Evaluating the candidates and determining the top relief pitcher in the Springfield Cardinals bullpen in 2014 was quite the challenge for a number of reasons. Overall, the bullpen was the strongest asset on this team throughout the entire campaign. Many relievers had strong and consistent years, some bounced back while repeating the Double-A level, and others showed promise converting to relief after previously throwing in a starter's’ role in years past.
What will receive increased emphasis in deciding Springfield’s top reliever in 2014 will include those who spent a greater portion of the season with the club, how much impact they had in their role, and their durability logging hefty workloads in an assignment that often required everyday readiness.
Although I wasn’t the originator of this criteria, the same measures will be continued from last year, since this was such an area of strength for the Springbirds in 2014. 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 look at innings pitched among Springfield relievers that qualify at the minimum 35 innings pitched. That group includes Ryan Sherriff, Joe Donofrio, Mitch Harris, Lee Stoppelman and Justin Wright.
Sherriff logged the most innings of any reliever on the pitching staff with 64 2/3 in 40 appearances, with Donofrio right behind him with 51 2/3 innings in 43 appearances. It should be noted that Donofrio also spent nearly a month of the season with Triple-A Memphis before returning to Springfield in late July. Harris, Stoppelman and Wright qualified but barely eclipsed the 35 minimum inning pitched mark.
Moving on to the ERA qualification, in a year in which there were few low-ERA holders, this knocked Stoppelman and Harris off the candidate list. Stoppelman held an above 5.00 ERA and Harris at exactly 3.92. Three remain eligible - Sherriff, Donofrio and Wright.
Chris Thomas, Jeremy Berg and Sam Tuivailala held below 3.00 ERAs but all joined the team too late to be qualifiers for the top reliever award. Still in contention are Sherriff who held a 2.64 ERA, Donofrio who had the lowest ERA at 0.87, and Wright who owned a 1.50 ERA.
Two of the three remain in contention after the WHIP qualification. Both Donofrio and Wright held under 1.00 WHIPs during the 2014 season.
Both made a great impact on the Cardinals and were largely depended upon in the team's’ overall success during the season. When you look at the overall profile, however, Donofrio blew all Springfield relievers out of the water with his numbers posted as the team’s closer.
The right-hander notched the most strikeouts among qualified with 65, led the entire pitching staff in WHIP and ERA, and recorded 16 saves in 17 chances, a team-leading mark. That gives him the edge over Wright.
Therefore, Donofrio is The Cardinal Nation 2014 Springfield Cardinals Relief Pitcher of the Year. The right-hander had an absolutely outstanding season even after bypassing the high-A level. It included a mid-season Texas League all-star selection the year after he was TCN’s top Peoria reliever.
Do not be shocked to see Donofrio in the show soon enough keeping big-league hitters off balance with his wipeout slider.
Link to master article with all 2014 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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