 19, 2011)


Who Were Johnson City's Relievers?


The roster saw a total of ten relievers during the 2011 season.  Eight relievers played exclusively for Johnson City and always pitched in the reliever role.  Nick Gillung was used as a starter two times during the end of the regular season and then once in the playoffs.  Manuel De La Cruz was promoted to Batavia, where he was also used as a reliever. 


Pitchers Eligible for Johnson City Reliever of the Year (10):  Dyllon Nuernberg, Logan Billbrough, Michael Santana, Roberto Canache, Tyler Mills, Nick Gillung, Heath Wyatt, Matt Rein, Manuel De La Cruz, and Chris Costantino (in order of innings pitched for Johnson City). 


Relievers ready for playoffs

Did Any Relievers Lose Playing Time During the Year? 


Three relievers had late starts to their season.   


LHP Nick Gillung had an MRI on June 23, two days after the season started.  Due to that, he did not make his pro debut until Game 12 of the season.  Gillung had 17 innings pitched as a reliever and nine innings pitched as a starter during the regular season.  He threw six innings as a starter in the playoffs.  Gillung likely projects as a spot starter or long reliever in the future.  For the purpose of this review, he will be considered a reliever. 


LHP Matt Rein signed a free agent contract with the St. Louis Cardinals around July 4:  "Rein: New LHP for Johnson City".  Rein made his professional debut in relief of Tyrell Jenkins during Game 19. 


RHP Chris Costantino signed on August 9 after being drafted in June and then pitching in the New England Collegiate Baseball League:  "Costantino: Cards' 43rd Rounder in the House".  Costantino made his professional debut on August 19 in relief of Nick Gillung during Game 57. 


Any Reliever Roster Changes?


LHP Manuel De La Cruz was promoted on July 27 to the Batavia Muckdogs in the New York-Penn League after just eight innings pitched:  "De La Cruz:No Earned Runs Leads to Promo".   "Manny" pitched just six innings over five games in Batavia (0-0, 6.00 ERA) and spent more time on the disabled list than on the active roster:  "De La Cruz: Out of Action", "De La Cruz: Short Stay on DL", and "De La Cruz: Return to the Disabled List".  Since De La Cruz pitched most of his innings with Johnson City this year, he will be included in this report. 


Eric Binder (to Batavia on June 28), Brandon Creath (from Gulf Coast League on August 28), and Willy Paulino (from Gulf Coast League on August 28) are all discussed in other reliever reports.  


Reliever Team Statistics and Summary


The ten relievers combined for a 17-7 record with 20 saves and 32 holds over 236 IP (38.4% of the team's total IPs).  This is a BIG increase in percent of innings pitched over last year (23.5%) when the tandem starter system was used.  As a group, they averaged 8.0 H/9, 0.5 HR/9, 3.2 BB/9, 9.4 SO/9, and 3.0 SO/BB.  They combined for a 1.24 WHIP, a 3.05 ERA, a 2.98 FIP, a 69% save percentage, and to allow 39% of their inherited runners to score.  They caught just 19% of the possible base stealers.  The 2011 relievers, when compared to the 2010 bullpen, were better in H/9, SO/9, and ERA but were worse in SV%, IS%, and CS%.   


It was pretty clear from both the statistics and from watching the games that there were five relievers regularly performing very well for Johnson City (Billbrough, Wyatt, Gillung, Santana, and Canache), two relievers that had excellent statistics but also had too small a sample size to really figure out (Costantino and De La Cruz), and three relievers that were inconsistent (Rein, Nuernberg, and Mills).  Billbrough and Wyatt got the majority of the save opportunities (55%), Santana and Canache got the majority of the holds (41%), and Rein and Mills appeared in most of the games that the Cardinals were trailing. 



At the start of the year, Nuernberg appeared to be the reliever that would get most of the save opportunities since he was a known quantity from the 2010 GCL team.  However, soon after the season started, newcomers Billbrough and Wyatt passed him on the "closer" list.  Eight of the ten relievers had above average FIPs (<2.98) with Nuernberg (3.63) and Mills (7.19) trailing the pack. 


As a team, Johnson City finished third in team fielding percentage (.966).  They committed 92 errors (7 by pitchers) for an average of 1.35 errors per game.  The team allowed 55 unearned runs in 68 games to finish second best in that category.  The ten relievers suffered 17 of the unearned runs (4 each from De La Cruz, Rein, and Nuernberg).  All of De La Cruz's runs (4) were unearned. 


All of the pitchers combined for 7 errors, however, the ten relievers, despite pitching over 38% of the innings, committed just one error (Wyatt fielding error in the first game of the season). 


As good as the relievers were at throwing and fielding, they were almost as bad at catching base stealers.  The team combined for 39% CS while the relievers were just 19% CS:


Left-Handed Relievers (3):
4 0 0% 1
Right-Handed Relievers (7):
9 3 25% 0


Individual Reliever Statistics


Listed in the table below are some of the key statistics for Johnson City relievers in 2011.  "Rank" is how the ten relievers were ranked.  This ranking was based on statistics and first-hand observations during the games.  The cells highlighted yellow were either the best of the ten relievers or was a statistic that was particularly noteworthy.  The first number for Manuel De La Cruz was for Johnson City while the second number was from Batavia (i.e. JC/BAT).  Due to the small sample sizes, Chris Costantino and Manuel De La Cruz were not considered for the "best" categories. 


Reliever Billbrough Wyatt Gillung Santana Canache
Rank 1 2 3 4 5
Age 22.2 yr 23.1 yr 22.6 yr 21.3 yr 21.3 yr
W 3 3 1 1 3
L 0 1 0 1 1
ERA 1.72 3.24 1.73 1.45 2.4
FIP 1.44 2.4 2.43 2.85 2.63
G 23 23 12 21 21
GF 8 15 1 8 6
SV 5 8 0 1 1
BS 1 2 0 0 1
SV% 0.83 0.8 NA 1 0.5
HLD 5 3 3 7 6
IP 31.1 25 26 31 29.2
H 27 22 20 23 29
R 7 11 5 6 8
ER 6 9 5 5 8
HR 0 1 0 1 2
BB 6 7 9 9 6
SO 38 30 25 27 32
HBP 1 2 1 2 1
WP 1 2 2 3 2
BF 126 103 107 126 124
SB 1 1 0 1 0
CS 0 1 0 0 1
CS% 0 0.5 NA 0 1
PO 0 0 1 0 0
WHIP 1.05 1.16 1.12 1.03 1.17
BABIP 0.333 0.333 0.278 0.253 0.325
BAA 0.231 0.237 0.211 0.202 0.248
BAA vs. RH 0.205 0.222 0.215 0.208 0.295
BAA vs. LH 0.282 0.267 0.200 0.190 0.154
Inherited 13 18 9 13 11
Scored 4 4 5 6 2
IS% 0.31 0.22 0.56 0.46 0.18
GO/AO 1.84 2.23 0.68 1.95 1.55
H/9 7.8 7.9 6.9 6.7 8.7
HR/9 0 0.4 0 0.3 0.6
BB/9 1.7 2.5 3.1 2.6 1.8
SO/9 10.9 10.8 8.7 7.8 9.6
SO/BB 6.3 4.3 2.8 3 5.3
Reliever Costantino De La Cruz Rein Nuernberg Mills
Rank 6 7 8 9 10
Age 20.0 yr 21.4 yr 23.3 yr 20.3 yr 21.7 yr
W 0 0/0 2 2 2
L 0 0/0 1 2 1
ERA 0 0.00/6.00 3.6 5.23 6.84
FIP 1.87 1.20/4.03 1.95 3.63 7.19
G 3 9/5 15 20 20
GF 0 3/2 6 9 3
SV 0 1/0 0 2 2
BS 0 0/? 2 1 2
SV% NA 100%/? 0 0.67 0.5
HLD 0 3/0 1 3 1
IP 6 8/6 20 32.2 26.1
H 3 3/8 23 29 30
R 0 4/5 12 23 21
ER 0 0/4 8 19 20
HR 0 0/1 0 2 6
BB 1 1/0 10 15 19
SO 7 11/4 26 33 18
HBP 1 1/0 0 5 2
WP 1 1/0 3 8 10
BF 23 31/26 95 148 123
SB 0 0/? 4 3 3
CS 0 0/? 0 1 0
CS% NA NA/? 0 0.25 0
PO 0 0/? 0 0 0
WHIP 0.67 0.50/1.33 1.65 1.35 1.86
BABIP 0.214 0.167/0.333 0.390 0.290 0.308
BAA 0.143 0.103/.320 0.284 0.232 0.297
BAA vs. RH 0.133 ?/0.263 0.250 0.241 0.277
BAA vs. LH 0.167 ?/0.500 0.360 0.211 0.333
Inherited 0 8/? 10 6 10
Scored 0 2/? 7 3 5
IS% NA 25%/? 0.7 0.5 0.5
GO/AO 0.38 4.00/0.00 1.25 1.13 1.08
H/9 4.5 3.4/12.0 10.4 8 10.3
HR/9 0 0.0/1.5 0 0.6 2.1
BB/9 1.5 1.1/0.0 4.5 4.1 6.5
SO/9 10.5 12.4/6.0 11.7 9.1 6.2
SO/BB 7 11.0/NA 2.6 2.2 0.95


Pitch Types and Velocities


When velocities are mentioned in the discussions below, those unfamiliar with the Appalachian League should understand how things work.  Virtually every ballpark in the league has a display on or near the outfield scoreboard for pitch velocities.  Unfortunately, most of the displays either don't work or are not hooked up to a radar gun.  How each ballpark handles it varies. 


Both teams and scouts sit behind home plate and record pitch velocities.  Sometimes it is easy to get a seat behind them so that you can see the velocities as they register on the radar guns; sometimes it is not.  I prefer to not do this while I observe a game but sometimes I will.   


This year, the only ballpark that had velocities displayed (of the five ballparks I visited) was Elizabethton (Twins).  I attended four games there (Aug 1, 2, 12, and 14) and recorded reliever velocities for Billbrough, Gillung, Santana, Rein, Nuernberg, and Mills.  Heath Wyatt threw one pitch; a game-ending, bases-loaded, lineout, double-play for his fourth save.  Here is a summary of my notes for those six relievers:


Billbrough:  Aug 14:  1.1 IP, 18 pitches, 13 strikes, 2 K.  Appeared to throw all fastballs (sit 87-91 MPH; touch 92 MPH) and maybe two sliders (79-81 MPH).  Both called strikeouts were on fastballs. 


Gillung:  Aug 1:  1.1 IP, 29 pitches, 15 strikes, 3 K.  Fastball sat 86-89 MPH, touched 92 MPH, and recorded one called strikeout.  Changeup was 77-82 MPH and recorded two swinging strikeouts. 


Santana:  Two games; both with good results.  Aug 1:  6 pitches (3 strikes) with a swinging strikeout for his only out.  All 87-88 MPH fastballs.  Aug 14:  1 IP, 15 pitches, 12 strikes.  Fastball was 88-91 MPH and a secondary pitch (slider?) was 78-82 MPH. 


Rein:  Aug 2:  1 IP, 14 pitches, 6 strikes.  Fastball 83-86 MPH.  73-76 MPH curve.  Gave up a double on an 86 MPH fastball.  No strikeouts and one walk. 


Nuernberg messing up pregame ritual

Nuernberg:  Two games; both 26 pitches; one where he was lit-up for six hits and five earned runs and one where he didn't give up a hit.  Aug 2 (bad):  1 IP, 26 pitches, 23 strikes, 1 K.  Fastball 87-91 MPH.  76-78 MPH secondary pitch (curve?).  One called strikeout was on a 91 MPH fastball.  Aug 12 (good):  2 IP, 26 pitches, 16 strikes, 2 K.  Fastball was 89-94 MPH with one called and one swinging strikeout.  76-78 MPH curve.  80-81 MPH changeup.  Conclusion:  Good Dyllon was 2-3 MPH faster than bad Dyllon. 


Mills:  Two games; both mid 30 pitches; one where he was lit up with 2 home runs and a double over 2 IP and one where he gave up just one hit over 1.2 IP.  Aug 1 (good):  1.2 IP, 36 pitches, 22 strikes, 1 K.  Fastball sat 90-93 MPH, touched 94 MPH, and recorded one swinging strikeout.  81-82 MPH secondary pitch.  71-72 MPH curve (twice; one wild pitch and one ball).  Aug 12 (bad):  2 IP, 35 pitches, 24 strikes, 2 K.  Fastball sat 84-88 MPH and touched 90 MPH.  78-80 MPH secondary pitch (slider?) with two swinging strikeouts.  Conclusion:  Good Tyler was 2-3 MPH faster than bad Tyler. 


During the "Meet the Cardinals" event in late June, I asked each pitcher what his fastball velocity was and what he thought his best pitches were.  Here is a summary of my notes for the relievers (special thanks to Dyllon Nuernberg and Roberto De La Cruz for Spanish translations).  Some of the comments were from Pitching Coach Doug White: 


Billbrough:  No velocity written down.  Since he was an undrafted free agent that wasn't even on the roster yet, I was focused on who he was, where he was from, etc.  Best pitches:  slider > 2-seam/4-seam fastball > changeup > curve.


Wyatt:  Submariner with good stuff.  Fastball 82-85 MPH.  Slider > 2-seam fastball. 


Gillung:  Fastball sits 87-89 MPH and touches 90 MPH.  Changeup > 4-seam fastball. 


Santana:  Good control.  Fastball 90-91 MPH.  2-seam fastball > slider. 


Canache:  Did well recording outs in extended spring training.  Fastball 91-93 MPH.  4-seam fastball > sinker > curve > changeup. 


De La Cruz:  Fastball sits 85-86 MPH and touches 90 MPH.  Curve > 4-seam fastball. 


Nuernberg:  Gutsy with a good plain.  Fastball 90-93 MPH.  4-seam fastball > knuckleball. 


Mills:  Fastball sits 92-94 MPH and touches 96 MPH.  2-seam fastball > slider > changeup. 



The Rankings Explained


#1 Logan Billbrough:  What are you doing?  Anointing an undrafted free agent who didn't even lead his own team in saves as Reliever of the Year?  What, are you crazy?  Yep and yep.  Billbrough relies on pinpoint command and control of his low 90's fastball.  Most of his strikeouts were on well-locatedfastballs.  The righty led the relievers in FIP (1.44), SV% (83%), BAA vs. RH (.205), HR/9 (0.0 over 31.1 IP), BB/9 (1.7), SO/BB (6.3), strikeout percent of BF (30.2%), walk percent of BF (4.8%), and strikeout plus groundout percent of BF (58%).  He was about a year older than the team average so he should land a long season position with the Quad Cities bullpen next year. 



#2 Heath Wyatt:  In the second third of the season, it looked like Wyatt was pushing Nuernberg out of the "closer" role.  Although, much like St. Louis this year, Johnson City didn't have a designated "closer" per the coaching staff.  They liked to refer to it more as who they had the most trust in finishing a game on a given night.  For most nights, it was Wyatt.  The main downside with Wyatt is probably also his upside.  He is a submariner so most of his success is about deception and pitch movement.  Being a submariner, his velocity is a little less and his road to the majors will bumpy at best.  He definitely has good stuff.  The main question is can he adequately control it.  For most of the year, the answer was yes.  Wyatt will occasionally move his release point up to a more normal three-quarter release point but it is rare.  Wyatt led the relievers in SVs (8) and GO/AO (2.23).  Wyatt is already 23 years old so he should make a run at the Quad Cities pen next year. 



#3 Nick Gillung:  The first left hander in the rankings got a late start to the season and was actually a starter at the end of the season.  In fact, Gillung was named the Top Pitcher of the Appalachian League postseason ("Gillung: Top Appalachian League Postseason Pitcher") by Minor League Baseball for his start in the deciding game of the finals in Bluefield against the Blue Jays.  Gillung allowed just one hit over six innings while striking out six.  Gillung's best pitch is his changeup but he can get strikeouts on his fastball when he is locating both pitches well.  He didn't allow a home run this year despite allowing a pretty low GO/AO ratio of 0.68.  He doesn't strikeout many batters (23% of BF; about the reliever average).  Gillung could get a look as a starter in spring training next year and it could be for Batavia or Quad Cities.



#4 Michael Santana:  He doesn't look like much on the mound and his roster weight of 155 lbs. might be generous but don't let that fool you.  He can get his fastball up there in the low 90s, he has good control, and his slider could become an excellent strikeout pitch.  He led the relievers in ERA (1.45), WHIP (1.03), HLD (7), BAA (.202), H/9 (6.7), and groundball percentage of BF (34%).  His BABIP (.253) was the lowest of the relievers and might indicate that he was a little bit lucky.  He isn't going to strikeout a lot of batters but he is pretty difficult to square-up as well.  He was right on the team average age (21.3) so he will probably have difficulty making the Quad Cities roster next year. 



#5 Roberto Canache:  It was difficult to separate the Dominican Santana from the Venezuelan Canache (pronounced CUH – NAW – CHAY) in the rankings.  They are basically the same age, were both used predominantly as set-up men, and performed similarly.  Canache at 6'5" towers over Santana, who is generously listed at 6'.  Canache, a righty, had an interesting reverse platoon split (.295 BAA vs. RH and .154 BAA vs. LH).  In fact, Canache led all the relievers in BAA vs. LH.  Canache led the relievers in IS% (18%) and demonstrated excellent control (walking just 4.9% of BF).  Much like Santana, he should get a look at the Quad Cities bullpen but is more likely to end up with Batavia next year. 



#6 Chris Costantino:  He didn't sign until the deadline in August and he had just 23 BF.  Costantino didn't allow a run during the regular season, pitched three hitless innings in the playoffs, and will be just 20 yrs. old next weekend.  Costantino played for Laconia in the New England Collegiate Baseball League earlier this summer where he made eight starts and struck out 60 over 47 innings pitched.  Costantino was the postseason MVP of the league and was ranked the fifth best prospect in the league by Baseball America.  He seems to profile as a starter and since he is still young, it would not surprise me to see him as a starter next year with a short season team.  Costantino is from Rhode Island so Batavia would seem to be a good fit however, his age and lack of pro experience could put him back with Johnson City next year. 


#7 Manuel De La Cruz:The second lefty in the rankings split his season between Johnson City and Batavia and was injured both places.  He really didn't have enough BF to get a good read on him, especially if he wasn't 100% while facing a few of them.  At the time of his promotion, De La Cruz was second among the 16 pitchers in both walk rate (1.13 BB/9) and strikeout rate (12.4 K/9).  De La Cruz also led all 16 pitchers in both ground outs (39% of BF) and strikeouts (36% of BF).  His BABIP in Johnson City was just .167 so he may have been a bit lucky.  While his stats were excellent in Johnson City, they were below average in Batavia.  At exactly the team average age (21.4 yrs.), a return trip to Batavia seems likely.



#8 Matt Rein:  A late start to the season as a late-signing undrafted free agent put the lefty Rein (pronounced Ryan) at an early disadvantage.  He was the oldest reliever (23.3 yrs.), the worst at holding base runners (0% CS%), and the worst at keeping inherited runners from scoring (70% IS%).  His .390 BABIP would indicate that he was pretty unlucky and on a positive note, he allowed no home runs and led the relievers with an 11.7 SO/9.  His velocity is quite low but he obviously has a very good off-speed strikeout pitch that could keep him in the organization for a few more years. 



#9 Dyllon Nuernberg:  He just turned 20 yrs. old a month before the season began and he has very good velocity.  However, he was very inconsistent during the season and he struggled with his control (5 HBP, 8 WP, and 4.1 BB/9).  His fastball is pretty straight and was relatively hittable most of the time.  He really didn't have a good strikeout pitch and he would regularly see deep pitch counts per batter and lots of foul balls.  His velocity and age will allow him to see a lot of work with the minor league coaches who should focus him on his command and a good secondary pitch.   Although he says he has a good knuckleball and Pitching Coach Doug White indicated at the start of the season that he would be allowed to throw it, I don't think that happened.  Most knuckleball pitchers don't have a mid-90s fastball to fall back on when the knuckler isn't knuckling.  Nuernberg will have plenty of time in the future to work on it if the fastball fails him. 



#10 Tyler Mills:  He is another high-velocity, low-command project for the minor league coaches who really struggled this year.  Mills had more walks than strikeouts to go with his 2.1 HR/9 and 7.19 FIP.  He will be 22 yrs. old before next season begins so the pressure is on to figure something out next spring. 


Reliever Regular Season League Leaders


Logan Billbrough (23 G, t-2nd).

Heath Wyatt (23 G, t-2nd).

Michael Santana (21 G, t-7th).

Roberto Canache (21 G, t-7th).


Heath Wyatt (8 SV, 3rd).

Logan Billbrough (5 SV, 8th). 



Michael Santana (7 HLD, t-1st).

Roberto Canache (6 HLD, t-3rd).

Logan Billbrough (5 HLD, t-4th).

Heath Wyatt (3 HLD, t-8th).

Dyllon Nuernberg (3 HLD, t-8th).

Manuel De La Cruz (3 HLD, t-8th). 

Nick Gillung (3 HLD, t-8th).


Heath Wyatt (15 GF, t-4th). 


Logan Billbrough (0.00HR/9 over 31.1 IP, 3rd).

Nick Gillung (0.00 HR/9 over 26 IP, 6th). 


Logan Billbrough (6.33 SO/BB, 3rd, minimum 27.2 IP). 



Reliever Postseason


The relievers for the playoffs (in order of IP) were Billbrough, Costantino, Santana, Canache, Wyatt, and Nuernberg.  Gillung was used as a starter and Rein and Mills were not used. 


The relievers combined for a 2.02 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 5.4 BB/9, and 8.8 SO/9 over 13.1 IP (30% of the total).  They recorded two saves (Wyatt and Billbrough) and one blown save (Santana) in five games.  Their ERA and SO/9 were significantly better than the starters (3.52 ERA and 6.2 SO/9) but their WHIP and BB/9 were worse (1.01 WHIP and 2.9 BB/9).


Future Reports


2011 Johnson City Starter of the Year – Scheduled October 10, 2011

2011 Johnson City Player of the Year – Scheduled October 19, 2011



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