Since 1976, Rolaids has sponsored an award for the best relief pitchers of the year for both the American League and National League. I was going to name my awards the Tums Award, but figured I would get sued. So I figured I would name my award for the least successful relief pitchers of 2013 the Gasoline Award because the following list of pitchers did not put out any fires. Instead...say it with me...they poured gasoline on the fire.
It is difficult judging relief pitchers because they could have ten good performances in a row and then get poached for an inning and have an ERA that balloons to five in a hurry. And often times they will put a base runner on only to have another guy from the bullpen come in and make sure that runner scores. That is the life of a relief pitcher.
Noting all of that, I based my award on not only ERA, but on inherited runners scored, rWAR, WHIP and WPA. Doing so seems to cover all the bases. And here are my results:
Mike Gonzalez - Gonzalez is a LOOGY, a left-handed specialist who pitched 75 times this past season to log fifty innings. He makes his living one lefty batter at a time. After a mostly successful career doing so, 2013 did not go well. His WHIP was 1.660, his homer per nine rate was 1.8, his WPA was -2.000 (the highest on our list). He allowed 47.7% of his inherited runners to score and this was pitching mostly to get lefties out. Lefty batters had a .780 OPS against him. Not a good season.
Brandon League - I love this guy's name. It sounds like a collection of super heroes. League has never been able to hang on to a closer's role and this year was his worst. He had a WHIP of 1.546 and allowed 50% (!) of inherited runners to score. Opposing batters had this triple slash line against him: .305/.354/.464. His rWAR was -1.4 and his WPA was -1.838. Nothing good to see there. Oh yes, his ERA+ was 64.
Anthony Bass - I almost hate to put Bass in here as he was one of those guys that was the last guy out of the bullpen--the mop-up guy. He only had 29 appearances, but pitched 42 innings. But I have to put him in there because he allowed an .829 OPS against and allowed 66.67% of inherited base runners to score. That is unbelievable in the gasoline department. His WHIP was 1.690. His ERA was 5.26 and tied League with an ERA+ of 64. Bass had a WPA of -0.538.
Hector Rondon - Rondon's stats don't look as bad as the first three. His ERA and WHIP are better. But he allowed 50% of his inherited base runners to score. His WPA was -0.434. I suspect that he had some days where he pitched quite well and had other days where he could not get anyone out. His high walk rate probably did not help him.
Jose Mijares - This is our second LOOGY on the list and if you do not get that one guy out that you are supposed to get out, things get ugly. Mijares had the highest OPS against on our list at .844, a terribly bloated WHIP of 1.776. The trouble with LOOGYs are that the other manager will pinch hit for the lefty Mijares had to face and that spelled trouble as his OPS against from right-handed batters was almost one (.961). Mijares allowed 41.30% of inherited runners to score (30% is about average) and his WPA was -1.234.
Based on all that information, who would you give the award to? I think Mike Gonzalez gets the nod, though League gave him a run for his money. The good news for all of these pitchers is that most will probably still be employed in 2014.