Thursday, July 21, 2011

Unsung Relief Pitchers

There are worse things in life than being a relief pitcher. But perhaps no position is less respected in baseball. They are perceived to be less talented than starters. They are called, "fungible." They get paid well, but will never make the top contracts in baseball. The stats they accumulate like saves and holds are ridiculed. And when they make the All Star team, people get angry. Add to all this disrespect the fact that they either come in to a game and have to perform or their team will lose. Or, they come in to a game where the score is so lopsided, there is no meaning to the appearance at all. But relief pitchers can make or break a team. Especially with today's game strategy, a successful reliever is is the bomb.

The nexus of this post isn't to feature those relievers we all know are good. Everyone knows the great season David Robertson is having because he is on television five days a week it seems. Everyone knows about Rivera, Papelbon, Bard and Wilson. The Braves pair of Jonny Venters and Greg Kimbrel have become well known. The Padres are the rarity as a team that is only known by its relievers. Isn't that strange? But all of baseball covets Heath Bell, Mike Adams and Luke Gregerson. Frankie Rodriguez gets a lot of press both good and bad as does Joe Nathan.

But who is quietly going about his business putting up incredible numbers that have flown under the radar? The problem for relief pitchers is that this list changes every year. But still, what a year they are having! Here are some relief pitchers blowing up the joint that you may not have heard about.

Sergio Romo (Giants) - Everyone knows Brian Wilson and the beard. His commercials on the MLB Network make this viewer want to tackle him with a set of sheep shears. But Wilson isn't the best reliever on his team. That would be Sergio Romo. Romo has struck out 13.09 batters per nine innings while only walking 1.09. That's a 12 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio. Wow!  His ERA/FIP/xFIP are 1.91/1.21/1.52. He is tied for fourth with the great Mariano Rivera for relievers in fWAR with 1.5.

Glen Perkins (Twins) - Glen Perkins? Seriously? Perkins had tried for several years to crack the Twins' starting rotation and hadn't been able to do so. But this year, his relief outings have been a part of the Twins' recent surge back to relevance. Perkins has appeared in 38 games and has an ERA/FIP/xFIP of 1.72/1.79/2.62. He's struck out 10.02 batters per nine innings while walking 2.95. His numbers would be even better, but he has been a bit unlucky with a .312 BABIP. His fWAR is 1.4.

Jim Johnson and Koji Uehara (Orioles) - Over use sometimes gets in the way of Jim Johnson's statistics. He isn't your typical one-inning reliever. He's thrown 58 innings in 43 appearances. Some times that use catches up to him. But he's still put up the following pitching line: 2.64/2.89/3.09. He's not a big strikeout guy but walks only 1.71 per nine innings and induces ground balls at a rate of 61.5 percent. Uehara, unlike Johnson, rarely pitches unless the Orioles are winning. He's the set up guy and he's good at it. He has a terrific strikeout to walk ratio with 11.86 strikeouts per nine innings while only walking 1.64 per nine. His line is: 1.84/2.64/2.31. There has been a lot go wrong with the Orioles this year, but these two guys have been terrific.

Greg Holland (Royals) - Holland has only pitched in twenty games, good for 27 innings but is being used much more by the Royals these days and he's responded with seven holds to his credit. On top of his holds are three vulture wins good for a 3-1 record. His ERA/FIP/xFIP line is 1.00(!)/2.26/2.34. Holland has struck out 11 batters per nine innings while only walking 2.33. His strand rate is an ungodly 94 percent.

Vinnie Pestano (Indians) - Manny Acta is fond of match-up pitching and he has waved the magic wand with Pestano. Chris Perez gets all the ink, but Pestano has 13 holds, a win and two saves in his 42 appearances. He has struck out 12.89 batters per nine innings and his three home runs allowed has dinged his line a bit, but it's still good at: 2.68/2.29/2.24. The FIP and xFIP are terrific.

Matt Albers (Red Sox) - The Red Sox have been so good that few people pay them any attention any more. But Albers has been almost as good as Bard and Papelbon. Albers has eight holds and three wins to go along with his 9.33 strikeouts per nine innings. He walks too many batters at 3.66 per nine, but they rarely score. Albers has a 2.20 ERA to go along with a FIP of 2.48.

Scott Downs (Angels) - Downs has been a reliable relief pitcher for a long time and labored in relative obscurity for the Blue Jays. This is simply another very good year for him with five wins and sixteen holds to go along with an ERA of 1.35. Downs doesn't strike batters out, but he doesn't walk any either. He just gets guys to beat the ball weakly into the ground.

Honorable Mentions: Crain...Jesse Crain (White Sox), Sean Marshall (though he is closing now and is more in the spotlight for the Cubs), Sergio Santos (White Sox) and Eric O'Flaherty (Braves, 0.99 ERA!).

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