2013 Springfield Cardinals Reliever of Year

Posting a 1.35 ERA and holding opponents to a .150 batting average in 40 2/3 innings through 37 appearances, Lee Stoppelman is our 2013 Springfield Cardinals Reliever of the Year.

Taking a look at determining the top reliever on the Double-A Springfield Cardinals in 2013 is a challenge for a variety of reasons. The bullpen was a strength for Springfield throughout the season even after graduating three relievers from the opening day roster to the St. Louis Cardinals by midseason. Those relievers are Keith Butler, Michael Blazek and Kevin Siegrist. Siegrist looks now as though he would have been Springfield's top reliever this season by the outstanding results he has posted out of the St. Louis bullpen. Instead, we will look at the candidates who spent a greater portion of the season with Springfield.

Because the bullpen was such an area of strength for the Texas League Cardinals this season, we had to set some criteria for those to qualify for the Reliever of the Year title. As the bullpen was somewhat of a revolving door in Springfield this season, we had to change some of the qualification standards from what they were last season. The minimum criteria for the Springfield Cardinals Reliever of the Year are as follows:

* At least 35 innings pitched
* Primary role was as a reliever instead of a starter
* ERA less than 3.00
* WHIP less than 1.15

First, let's take a look at the innings pitched qualification. This was a standard that had to be lowered from last season because the bullpen in Springfield experienced a lot of changes in 2013. With so many players moving in and out, there were fewer relievers that met the 50 innings pitched threshold, so we lowered it to 35.

In looking at Springfield relievers that pitched at least 35 innings with the club, we are left with a pool of seven candidates. These seven include Jose Almarante, Lee Stoppelman, Nick Greenwood, Deryk Hooker, Heath Wyatt, Justin Wright, and Kevin Thomas.

Among the seven, Thomas threw the most innings with 59 2/3 in 46 appearances with Wright right behind him with 59 innings in 50 appearances. Almarante, Stoppelman and Greenwood each qualified by between four to six innings of work. Greenwood, however, is eliminated from contention on the second qualification as he started more than he worked in relief in his time with Springfield in 2013.

Now left with a pool of six, we examine the ERA qualification. Operating in a year in which there were several pitchers with low ERAs out of the bullpen, I decided to move the qualification from 4.00 in 2012 to 3.00 in 2013 mostly for the sake of narrowing the field.

The move accomplishes what we are looking to do as it cut the field in half. The qualification eliminates Wright with a 5.34 ERA, Hooker with a 3.64 ERA, and Wyatt with a 3.26 ERA. Hooker and Wyatt would have both remained in the conversation in 2012 but it is again a year where the bullpen was strong.

Non-qualifiers Butler and Blazek posted sub-1.00 ERAs before moving up from Springfield. Still in contention after the ERA qualifier are Almarante with a 2.75 ERA, Thomas with a 2.56 ERA, and Stoppelman with a 1.35 ERA.

Each of the top three remain in contention even after the WHIP qualification, so we are forced to take a deeper look at which reliever of the three had the best overall season for Springfield. Stoppelman posted the most impressive WHIP at a 0.85 mark but Almarante and Thomas were right behind him with 1.02 and 1.11 marks respectively.

A deeper look at Almarante reveals that he may not have enough on the table to take home the trophy. Strikeouts alone show that Almarante is 19 behind Stoppelman despite only pitching 2/3 of an inning less. Almarante also trailed Stoppelman by 10 appearances and posted the highest ERA of the three candidates. All of this points to the fact that even though the hard-throwing righty had a strong season - even lighting up the gun at 99 mph – Almarante's season was not stronger than either Stoppelman's or Thomas'.

Stoppelman and Thomas are both deserving candidates. When you take a look at strikeouts, they are in similar territory. Stoppelman posted 50 strikeouts, giving him a 1.24 strikeouts per inning ratio. Thomas had a slight edge with 75 strikeouts, giving him a 1.26 strikeouts per inning ratio. Stoppelman, however had the edge in opponent batting average at .150 compared to .224 to for Thomas.

Overall, there is a reason Stoppelman's name began to circulate in prospect conversations this season as he hit the radar. It is tough to ignore the 1.35 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and .150 opponent batting average.

That is why he is The Cardinal Nation's 2013 Springfield Cardinals Reliever of the Year. Stoppelman had an outstanding year returning to his home state of Missouri and do not be surprised to see him gain even more attention in the Arizona Fall League and in 2014.

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 Springfield Cardinals Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.

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