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.
The intent is to ensure relievers, who are often overshadowed by starters, receive their just due. The choice is the one we believe made the greatest contribution this season, whether an early draftee, a top prospect or neither.
Our winner is Kevin Herget, who began the season by utterly dominating Florida State League hitters before earning a promotion to Double-A Springfield and even making a brief Triple-A debut.
Let’s go through how Herget was selected.
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 40 innings during 2016.
The system had nine qualifying relievers who finished the season with at least 40 innings and an ERA of 3.00 or lower. There was a good distribution by level among our finalists, with State College being the only one of the Cardinals’ eight affiliates not represented by at least one pitcher.
Exceptions to the rule
As you will see in the tables below, three of the finalists did not pitch exclusively as relievers in 2016. The trio did not throw enough innings in a starting role to make the Starter of the Year competition, but pitched well enough overall to be acknowledged here.
Despite putting up solid numbers this season in their debuts as professionals, Mike O'Reilly of the Gulf Coast League Cardinals and Ross Vance of Johnson City did not win their respective teams’ Reliever or Starter of the Year awards, but their overall numbers are clearly worth calling attention to.
Jorge Rodriguez of Peoria moved to the rotation in time to become the Cardinals organization Pitcher of the Month for August and also won The Cardinal Nation’s top starter nod. Rodriguez was also recognized as TCN’s Peoria Reliever of the Year for his first five months of work out of the bullpen.
However, all three were surpassed by Herget, whose contributions would have gone otherwise unrecognized in our awards due to the timing of him pitching at multiple levels this season.
WHIP, ERA and FIP
We start our stats-based comparisons with 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 several of the finalists having pitched for more than one team during the season, multiple FIP measurements are included.
Leading the way in ERA is Herget, bolstered by his 0.00 ERA beginning at Palm Beach. Next is Rodriguez, with a gap to the others clustered around 2.40 to 2.50. Bringing up the rear are Ryan Sherriff and Ronnie Shaban.
The fewest baserunners allowed are shared by Herget and O’Reilly at a very good 1.0 per inning, with Vance and the youngest finalist, 18-year-old Enrique Perez of the Dominican Summer League, close behind at 1.05 and 1.07, respectively.
FIP provides an excellent separation point. Hard-throwing Rowan Wick posted a lower FIP than Herget at Palm Beach, and was our selection as the Beach Birds Reliever of the Year.
Wick had followed Herget as TCN’s system-wide Reliever of the Month, as the two were our April and May winners, respectively.
However, Herget performed substantially better at the higher level, Double-A Springfield, where the two also spent considerable time in 2016. (One can pretty much ignore Herget’s Memphis numbers as he pitched just 1 1/3 scoreless innings there.)
Strikeouts and walks
In terms of strikeout rate, Wick and Vance lead the way by a considerable margin. However, Wick, the top prospect among the group, also has a lot of work to do as the most prone to issue a free pass - with a too-high 4.1 per nine rate.
O’Reilly is stingiest with the walks at just 1.1 per nine, with Vance and Herget the only others yielding less than two bases on balls per nine innings.
Bringing the two together, the hybrid starter-relievers O’Reilly and Vance lead the way in strikeout to walk ratio. But among the pure relievers, Herget’s excellent ratio of 4.7 to 1 is clearly superior to the others.
Herget’s strong performance across the board leads to his selection as our top reliever system-wide in 2016.
The 25-year-old from Kean University in New Jersey was St. Louis’ 39th round selection in the 2013 draft. Among our nine finalists, Herget was first in ERA, FIP, tied for lowest WHIP and had the lowest walk rate and best strikeout to walk ratio among the pure relievers.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pounder especially shined with Palm Beach to open the season, throwing 23 innings without allowing a run and saving all six opportunities. Herget allowed just five hits, struck out 21 and issued just one free pass before his mid-May promotion to Springfield.
Initially, Herget had trouble at his new level, allowing six earned runs over his first 7 1/3 innings at Double-A. However, the right-hander soon had his feet back on the ground, with a very strong second half that included a 1.57 ERA, a 4-0 record, 5-for-6 in saves, and 18 strikeouts to seven walks in his final 23 innings of work for Springfield.
Congratulations to Kevin Herget, The Cardinal Nation 2016 Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year.
Prior years’ winners
Our ninth 2016 finalist was also our 2015 winner, Luke Harrison of Peoria. Our other honorees over the last decade follow.
|TCN Reliever of the Year|
|2015||Luke Harrison||State College||SS-A|
|2014||Kyle Grana||State College||SS-A|
Link to master article with all 2016 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. That will include our selections as the Rookie Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year, followed our choice as the top manager.
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