2013 Peoria Chiefs Relief Pitcher of the Year

With a 2.63 ERA and five saves in 40 appearances, Joey Donofrio is our pick as the Peoria Chiefs 2013 top relief pitcher.

The Peoria Chiefs pitching staff was the strength of the team for the entire season. Peoria ranked at or near the top in most pitching categories in the Midwest League.

Despite numerous players being promoted, the team never broke stride and replaced the production with no trouble. While the starting pitching was reliable, the true strength was in the bullpen. Time and time again, manager Dann Bilardello did not hesitate to pull a struggling starter to go to the pen.

In determining the Cardinals Single-A ballclub's reliever of the year, I used the following criteria:

• At least 45 innings pitched
• ERA less than 3.00
• Primary role was a reliever, not a starter
• WHIP less than 1.50

Using those qualifications, only three players were eligible for the honor - Joey Donofrio, Dixon Llorens and Thomas Lee. All three were worthy of the award and it was an extremely close call. We will review the merits of all three.

Thomas Lee was extremely reliable for Peoria in his time there. The right-hander appeared in 24 games and pitched 48 innings. He almost always pitched more than one inning, which was a major plus for him when deciding the top reliever. Lee was 5-1 with a 2.44 ERA and struck out 46 batters. Impressively, he walked just five hitters. Lee even started a game in an emergency situation due to injury to another.

Despite his successful season, we felt the honor of top reliever had to go to someone who was relied upon at the end of ball games. Lee often pitched in the middle innings and never had to close out a win. He did not record a save all season. He was still heavily considered, especially because he had the best ERA of the three candidates.

The race ultimately came down to Llorens and Donofrio.

Llorens may have been the Chiefs most dominating pitcher at times during the season. The side-armer could make hitters look foolish due to the deceptive nature of his motion.

Llorens was hampered by injuries early in the year and very well could have won the honor if he had stayed healthy all season. He finished the year with a 3-3 record and a 2.85 ERA. His 11 saves were the most on the ballclub. There was no doubt Bilardello trusted Llorens to close out games as he put him out there time and time again. Ultimately, his strength was striking out hitters. He led the team with a 1.5 strikeouts per inning average.

Llorens had all this success in just 47 1/3 innings of work. While that is impressive, it is also the reason he did not receive this honor. With his injuries, the right-hander had less impact on the season than his counterpart Donofrio. It was a tough decision between the two, but ultimately Donofrio pitched more innings and had a better ERA. Had Llorens not been injured for much of the year and struggled when he returned from injury this likely would have gone to him.

Donofrio was Peoria's best relief pitcher all season long. He appeared in 40 games and had a 2.63 ERA. Donofrio also had a fantastic record at 6-2. He was second on the team in saves (5) and ERA. He led the bullpen in strikeouts (85). The right-hander was also second out of relievers in innings pitched with 68 1/3.

Ultimately, we felt Donofrio was most deserving of this honor for several reasons. He was extremely reliable all season long, often coming in when the team was in a jam and getting out of it. He also pitched multiple innings per appearance and his ERA remained stellar. While Llorens did have more saves, Donofrio proved he could close out a ballgame if need be.

Congratulations to Joey Donofrio for being The Cardinal Nation's Peoria Reliever of the Year. It is well deserved. It was not an easy decision, as all three candidates had a fantastic season. Llorens or Lee very easily could have won this award. All three Chiefs relievers have a bright future ahead in the Cardinals organization.

Link to master article with all 2013 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Of course, that will include our selections as the Peoria Chiefs Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.

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