Unlike 2013, when he came into camp competing as a starter, only to become the closer in September, Trevor Rosenthal spent the entire 2014 season as manager Mike Matheny’s ninth-inning man.
Normally, when a closer has 45 saves, just two off a share of the St. Louis Cardinals team record, his selection as The Cardinal Nation St. Louis Relief Pitcher of the Year would be a shoo-in.
Not so fast.
Cardinals fans know all too well that a ride with Rosenthal was often bumpy. Among the top half of National League closers, determined by the eight with the most saves, he had the:
• Second-most hits allowed (one from a share of the lead)
• Most walks issued by a considerable margin
• Highest WHIP, also by a considerable margin
• Highest ERA
• Most blown saves
• Most losses
• Lowest bWAR (tied)
If we lower the bar to include all NL relievers, Rosenthal’s six losses were tied for fifth-most, while his six blown saves were tied for sixth.
By any measure, it was far from a dominating year for the 24-year-old.
10 years Rosenthal’s senior, Pat Neshek faced the ultimate in insecurity this spring. The right-hander was without a sure big-league job, signing a minor league contract with St. Louis in early February that included a spring training invitation.
After making the team, it did not take long for the right-hander with the funky delivery to work his way into the set-up role. From April 11 through May 31, Neshek logged 22 consecutive scoreless outings covering 20 1/3 innings, the fifth-longest streak for any NL reliever this season. He went on to allow just two more runs through August 13, covering 49 appearances/46 innings.
When the All-Star Game selections were made, it was Neshek, not Rosenthal, who was named to the NL squad. Through the course of the season, the 34-year-old cemented his importance to the NL Central Division champions to the point he is The Cardinal Nation’s choice as St. Louis Reliever of the Year.
The tale of the tape between Rosenthal and Neshek will explain why.
Of course, Rosenthal has the advantage in saves, as well as save percentage, but Neshek finished sixth in the NL in his comparable category, holds, with 26.
|NL RP rank (Wins)||T5th||Neshek|
Neshek not only won over three-quarters of his decisions compared to Rosenthal’s 25 percent, his seven wins tied for fifth among all league relievers.
Now, let’s look at a couple of under-the-covers indicators.
|1st batter retired||43||58|
|Inh runners score||6||10|
Neshek retired more than 80 percent of his first batters faced, while Rosenthal was just under 60 percent. Further, under one-third of Neshek’s inherited runners came around to score, compared to Rosenthal at 40 percent.
|NL RP rank||#7||Neshek|
Neshek’s 1.87 ERA placed him seventh among NL relievers. Though the gap is narrowed when looking at fielding independent pitching, FIP, Rosenthal still comes up short in comparison.
|NL RP rank||#2||Neshek|
In terms of walks and hits per inning pitched, WHIP, Neshek’s rate was almost half of Rosenthal’s and was second-best among all NL relief pitchers.
|NL RP rank||#1||Neshek|
Yes, Rosenthal strikes out a lot of batters, but he also issues a lot of walks. Neshek does not, which when put together, gives him the best strikeout to walk ratio among all National League bullpenners.
No matter which flavor of Wins Above Replacement (WAR) you fancy, Neshek was more valuable in 2014.
With that, I rest my case. In every single measure noted above other than saves, Neshek had the superior year. With these results to back him up, TCN’s St. Louis Relief Pitcher of the Year should be able to cash in as a free agent this off-season.
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 St. Louis Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year, coming this weekend.
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