In phase two of our annual recaps of the just-completed season across the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system, we move from team reports to relief pitchers, starting with the Dominican Summer League.
As was discussed in the season review, the Dominican Summer League Cardinals had an improved 2015 campaign. The starting pitching and the offense were the brightest spots for the rookie-level club, with the defense and a very inexperienced bullpen struggling. The Cardinals’ pitching staff averaged 18.2 years of age, third-youngest in the 38-team league.
Overall, the Cards had a team ERA of 3.55. That placed them 15th in the league. Tutored by first-year pitching coach Giovanni Carrara, the staff struggled to throw the ball past their opponents with regularity as their strikeout total of 513 was 24th. The pitchers were relatively stingy with free passes, logging the 16th fewest walks at 258, which aided their showing in baserunners allowed with a WHIP of 1.39, 19th in the league, smack in the middle.
Though they logged 34 wins, 12 more than the year before, in 70 games, the 2015 Cardinals had just 12 saves, compared to 13 the year before. That was tied for second-fewest in the DSL this season. However, we are going to dig deeper than just that one stat to help us make our selection of The Cardinal Nation’s 2015 DSL Cardinals Relief Pitcher of the Year.
While just seven Cardinals hurlers pitched close to the majority of their games in a starting role, 13 others appeared primarily as a reliever. Their stats follow, listed in ascending ERA order.
|Noel De Jesus||0||1||6.17||9||0||1||11.2||10||9||8||5||9||2||4|
A quick look at the data narrows down the choices quickly, with only three relievers compiling ERAs under 3.50. They are our finalists. One might suggest that Estalin Tejada should be the winner over Will Changarotty, Enrique Perez and the others, with the most games finished, most saves and the only bullpen ERA better than 2.45.
Before we crown the winner, however, let’s look at strikeouts, walks and baserunners allowed. WHIP, walks and hits per innings pitched, is the surrogate for the latter and the field by which the table is sorted.
|Noel De Jesus||6.17||1.29||6.9||3.9||1.8|
It becomes very obvious that the ERA leader may not be the best choice as Reliever of the Year. Tejada allowed a lot of baserunners with a high WHIP of 1.46. In addition, though not indicated here, he was the third-oldest player on the Cardinals roster at 20 years of age.
Cardinals director of international operations Moises Rodriguez commented.
“In the back end, we used Tejada mostly,” Rodriguez said. “He is an older player. Sometimes you need those kinds of players to bring some stability to the pitching staff. I guess you could look at him as the guy that we used the most at the end of games. But you try to give guys multiple innings and try to develop their arsenal as much as they can before they get here to the US.”
Though Tejada led the staff in saves, as mentioned above, his total was just three of the team’s 12. Rodriguez explained why to not take that stat seriously at this level of play.
“With saves, that is a tricky deal,” he said. “The challenge there is that you don’t want to one kid to be your closer. Typically, you want to get kids multiple innings whenever you can for development purposes. Having a designated closer and if you don’t use the designated closer for a week, then you are sort of defeating the purpose of the academy, which is development.”
The relief pitcher with the lowest WHIP, Diego Cordero, is not among our finalists because his ERA was over 3.50. While he had the lowest walk rate in the pen, Cordero had one of the lowest strikeout rates, too.
One of our two finalists with a 2.45 ERA, Changarotty, was third in WHIP. The 19-year-old had a low strikeout rate equal to Cordero’s at 5.9 but in his favor was the second-stingiest walk rate.
However, I just can’t get the numbers put on the board by the other 2.45 ERA relief finalist, Perez, out of my mind. Go back to the first table and note that the just-turned 18-year-old allowed just nine hits in 36 2/3 innings. That means he held opposing batters to a .080 batting average for the entire season. Amazing!
The only ugly number on Perez’ line is really ugly, a walk rate of 8.6 per nine. Normally, that would disqualify a pitcher. However, given his miniscule hit rate, Perez’ WHIP of 1.20 was still second-best among all Cardinals relievers. The clincher for me was his eye-catching strikeout rate of 13.0 batters per nine innings, more than the other two finalists combined.
I am ok with assuming the walks will get straightened out over time. It is fair to note that lefties often take a bit longer to develop. And in fact, looking at Perez’ monthly splits, August was his best month with a walk rate of 5.25 per nine on the way to a 1.50 ERA. Progress, at least.
After all, in 2014, his first full season at Peoria, then 19-year-old Alex Reyes walked over five batters per nine and he seems to be turning out fine. The Cards’ top prospect posted a strikeout rate of 13.2 this season between Palm Beach and Springfield. Albeit at a different level of play, Perez’ 13.0 is right behind on the system leaderboard.
With that rationalization, I am sticking with my choice, Perez.
Our winner is a Colombian, standing 6-foot-2, weighing 180 pounds. Perez, who turned 18 in mid-August, is in his second year of professional pitching after having signed with the Cardinals at the age of 16 in February 2014.
Congratulations to The Cardinal Nation Dominican Summer League Cardinals Reliever of the Year for 2015, Enrique Perez.
Link to master article with all 2015 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Of course, that will include our selections as the DSL Cardinals Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.
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