Johnson City Cards Reliever of the Year: 2008

Samuel Freeman takes our award as the top relief pitcher on the St. Louis Cardinals Appalachian League club in 2008.

The 2008 Johnson City Cardinals roster saw forty-one different players receive playing time during the season.  Twenty-two of those were pitchers and nineteen were position players.  Of the twenty-two pitchers, seventeen were part of the tandem starting (piggyback) pitcher rotation system and eleven were relievers.  Six pitchers saw action at various times during the season as both a starter and a reliever.  Of the forty-one players who saw playing time, twenty-one players (fifty-one percent of the roster) were on another Cardinal minor league team at some point during the season.    

 

As most who read this article know, the Johnson City Cardinals used what is known as the "piggyback" starting system this year.  The piggyback or tandem starting system pairs two pitchers together as a unit for a game.  This year, Johnson City had five piggyback pairs of starting pitchers.  The choice for a game of the starting pitcher from a pair of piggyback starters (referred to as the "first starter"), if completely healthy, rotates for every other scheduled start for the pair.  The first starter is typically limited, depending on health and experience, to about sixty-five pitches, give or take ten pitches.  The "second starter" almost always starts the sixth inning and is typically limited to about forty-five pitches, give or take five pitches. 

 

The Johnson City roster typically had about seventeen pitchers on the roster during the season.  Ten were piggyback starters and seven were relievers.  Eleven of the twenty-two pitchers (fifty percent) played at least one game in a reliever role for Johnson City in 2008.  Of the eleven relievers, only one (Santo Maertz) played exclusively for both Johnson City and in the reliever role throughout the 2008 season. 

 

I categorized each pitcher as a "piggyback starter" or "reliever" for each of Johnson City's sixty-six games this year.  The relievers averaged 2.11 appearances per game while pitching twenty-three percent of the innings.  The relievers slightly underperformed the piggyback starters this year in that they allowed more walks, hits, runs, and home runs on average.  Their walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP) was 1.55 while their strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) was 10.3.  The relievers finished with a 4.60 earned run average (ERA). 

 

One advantage of being a reliever in a piggyback starter system is your win-loss percentage.  Since a starter must complete five innings to qualify for a win and since that same starter is being limited to about sixty-five pitches, it was not unusual for a starter to last only four innings.  A reliever would almost always pitch between the two piggyback starters in these cases and they would often qualify as the winning pitcher if the first starter pitched well, if not efficiently. 

 

The relievers for Johnson City finished with a combined record, while in reliever roles, of 15 wins and 6 losses.  The Cardinals finished with a 36-30 record so that means that the relievers garnered forty-two percent of the team's wins and just twenty percent of the team's losses while pitching twenty-six percent of the team's innings.  Two relievers, Matt Frevert and Santo Maertz, finished with perfect 4-0 records while reliever Samuel Freeman finished with a 4-1 record. 

 

The relievers led the statistics in several categories that most would expect them to.  The relievers finished 54 of the 66 games (82%) while recording 76% of the team's saves and 53% of the team's holds. 

 

The list below shows the reliever names, number of games pitched as a reliever, saves as a reliever, innings pitched as a reliever, and number of holds as a reliever.  The list is ordered from top to bottom by the number of games pitched as a reliever.   

 

Reliever Games Saves Innings Holds
Jorge Rondon 21 6 22.1 1
Matt Frevert 21 1 19.1 0
Samuel Freeman 19 2 21.1 2
Joel Pichardo 19 1 22 0
Santo Maertz 17 0 15.1 0
Jose Mateo 13 2 12.2 3
Carlos Gonzalez 7 0 9.2 1
David Carpenter 6 0 6 0
LaCurtis Mayes 4 1 3.2 1
Scott McGregor 1 0 1 0
Andres Rosales 1 0 1 0

 

Those pitchers who threw more innings as a starter or who threw more innings at another level in the Cardinals organization were not considered to be "in the running" for Relief Pitcher of the Year. 

 

Andres Rosales, Scott McGregor, Carlos Gonzalez, and Jose Mateo all threw more innings as piggyback starters than as relievers.  David Carpenter threw more innings for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals and LaCurtis Mayes threw more innings for the Batavia Muckdogs. 

 

I will discuss each of the remaining five relief pitchers above in reverse order of how I ranked them for the award.  All the rankings are relative to the five relief pitchers considered for the award. 

 

Joel Pichardo, 5th – Pichardo ranked as the second-best reliever in 2007 for Johnson City but he couldn't match his 2007 performance this year.  He finished with an 0-3 record and ranked fifth in ERA, hits, runs, and home runs.  Pichardo again coupled pretty good control with lower than average strikeouts.  He was second best in walks per nine innings (BB/9 = 2.9) and fourth in strikeouts per nine innings (K/9 = 8.6). 

 

Jorge Rondon, 4th – Rondon became the closer of choice soon after LaCurtis Mayes was promoted to Batavia early in the season.  He led the team in saves (6) and blown saves (2) while finishing with a 2-2 record.  Rondon was third in ERA (4.03), fifth in WHIP (1.61), fifth in K/9 (8.5), and third in BB/9 (3.22).  He was promoted late in the year to the Quad Cities River Bandits, where, in eight appearances, he finished with a 1-0 record and 3.24 ERA while allowing a .367 batting average. 

 

Matt Frevert, 3rd – Frevert was a 28th round selection in the 2008 June draft who was also a late season promotion to the Quad Cities River Bandits.  He finished second in ERA (3.26), first in WHIP (1.24), third in K/9 (10.7), and first in BB/9 (2.8).  Frevert had one save, one blown save, and finished with a 4-0 record.  He and Joel Pichardo were the only two relievers that didn't hit a batter all season.  Frevert threw four scoreless innings in three appearances with the River Bandits while allowing a .267 batting average. 

 

Santo Maertz, 2nd – Maertz has the most over-the-top delivery of all the pitchers on the staff.  His "12-to-6" delivery motion produces a lot of movement on his pitches so, as you might expect, you also get above average walks and above average strikeouts.  Maertz was a 44th round pick in the June draft that played the entire season with Johnson City.  He finished first in ERA (3.15), fourth in WHIP (1.60), second in K/9 (11.3), and fifth in BB/9 (5.9).  Maertz finished with a 4-0 record while recording no saves and no holds.  He is the only reliever to allow no home runs.  His control is what will determine his future. 

 

Samuel Freeman, 1st – Freeman has the highest velocity of all the relievers and had the added advantage of being the only left-handed reliever on the staff.  Freeman had the ability to strike out hitters with nothing but his fastball.  Freeman finished with a 4-1 record while recording two saves and two blown saves.  Freeman was a 32nd round pick in the 2008 draft after being drafted and unsigned by the Cardinals in 2007.  As a reliever, Freeman finished fourth in ERA (4.22), second in WHIP (1.59), first in K/9 (13.1), and fourth in BB/9 (5.1). 

 

Freeman pitched his best game as a spot piggyback starter, going three innings and allowing one hit, no runs, and no walks while recording three strikeouts.  He was promoted to Palm Beach after the Johnson City season concluded.  He made one regular season appearance, pitching two scoreless and hitless innings while walking one and striking out four. 

 

Freeman's velocity will give him a long look by the Cardinals.  He can throw as high as 94 MPH.  His future as a left-handed short reliever looks bright, especially if he can develop slightly better control.  Freeman should be competing for the closer spot in Palm Beach next spring. 

 

 

Note: Master article with all 2008 Scout.com Cardinals Minor League Players of the Year and the schedule for daily announcements: link. (This link is also permanently located at the lower left of The Birdhouse home page.)

 

 

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