RELIEVERS: Some Really Good Relievers Out There

Just a tick over the halfway point in the season we take a deep breath at the All-Star Break. There were ten relievers selected to the AL and NL All-Star teams and some comparative snubs. Here is a look at ten that got in, ten that were left out and another five that will factor into the second half.

First, here are five All-Star relievers who were selected to the AL squad:

ASB              W  Sv   IP    K   ERA  WHIP   $
==============  == ===  ====  ==  ====  ====  ==
Rodney (TAM)     2  25  38.7  38  0.93  0.75  25
J.Johnson (BAL)  1  26  37.3  22  1.21  0.75  22
Nathan (TEX)     1  18  36.3  45  1.73  0.94  16
R.Cook (OAK)     2   8  38.3  39  1.41  0.89  13
C.Perez (CLE)    0  24  32.3  35  3.34  1.11  10

One can see why there were selected, superb ERA and WHIP numbers, plenty of saves and innings, nearly a perfect first half for all five of these pitchers. The best of the bunch so far has been surprising Fernando Rodney (RHP, TAM). Jim Johnson (RHP, BAL) has been no less surprising for the Orioles and has been part of turning a weak area from 2011 into a team strength in 2012. It cannot really be said that anyone expected this kind of first half from Joe Nathan (RHP, TEX) either. Pitching in Texas is hard enough, but putting up a sub 2.00 ERA in Texas makes you an All-Star and then some. Preseason projections looked very good for Ryan Cook (RHP, OAK) and he has not disappointed, exceeding expectations by taking over Oakland's closer role with a microscopic ERA and WHIP and more strikeouts than innings. And Cleveland closer Chris Perez (RHP, CLE) has had perhaps as big a skills jump as anyone from 2011 to 2012, showing that his success is not smoke and mirrors anymore.

Here are the skills:

ASB              IP    Dom   Cmd  HR/9  xERA  BPV
==============  ====  ====  ====  ====  ====  ===
Rodney (TAM)    38.7   8.8   7.6   0.2  2.50  158 
J.Johnson (BAL) 37.3   5.3   2.4   0.7  2.96   82
Nathan (TEX)    36.3  11.1  11.2   0.5  2.46  192
R.Cook (OAK)    38.3   9.2   1.9   0.0  3.71   54
C.Perez (CLE)   32.3   9.7   5.0   0.6  3.25  141

This is a bit more of a mixed bag than the All-Star caliber results. Rodney, Nathan and Perez have been superb. Johnson is a bit Dom-challenged, but makes up for it with a 3.5+ G/F ratio. Cook is the worry here, with a sub 2.0 Cmd and no home runs against despite a high 45% FB rate. It isn't that Cook can't continue to pitch well, it is more than he is the least likely to continue to pitch at such a high level, given the demonstrated skills over the first half. Here are some brief projections:

proj.           pxERA  pBPV  p$
==============  =====  ====  ==  
Rodney (TAM)     3.09   115   5
J.Johnson (BAL)  3.54    68   8
Nathan (TEX)     3.16   136  11
R.Cook (OAK)     4.00    61   6
C.Perez (CLE)    3.96    78   7

Rodney and Nathan are the two expected to continue to pitch at a high 100+ BPV level. Perez is caught between his 2011 skills and 2012 skills, but he has shown over the first half that he can post some fine skills. Johnson will come back to earth as will Cook; the question is when and to what degree. None of these closers appear in any kind of danger of a change in role.

So those were the five that got in from the AL; here are five who could make a case but did not get in:

ASB              W  Sv   IP    K   ERA  WHIP   $
==============  == ===  ====  ==  ====  ====  ==
Frieri (LAA)     1  11  38.0  63  0.71  1.00  16
R.Ross (TEX)     6   0  47.3  29  0.95  0.93  14
R.Soriano (NYY)  2  20  33.7  34  1.60  1.34  11
Janssen (TOR)    1  12  34.3  35  2.36  0.87  10
S.Downs (LAA)    1   8  30.0  19  0.30  0.93  10

Ernesto Frieri (RHP, LAA) appears to have arrived just a few weeks too late or he very well could have taken Cook's slot. His 0.71 ERA is better than any of the five who made the AL squad, and his $16 first-half value exceeds Cook and Perez, tying Nathan for third in the AL. Non-closer Robbie Ross (LHP, TEX) has been a tremendous lefty set-up, with six vultured wins and elite level ERA and WHIP. Rafael Soriano (RHP, NYY) has been strong in the closer role after Mariano Rivera (RHP, NYY) and David Robertson (RHP, NYY) got hurt. Soriano's strong work has kept him in the role for the surging Yankees. Casey Janssen (RHP, TOR) has pitched like a closer before, but this is the first time the Blue Jays have actually given him a shot in the role. Janssen has pitched beautifully to help offset all the injuries in the rotation. And Scott Downs (LHP, LAA) has the ridiculous 0.30 ERA over the first half—giving him the same value as Chris Perez with 24 saves. Any of these five could have been All-Stars.

Skills:

ASB              IP    Dom   Cmd  HR/9  xERA  BPV
==============  ====  ====  ====  ====  ====  ===
Frieri (LAA)    38.0  14.9   3.0   0.5  2.63  137
R.Ross (TEX)    47.3   5.5   2.6   0.4  3.12   86 (3.25 G/F)
R.Soriano (NYY) 33.7   9.1   2.3   0.0  3.90   71
Janssen (TOR)   34.3   9.2   7.0   1.0  2.69  155
S.Downs (LAA)   30.0   5.7   3.2   0.0  3.00   96 (3.76 G/F)

Frieri and Janssen stand out, with sub 3.00 xERAs and 130+ BPVs. The two lefties, Ross and Downs have superior G/F ratios--Ross at 3.25 G/F; Downs at 3.76 G/F. Soriano has been fine, but not as strong as Frieri or Janssen. When comparing these skills to the five AL all-star selections, Frieri and Janssen hold their own with Rodney and Nathan. Ross and Downs are more like Johnson, with G/F making up for lower than 6.0 Dom. Soriano and Cook fall behind the others, but with strong Dom and HR/9 numbers. Projections:

proj.           pxERA  pBPV  p$
==============  =====  ====  ==  
Frieri (LAA)     3.78    77   5
R.Ross (TEX)     2.96   110   4
R.Soriano (NYY)  3.79    79   9
Janssen (TOR)    3.19   123   9
S.Downs (LAA)    3.51    74   6

The projections love Robbie Ross. His projected 2.96 xERA is better than any of the other AL relievers examined—and that is after considering that he pitches half his games in Texas. Janssen is in with Rodney and Nathan, Frieri and Soriano with Perez, Downs with Johnson, and Cook brings up the rear. But these are all profit centers for the second half.

Switching to the NL All-Stars, here are the five:

ASB              W  Sv   IP    K   ERA  WHIP   $
==============  == ===  ====  ==  ====  ====  ==
Kimbrel (ATL)    0  25  33.0  56  1.36  0.70  22
Chapman (CIN)    4  11  39.3  71  1.83  0.74  20
Hanrahan (PIT)   4  23  34.0  35  2.38  1.12  15
Street (SD)      2  13  24.0  32  1.12  0.75  12
Papelbon (PHI)   2  18  32.3  40  3.34  1.14   9

All five are closers posting strong results with superb ERA and WHIP (and profit) numbers. Craig Kimbrel (RHP, ATL) leads the way with 56 strikeouts in just 33 innings. Aroldis Chapman (LHP, CIN) is just as absurd, with 71(!) strikeouts in 39.3 innings and great ERA/WHIP numbers. Huston Street (RHP, SD) was hurt early and has just 24 innings pitched, but the 1.12 ERA and 0.75 WHIP worked in his favor. A tick behind these sets of results are Joel Hanrahan (RHP, PIT) and Jonathan Papelbon (RHP, PHI), both with plenty of saves, strong WHIP and strikeout numbers so far.

Skills:

ASB              IP    Dom   Cmd  HR/9  xERA  BPV
==============  ====  ====  ====  ====  ====  ===
Kimbrel (ATL)   33.0  15.3   5.6   0.3  1.52  236
Chapman (CIN)   39.3  16.2   5.9   0.7  1.79  234
Hanrahan (PIT)  34.0   9.3   1.9   1.3  3.95   52
Street (SD)     24.0  12.0   4.0   0.0  2.60  148
Papelbon (PHI)  32.3  11.1   5.0   1.1  2.92  158

This is a strikeout-happy bunch. Papelbon has 11.1 K/9 and that is only fourth of the five in this group. Street has 12.0 K/9, Kimbrel has 15.3 K/9 and Chapman has 16.2 K/9. 60 percent of Chapman's outs come via strikeout! Each pitcher has a Cmd at an elite 4.0 or greater, except Hanrahan. Hanrahan and Papelbon have struggled some with home runs (over 1.0 HR/9). The xERA and BPV numbers are tremendous, except Hanrahan. Kimbrel and Chapman are in the rare Vintage Eck Territory—at least over the first half. Projections:

proj.           pxERA  pBPV  p$
==============  =====  ====  ==  
Kimbrel (ATL)    2.28   178  27
Chapman (CIN)    2.38   170  20
Hanrahan (PIT)   3.44    97  13
Street (SD)      2.97   145  14
Papelbon (PHI)   2.70   173  18

These are all elite closers with elite skills and solid roles. Hanrahan's HR/9 is a slight worry, but overall, there is little to do but reap the rewards of rostering these pitchers.

But believe it or not, there are five more non-All-Star relievers in the NL with at least as good a first-half value as Papelbon:

ASB              W  Sv   IP    K   ERA  WHIP   $
==============  == ===  ====  ==  ====  ====  ==
K.Jansen (LA)    4  15  39.3  63  2.06  0.76  20
Motte (STL)      3  20  38.3  39  3.05  1.02  14
Clippard (WAS)   2  14  37.3  43  1.93  0.91  14
S.Casilla (SF)   2  21  31.7  30  2.84  1.33   9
Romo (SF)        2   5  25.0  30  0.72  0.72   9

No one will be surprised that Kenley Jansen (RHP, LA) heads this list. Jansen is not far off of Kimbrel and Chapman and deserves to be an All-Star, with 63 strikeouts in 39.3 innings and excellent ERA and WHIP numbers. Tyler Clippard (RHP, WAS) and Santiago Casilla (RHP, SF) did not start the year as closers, but their performance has been better than most closers, and when opportunities arose, neither one ever looked back. Jason Motte (RHP, STL) has been consistent and the one star-caliber reliever for the Cardinals so far in 2012. Sergio Romo (RHP, SF) was hurt and started slowly, but his impact is as big as any reliever so far this year, with a 0.72 ERA thus far for the Giants.

Skills:

ASB              IP    Dom   Cmd  HR/9  xERA  BPV
==============  ====  ====  ====  ====  ====  ===
K.Jansen (LA)   39.3  14.4   4.8   0.9  2.30  189
Motte (STL)     38.3   9.2   3.2   1.2  3.18  111
Clippard (WAS)  37.3  10.4   2.9   0.0  3.50  102
S.Casilla (SF)  31.7   8.5   2.7   1.4  3.30  106
Romo (SF)       25.0  10.8   4.3   0.4  2.47  150

Jansen and Romo have elite skills that fit in with the four studs Kimbrel, Chapman, Street and Papelbon. Motte, Clippard and Casilla all have skills across the board with 100+ BPVs. Motte and Casilla have HR/9 issues that have not yet caused much trouble, although Casilla with a 1.4 HR/9 could have issues unless he brings it down to a more reasonable number. All of these five non-All-Stars have had better first half skills than Hanrahan. Projections:

proj.           pxERA  pBPV  p$
==============  =====  ====  ==  
K.Jansen (LA)    3.06   124  17
Motte (STL)      3.43   108  15
Clippard (WAS)   3.72    96  13
S.Casilla (SF)   3.66    70  10
Romo (SF)        2.76   159  10

Going forward, Romo and Jansen are projected with Kimbrel, Chapman, Street and Papelbon. These are the best skill sets anywhere. Motte, Hanrahan and Clippard are expected to be pretty close to that level, all right around a 100 BPV and mid-3.00s xERA. Only Casilla has a down pBPV, and even his pxERA is solid. This is another strong group who should perform as well in the second half as it has performed so far.

Rather than just leave it at that, with twenty top-shelf relievers, here are five more who have had a strong first half:

ASB              W  Sv   IP    K   ERA  WHIP   $
==============  == ===  ====  ==  ====  ====  ==
Betancourt (COL) 1  15  31.7  34  2.84  1.11   8
Pestano (CLE)    3   0  36.0  43  1.75  1.03   6
D.Oliver (TOR)   2   0  31.7  34  1.42  0.92   6
Wilhelmsen (SEA) 3   7  44.3  52  2.44  1.15   9
Broxton (KC)     1  21  31.7  23  1.99  1.33   9

Rafael Betancourt (RHP, COL) has done well, despite being on a terrible Colorado team. Vinny Pestano (RHP, CLE) is not the closer, but he has pitched better than most closers with a 1.75 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. Darren Oliver (LHP, TOR) has been as good as any left-handed set-up, including Robbie Ross and Scott Downs. Tom Wilhelmsen (RHP, SEA) had to take over from Brandon League (RHP, SEA) and has been far better than advertised. Jonathan Broxton (RHP, KC) has resurrected his career as closer with the Royals and currently sits on the July trade block with a sub-2.00 ERA.

Skills:

ASB               IP    Dom   Cmd  HR/9  xERA  BPV
==============   ====  ====  ====  ====  ====  ===
Betancourt (COL) 31.7   9.7   3.8   0.9  3.46  118
Pestano (CLE)    36.0  10.8   2.9   0.5  3.15  112
D.Oliver (TOR)   31.7   9.7   4.9   0.6  2.57  147
Wilhelmsen (SEA) 44.3  10.6   3.5   0.6  3.08  131
Broxton (KC)     31.7   6.5   1.9   0.3  3.81   57

Another round of relievers with high Dom, strong Cmd, good HR/9 and xERA and 100+ BPV—all except Broxton, that is. Broxton has a far lower Dom than in his Dodger hey-days and his 1.9 Cmd is worrisome, as is his 57 BPV. Broxton may be at his highest value for 2012 and it may be hard for him to repeat his results, whether in Kansas City or elsewhere. Projections:

proj.            pxERA  pBPV  p$
==============   =====  ====  ==  
Betancourt (COL)  2.98   156  14
Pestano (CLE)     3.24   118   9
D.Oliver (TOR)    2.99   133   7
Wilhelmsen (SEA)  3.81    88   5
Broxton (KC)      3.78    68   1

Betancourt is as good as any of the prior NL closers mentioned. Pestano and Oliver won't close, but both should be elite ERA/WHIP havens all second half. Wilhelmsen is the closer for a team trying to improve. There is no reason to expect a change, but that could have been said of League this time last year, and a trade remains quite possible. Broxton is on the trade block; if moved to a team needing a set-up, it will severely harm Broxton's value. If moved to a team like, say, the Mets, it could help him remain closer, but the skills say it is a short-term solution at best.

Next week, we search for hidden gems among the high-skills, low-value relievers.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.