As we open phase two of our annual recaps of the just-completed season across the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system, we move from general team reports to specific player groups, starting with relief pitchers from the Dominican Summer League.
As covered in the season review, the Dominican Summer League Cardinals had a greatly improved 2016 campaign; in fact, the club set a new best in winning percentage. In a change from the past, the offense was the brightest spot for the rookie-level club, but the pitching played an important role as well.
For the second consecutive year, the Cardinals’ pitching staff averaged 18.2 years of age, almost a year below the league average of 19.1.
Overall, the Cards had a team ERA of 3.53. That placed them 22nd in the 42-team league. In terms of baserunners allowed, with walks plus hits per innings pitched, WHIP, used as a surrogate, the Cardinals’ mark of 1.322 was 16th.
Tutored by veteran pitching coach Bill Villanueva, back with the DSL club in 2016 after a stint in the US, Cardinals pitchers threw the ball past their opponents with regularity. The Cardinals’ strikeout total of 599 was first in the entire DSL. The staff was also stingy with free passes, logging the ninth fewest walks at 227.
The Cards logged 45 wins, 11 more than the year before, which tied them for eighth-most in the league. However, the Cardinals had just 20 saves, tied for 14th 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 2016 DSL Cardinals Relief Pitcher of the Year.
While eight Cardinals hurlers pitched the majority of their games in a starting role, 10 others appeared primarily as a reliever. No DSL Cards hurlers will be excluded from the reliever and starter reports since everyone threw 18 innings or more.
The relief pitchers’ stats follow, listed in ascending ERA order.
A quick look at the data enables us to narrow down the choices quickly, with only four relievers compiling ERAs under 2.50. They are our finalists. Last year’s winner, Enrique Perez, came in at 2.51.
One might draw the quick conclusion that Francis Ventura should be the winner over Fabian Blanco, Brian Pirela, Wilfredo Periera and the others, due to having the only ERA better than 2.00.
However, the 16-year-old was the only member of this group to also make starting appearances. Digging into his splits, it is clear that Ventura’s greater success was not as a reliever. His 2.04 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and .254 batting average against out of the bullpen were good, but not good enough to win. Still, being two years younger than the others signals a bright future potentially ahead.
Blanco had the lion’s share of the team’s saves with eight and finished the most games, 15. Second in saves with four is the oldest pitcher in the group, 21-year-old Estailin Tejada, who logged a 4.00 ERA, however.
To go to the next level, 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.
It becomes very obvious in this view that there are two kinds of relievers on the DSL squad.
Blanco and 2016 DSL All-Star selection Pirela log high strikeouts but also issue considerably more walks while the other finalists feature better control, but without the dominating K rates. Periera falls back due to a higher hit rate than the others.
When considering strikeout to walk ratio, the top candidates are all within a narrow range of 2.4-to-1 to 2.8-to-1.
With Blanco the clear primary late-inning choice of manager Fray Peniche and with the top totals in wins (four) and saves plus the lowest WHIP (0.95), highest strikeout rate (an impressive 13.8 per nine innings) and second-lowest ERA (2.15), he is our choice as 2016 DSL Cardinals Reliever of the Year.
One has to hope that his one substantial blemish, the very high walk rate (5.2 per nine innings), can be brought under control in the future. In fact, Blanco made considerable progress in August with just two free passes issued over his final seven appearances totaling eight innings. Perhaps being a left-hander, our second consecutive lefty recognized as the Cards’ top DSL reliever, suggests he will fully bloom later.
Our winner is a Venezuelan, standing 6 feet tall and weighing 165 pounds. Blanco, who will turn 19 just before Christmas, is in his second year of professional pitching after having signed with the Cardinals at the age of 16 in August 2014. He served as a long man for the 2015 DSL club.
Congratulations to The Cardinal Nation Dominican Summer League Cardinals Reliever of the Year for 2016, Fabian Blanco.
Link to master article with all 2016 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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