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.
It was surprisingly difficult to select the winner, with several candidates having a strong case. The ultimate selection is unprecedented for us here at TCN – a repeat of our Rookie Reliever of the Year – State College’s Luke Harrison.
It would have been easy instead to again bestow the award on our 2014 winner and our 2015 Peoria Reliever of the Year Kyle Grana, who had the lowest ERA for the second year in a row and the most saves with 24.
Few would have argued with a selection of hard-throwing Sam Tuivailala. Our Memphis Reliever of the Year is the top Major League prospect among all system relievers and has already made his St. Louis debut.
But, this effort isn’t to select the top closer or top prospect – this is about the best performance of any bullpenner in any role during the 2015 season – and these two stars were surpassed by another – a 35th-rounder who wasn’t even his team’s closer in Harrison.
Let’s go through how I got there.
As you hopefully know, we have already completed the selection process of the eight team-based Relievers of the Year by level. On Friday, we announced our winner of the Rookie Reliever of the Year award as well.
Those individuals were included in the pool of candidates for this award, along with every relief pitcher in the system who threw at least 30 innings during 2015.
Over time, I have evolved to drawing the line in terms of minimum innings pitched at 30. I do not want to go so low that the rate stats would be distorted, yet I do not want to set the bar so high that deserving short-season players would be excluded from consideration.
The system had six qualifying relievers who finished the season with at least 30 innings and an ERA of 2.00 or lower. There was a good distribution by level among our finalists, with all seven of the Cardinals’ US-based affiliates represented by at least one pitcher.
Batting Average Against, WHIP, ERA and FIP
We start our stats-based comparisons with batting average against, walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP, a general surrogate for baserunners allowed), earned run average and Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP).
In addition to ERA, which is the way the following tables are sorted, FIP is included. The latter removes defense from a pitcher’s run prevention and is considered by the sabermetric-inclined to be a more accurate measure of performance. One downside is that FIP is calculated by level. With some of the finalists having pitched for two teams during the season, two FIP measurements are included.
Grana and Tuivailala registered the lowest batting average against at .176, however Harrison and Josh Lucas were the only two to allow less than one baserunner per inning.
Leading the way in ERA was Grana at 0.78, the only reliever with a mark under 1.00. Harrison was next. However, the table turns when looking at FIP, with Harrison on top of Grana as well as the others.
Ground-to-air outs, strikeouts and walks
Again we see that the two best at keeping runners off base, Lucas and Harrison, are the also the most successful at inducing ground ball outs. That does not seem a coincidence.
Grana and rookie left-hander Chandler Hawkins were the only two to strike out more than one batter per inning. Yet, Grana and Tuivailala issued more than five free passes per nine innings during the season, a concerning rate.
On the other hand, Lucas and especially Harrison, were extremely stingy with walks. With Harrison having allowed just three bases on balls in 35 2/3 New York-Penn League innings, his strikeout to walk ratio was an amazing 9.3. That was almost three times the next closest competitor.
Putting it together
As I said before, choosing Grana or Tuivailala would have been very defendable. Yet when all is said and done, Harrison’s strong performance across the board leads to his selection as The Cardinal Nation’s Minor League Reliever of the Year for 2015.
The 22-year-old from the University of Indiana was first in FIP, had the lowest walk rate and best strikeout to walk ratio. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder was second (to different finalists) in WHIP, ERA and ground-to-air outs.
Link to master article with all 2015 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Of course, that includes our selections as the organization’s Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year, up next.
Not yet a member?
Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system. Take advantage of our seven-day free trial.
© 2015 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.