2014 Cardinals Minors Relief Leaders, Notes

Brian Walton’s commentary on a number of relief pitching leaders across the St. Louis Cardinals system. Lefty Dean Kiekhefer has a superior strikeout to walk ratio.

You get to come along as I continue in my review of statistical category leaders across the St. Louis Cardinals system in 2014.

In part two of three, I will share the relief pitching lists, both good and bad, as well as some observations. I hope you will learn from this as I certainly have.

The ground rules

My main decision was where to draw the line in terms of minimum innings pitched. I did not want to go so low that the rate stats would be distorted, yet I did not want to go so high that deserving short-season players would be excluded. I settled at 30 innings for the hurlers.

I also was reminded that the relievers can dominate when pitching in short bursts, so to get a good look at both starters and relievers, I broke them out into separate articles. This is basically the same underlying logic behind one of the main reasons we have a separate Reliever of the Month during the season.

In each category, I generally went for around 10 names, plus or minus, depending on breaks in the stats.

ERA and WHIP

We will start with two of the most-commonly referenced stats, earned run average and walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP). The latter is a general surrogate for baserunners allowed. A high WHIP and low ERA would suggest some luck.

The system had 10 relievers who finished the season with an ERA of 2.25 or better. There was a good distribution by level.

Leading the way was State College closer Kyle Grana, with a 0.89 ERA. That was close to a half-run better than the best full-season ERA pitcher, Chris Thomas. Four of the ten allowed less than one baserunner per inning, with Steve Sabatino and Chris Perry joining the aforementioned pair.

Reliever Tm IP ER R H K BB WHIP ERA
Kyle Grana SC 40.2 4 7 25 62 14 0.97 0.89
Chris Thomas Peo-PB-Spr 55 8 11 36 64 13 0.89 1.31
David Aardsma Mem 37 6 6 23 38 18 1.11 1.46
Joe Donofrio Spr-Mem 60.1 10 14 44 71 21 1.08 1.49
Yeison Medina GCL 33 6 7 29 31 8 1.12 1.64
Josh Lucas SC-Peo-PB 42.1 8 15 33 50 10 1.02 1.70
Steve Sabatino Peo-PB 45.1 9 17 32 48 11 0.95 1.79
Jhonny Polanco Peo 57.1 13 15 35 71 30 1.14 2.04
Chris Perry Peo-PB  63 15 18 35 98 21 0.89 2.14
Franyel Casadilla DSL 40 10 18 33 42 11 1.10 2.25

Strikeouts per nine innings

Exactly 10 bullpenners fanned between 11 and 15 batters per nine innings. That seems a fairly impressive total, though I don’t offer a valid comparison.

The top tier of four who stand a bit among the others include Grana, Perry and two other very interesting names, Sam Tuivailala and Dixon Llorens. By now, everyone knows the basics of Tui’s story, being one of two pitchers to progress all the way from Palm Beach to St. Louis in the same season. We will talk more about Llorens when we get to walks, as he is truly a feast or famine pitcher.

The table on the right are those with the lowest strikeout rates in the system. Some names, like Thomas Lee and Corey Baker, for example, will also appear among those who issue the fewest walks. In that case, a lower strikeout rate is much more tolerable.

On the other hand, some of the other names are concerning. We already know before looking that Seth Blair has troubles with walks. Not getting strikeouts either is not a good place to be.

Robert Stock may have set a new record. I have to believe that he is the first player to play in the Class-A Midwest League for six consecutive seasons. Granted, the first few years were as a catcher, but Stock the pitcher is not making headway, either.

Reliever Tm IP K/9   Reliever Tm IP K/9
Dixon Llorens PB-Spr 48.0 15.0   Angel Estevez DSL 37.0 4.1
Sam Tuivailala Mem 60.0 14.6   Heath Wyatt Mem 66.1 4.9
Chris Perry Peo-PB 63.0 14.0   Thomas Lee PB 94.1 5.0
Kyle Grana SC 40.2 13.7   Eric Fornataro Mem 56.0 5.6
Jonathan Escudero JC 37.2 12.4   Jeff Rauh SC 47.2 5.7
Kyle Barraclough Peo-PB 58.2 12.0   Seth Blair Spr-Mem 79.1 5.9
Kevin Carlow JC 33.0 11.5   Robert Stock Peo 63.1 6.1
Jhonny Polanco Peo 57.1 11.1   Corey Baker PB-Spr 91.1 6.3
Ismael Brito JC 30.0 11.1          
Kevin Herget Peo-PB 76.1 11.1          

Walks per nine innings

10 relievers issued 2.1 or fewer walks per nine innings, while at the other extreme, 10 others issued at least one free pass every other inning.

Lee and Dean Kiekhefer are in their customary place at the top of the list of those stingiest with free passes in the organization. They are joined by a new name. Andrew Reidt was a non-drafted free agent from the St. Louis area who joined the Gulf Coast League Cards in late June.

As hinted above, Blair and Stock also have the highest walk rates in the system. They are closely followed by that enigma, Llorens. The submariner seems to have very few balls struck, with outcomes often either a strikeout or a walk.

The high walk list is not one that Lee Stoppelman, a left-hander who was top-20 prospect material last year, wants to be a part of. It does help explain his 2014 drop in effectiveness, however.

Reliever Tm IP BB/9   Reliever Tm IP BB/9
Thomas Lee PB 94.1 0.6   Seth Blair Spr-Mem 79.1 6.6
Dean Kiekhefer Spr-Mem 71.1 0.8   Robert Stock Peo 63.1 6.5
Andrew Reidt GCL 30.1 0.9   Dixon Llorens PB-Spr 48.0 6.4
Sasha Kuebel GCL-JC 32.1 1.4   Kyle Barraclough Peo-PB 58.2 5.2
Anderson Gerdel JC-SC 39.0 1.6   Jacob Booden SC-Peo 38.0 5.2
Corey Baker PB-Spr 91.1 1.8   Ismael Brito JC 30.0 4.8
Nick Greenwood Mem 50.2 1.8   Esteban Vallejo DSL 35.2 4.8
Brandon Lee SC SC 2.1   Lee Stoppelman Spr-Mem 49.1 4.7
Josh Lucas SC-Peo-PB 42.1 2.1   Jhonny Polanco Peo 57.1 4.7
Chris Thomas Peo-PB-Spr 55.0 2.1   Ramon Santos GCL 32.0 4.5

Strikeout to walk ratio

Those who rarely issue free passes also show well here, with the same three on top. Kiekhefer is on top this time, followed by Lee and Reidt. The lefty Kiekhefer was so dominant that only five other pitchers were half as good as him in this measure.

The only two names from the high strikeout list to also appear here are Perry and Grana, a point to file away.

At this point, it should not be surprising that their very low strikeout rates coupled with their very high walk rates put Blair and Stock with the lowest BB/K ratios in the organization. In fact, they were the only qualifying relievers to walk more batters than they struck out.

Before I dug into the data, I had thought that Eric Fornataro might earn a return to St. Louis in September, a spot that went to Tuivailala, instead. Now that I see that Fornataro has one of the lowest strikeout rates in the system and worst strikeout to walk ratios, too, I better understand.

Reliever Tm IP K/BB   Reliever Tm IP K/BB
Dean Kiekhefer Spr-Mem 71.1 10.3   Seth Blair Spr-Mem 79.1 0.9
Thomas Lee PB 94.1 8.7   Robert Stock Peo 63.1 0.9
Andrew Reidt GCL 30.1 8.0   Esteban Vallejo DSL 35.2 1.4
Anderson Gerdel JC-SC 39.0 5.9   Jeff Rauh SC 47.2 1.7
Sasha Kuebel GCL-JC 32.1 5.0   Ramon Santos GCL 32.0 1.7
Josh Lucas SC-Peo-PB 42.1 5.0   Angel Estevez DSL 37.0 1.7
Chris Thomas Peo-PB-Spr 55.0 4.9   Eric Fornataro Mem 56.0 1.8
Chris Perry Peo-PB  63.0 4.7   Jacob Booden SC-Peo 38.0 2.0
Kyle Grana SC 40.2 4.4   Will Changarotty DSL 52.1 2.0
Steve Sabatino Peo-PB 45.1 4.4          

Ground ball to fly ball ratio

One small distinction between this data and others you may see is that I include all batted balls, not just those which are recorded as outs.

A new name atop this list is Tyler Bray of State College, our best ground ball reliever in the system. The next two are lefties, including Nick Greenwood, now with St. Louis, and his some-time Memphis teammate Justin Wright. In fact, five of this top 10 spent at least part of the season with the Triple-A Redbirds.

Another Memphis reliever leads the higher fly ball-to-walk group in right-hander David Aardsma. The former major leaguer was the only qualifier to have more fly balls than ground balls over the course of the season. He was also passed over for a September call up.

Though former Navy officer Mitch Harris has an intriguing backstory and was aggressively moved through the system this summer, having a fly ball tendency is not a desirable label to have. It will be interesting to see how the almost 29-year-old righty fares in the Arizona Fall League.

At this juncture, I don’t want to pile on Stock, who is a very nice young man. Suffice it to say that his pitching in 2014 was not nearly as good, however.

Reliever Tm IP GB/FB   Reliever Tm IP GB/FB
Tyler Bray SC-Peo 36.2 4.3   David Aardsma Mem 37.0 0.8
Nick Greenwood Mem 50.2 3.8   Chris Thomas Peo-PB-Spr 55.0 1.0
Justin Wright Spr-Mem 57.2 2.9   Esteban Vallejo DSL 35.2 1.0
Jeff Rauh SC 47.2 2.7   Iden Nazario PB-Spr 60.1 1.0
Yeison Medina GCL 33.0 2.5   Mitch Harris PB-Spr-Mem 57.1 1.1
Joe Scanio Peo-SC 38.2 2.5   Dylan Hawkins GCL-SC 32.2 1.1
Eric Fornataro Mem 56.0 2.4   Jhonny Polanco Peo 57.1 1.2
Jorge Rondon Mem 62.1 2.4   Robert Stock Peo 63.1 1.3
Kyle Barraclough Peo-PB 58.2 2.4          
Joe Donofrio Spr-Mem 60.1 2.3          

Coming up

A similar analysis for starting pitchers will follow in the next few days.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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