Brian Pirela from the Dominican Summer League is The Cardinal Nation’s top relief pitcher during July

Brian Pirela from the Dominican Summer League is The Cardinal Nation’s top relief pitcher during July 2016, edging out State College’s Spencer Trayner and three other finalists.

This is the third in The Cardinal Nation’s monthly three-part series in which we announce our Players and Pitchers of the Month, both starters and relievers, across the St. Louis Cardinals organization.

This time around, we will review the July performances of the top relief pitchers in the system. By definition, this group can very rarely, if ever, compete with the flashier numbers put up by starters, so this award is specially for the bullpenners, who work in relative anonymity.


By my count, 80 individuals threw a pitch as a reliever in the Cardinals system last month. When applying the criteria of at least 10 innings pitched and an ERA under 1.00, the list drops to a very manageable five. The group would have been seven, but Jorge Rodriguez of Peoria (1.08) and Davis Ward, then of Palm Beach (1.15), just missed the cut.

There is a nice level distribution in the group of five finalists, from Palm Beach down to the Dominican Summer League. Though State College is represented with two relievers, Bob Wheatley has since been promoted to Peoria. Triple-A Memphis, Double-A Springfield and the Gulf Coast League were shut out – the latter primarily due to larger rosters and more relievers sharing the workload, keeping most under 10 innings.

Noel Gonzalez  JC 10.2 0 1 0.00 1.275 0.598 0.324
Bob Wheatley  SC 11 1 5 0.82 1.545 0.721 0.364
Landon Beck  PB 10.1 1 2 0.87 1.386 0.568 0.323
Brian Pirela  DSL 10 1 1 0.90 1.000 0.466 0.350
Spencer Trayner  SC 10 1 1 0.90 1.000 0.554 0.250

ERA and WHIP leaders

Every single 10-inning reliever in the Cardinals system was scored upon during July, though Johnson City’s Noel Gonzalez’ only run was unearned. The other four finalists yielded just one score each, though Landon Beck, and especially Wheatley, also had unearned runs on their slate.

In term of WHIP, walks plus hits per innings pitched, a good surrogate for baserunners allowed, none came in under 1.00, though the DSL’s Brian Pirela and State College’s Spencer Trayner landed right on that mark. Beck and Wheatley drop by the wayside after faring worst of the group here, as well.

Despite having the second-highest batting average on balls in play, potentially suggesting a bit of bad luck, Pirela had the lowest opponent batter OPS of the finalists, at a very impressive .466. Next-closest was just .554.

Reliever Tm K/9 BB/9 K/BB GB/FB
Noel Gonzalez  JC 7.6 1.7 4.5 1.0
Bob Wheatley  SC 7.4 4.1 1.8 2.2
Landon Beck  PB 7.8 3.5 2.3 1.9
Brian Pirela  DSL 15.3 2.7 5.7 2.0
Spencer Trayner  SC 7.2 1.8 4.0 2.7

Strikeout and walk leaders

Pirela is the clear leader in strikeouts, with 17 in 10 innings for an eye-popping rate of 15.3 per nine innings. That almost doubles his nearest competitor. Gonzalez and Trayner were by far the stingiest in walks, with Pirela in the middle of the pack. The latter’s strikeouts were so overwhelming that he also had the best strikeout-to-walk ratio among the finalists at 5.7-to-1.

Trayner stands out among the others in inducing ground balls, at a rate of 2.7 per fly ball with Gonzalez on the low end and the others bunched in the middle.

The winner

In a very close race, I am perhaps surprisingly down to the two finalists tied for the highest ERA among the group as the July winner. All of the five had superb ERA results, but both Pirela and Trayner had no unearned runs scoring on their watch.

Further, the two were the co-leaders in WHIP, but after that, the pair diverge. Trayner was a very close second in walk rate and featured the strongest ground ball advantage. Pirela had a nice OPS edge, an overwhelming lead in strikeouts and the clear top position in strikeout to walk ratio. As a result, it pushes Pirela across the tape first in a photo finish over Trayner.

Congratulations to Brian Pirela, The Cardinal Nation’s Relief Pitcher of the Month for July - and to the other four finalists, also.

Our winner, an 18-year-old native of Venezuela, was a July 2nd signing by St. Louis in 2015 for the bargain price of $20,000. The 6-foot-2, 208-pound right-hander was named a Dominican Summer League All-Star last month, as well.

Prior award winners

Here are the earlier winners of all of the monthly awards for 2016 to date – both from The Cardinal Nation and the St. Louis Cardinals themselves – along with links to those prior articles.

  Pitcher of Month Starter of Month Reliever of Month  
2016 Cards organization The Cardinal Nation The Cardinal Nation 2016
April  Andrew Morales Austin Gomber Kevin Herget April 
May Jake Woodford Jake Woodford Rowan Wick May
June Luke Weaver DNA DNA June
July Matt Pearce L Weaver/A Gomber Brian Pirela July
Aug       Aug
  Player of Month      
2016 Cards organization The Cardinal Nation   2016
April  Harrison Bader Harrison Bader   April 
May David Washington David Washington   May
June Brian Sanchez DNA   June
July Allen Cordoba Wadye Ynfante   July
Aug       Aug

Coming soon

In August, we will publish our latest update to the Cardinals top 40 prospect rankings, exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.

Also for members of The Cardinal Nation: Cardinals Prospect Interview – Springfield outfielder Blake Drake

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

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