TCN 2014 Cards Minors Reliever of the Year

State College’s Kyle Grana is The Cardinal Nation's top relief pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system for 2014.

In this article, we will go through the process of selecting The Cardinal Nation’s Relief Pitcher of the Year across the entire St. Louis Cardinals organization.

As you hopefully know, we have already completed the selection process of the eight team-based Relievers of the Year by level. Last Friday, we announced our winner of the Rookie Reliever of the Year award as well.

Those individuals are included in the pool of candidates for this award, as are our selections as the Reliever of the Month throughout the season, but so is every relief pitcher in the system who threw at least 30 innings during 2014.

Over time, I have evolved to drawing the line in terms of minimum innings pitched at 30. I did not want to go so low that the rate stats would be distorted, yet I did not want to set the bar so high that deserving short-season players would be excluded.

As a refresher, here are the earlier honorees, with links to those articles.

  April May  June July  August
Reliever of Month Justin Wright Chris Perry * Kyle Grana Chris Perry Jery Then
* Pitcher of Month          


  DSL GCL Johnson City State College
Reliever of Year Franyel Casadilla Jery Then Jonathan Escudero Kyle Grana
  Peoria Palm Beach Springfield Memphis
  Chris Perry Dixon Llorens Joe Donofrio David Aardsma

In the Reliever of the Month awards during the season, Justin Wright got off to a hot start, but did not sustain that level of pitching, finishing with a 3.43 ERA. Chris Perry’s name stands out as the only reliever to take the honors in two different months as well as the only bullpenner to also win out over starting pitchers, which he did with a completely dominating May.

Short-season relievers earned two of the final three monthly awards, starting with State College closer Kyle Grana in June and our Rookie Reliever of the Year, Jery Then of the Gulf Coast League Cardinals, in August. The latter, who signed in July, did not reach our innings threshold for this award, however.


We will start our stats-based comparisons with two of the most-commonly referenced ones, 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 qualifying relievers who finished the season with an ERA of 2.25 or better, which is how the table below is ordered. There is a good distribution by level.

Leading the way was 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 Perry and Steve Sabatino joining the aforementioned pair.

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, a fairly impressive total.

The top tier of four who stand from 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, having joined fellow top prospect Marco Gonzales as one of two pitchers to progress all the way from A-Advanced Palm Beach to St. Louis during the 2014 season. Strikeout leader Llorens is truly a feast or famine hurler, with the third-highest walk rate among relievers in the system at 6.4 batters per nine innings. That will keep the submariner from winning this award.

Reliever Tm IP K/9
Dixon Llorens PB-Spr 48.0 15.0
Sam Tuivailala Mem 60.0 14.6
Chris Perry Peo-PB 63.0 14.0
Kyle Grana SC 40.2 13.7
Jonathan Escudero JC 37.2 12.4
Kyle Barraclough Peo-PB 58.2 12.0
Kevin Carlow JC 33.0 11.5
Jhonny Polanco Peo 57.1 11.1
Ismael Brito JC 30.0 11.1
Kevin Herget Peo-PB 76.1 11.1

Walks per nine innings

10 relievers across the system issued 2.1 or fewer walks per nine innings.

Thomas Lee and Dean Kiekhefer are regularly among those at the top of the list of being stingiest with free passes in the organization. They are joined in the under one walk per nine innings club 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.

Reliever Tm IP BB/9
Thomas Lee PB 94.1 0.6
Dean Kiekhefer Spr-Mem 71.1 0.8
Andrew Reidt GCL 30.1 0.9
Sasha Kuebel GCL-JC 32.1 1.4
Anderson Gerdel JC-SC 39.0 1.6
Corey Baker PB-Spr 91.1 1.8
Nick Greenwood Mem 50.2 1.8
Brandon Lee SC 46.2 2.1
Josh Lucas SC-Peo-PB 42.1 2.1
Chris Thomas Peo-PB-Spr 55.0 2.1

Strikeout to walk ratio

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

I should note that I am not including wins/losses and saves in this report, as I feel that they are more opportunity-based than a reflection of performance.

Reliever Tm IP K/BB
Dean Kiekhefer Spr-Mem 71.1 10.3
Thomas Lee PB 94.1 8.7
Andrew Reidt GCL 30.1 8.0
Anderson Gerdel JC-SC 39.0 5.9
Sasha Kuebel GCL-JC 32.1 5.0
Josh Lucas SC-Peo-PB 42.1 5.0
Chris Thomas Peo-PB-Spr 55.0 4.9
Chris Perry Peo-PB  63.0 4.7
Kyle Grana SC 40.2 4.4
Steve Sabatino Peo-PB 45.1 4.4

Putting it together

The only two names from the ERA/WHIP and high strikeout lists to also appear in the strikeout to walk ratio leaders are Perry and Grana. Both are also monthly Reliever of the Month and team Reliever of the Year winners.

The only two names from the ERA/WHIP and low walk rate lists to also appear in the strikeout to walk ratio leaders are Thomas and Josh Lucas. Though neither won a monthly or a team reliever award, it is worth noting that each of them pitched at three different levels this season. One of the reasons for doing this kind of analysis is to ensure the performances of these types of players do not fall between the cracks.

When all is said and done, for me it comes down to Perry and Grana. Perry may have logged the best two months, including one that was truly phenomenal. However, the 24-year-old had a few rough outings at both Peoria and Palm Beach that raised his ERA at those two levels to 2.20 and 1.93, respectively.

Kyle Grana

Grana, 23, remained at State College for the entire New York-Penn League schedule and dominated. With his 0.89 ERA, the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder was the only reliever among our finalists to come in under 1.30. I consider that a tremendous advantage for him.

Grana’s 0.97 WHIP placed him among just four bullpenners to allow less than one baserunner per inning. The right-hander’s strikeout rate of 13.7 per nine innings was fourth-best among our finalists.

The fact that the 2013 free agent signee from Wildwood, Missouri accomplished all of the above while closing for the NYPL champion Spikes is icing on the cake.

With that balanced high level of performance, Kyle Grana is hereby named The Cardinal Nation Reliever of the Year for 2014.

Exclusively for The Cardinal Nation members

During the final month of the season, Grana spoke about his background and his 2014 successes, including a New York-Penn League all-star selection.

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For more

Link to master article with all 2014 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. That will include our selections as the system-wide Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year, coming this week.

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

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