FanSided’s end-of-year MLB awards series continued today with the results of the network-wide Reliever of the Year voting. Detroit’s Jose Valverde edged out the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera for the honors in the American League, while Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel won in a landslide over Milwaukee’s John Axford. For full breakdowns of the voting, I highly recommend checking out Blaine’s posts (AL, NL).
In the past, I’ve been a strong proponent of people who vote for these kinds of awards making their choices public. This might not have been as serious as the real BBWAA awards, but the principle stands. So it’s only fair that I be upfront about how I cast my ballot. Here’s who I voted for and why.
1. Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox. Crazy as it sounds, Papelbon has become one of the most underrated players in baseball. Lost in the madness of the Red Sox’ disappointing season was the fact that Papelbon had one of the best years of his career. Most will dismiss him for his superficial stats—his 31 saves and 2.94 ERA were the worst and second-worst of his career, respectively—but don’t forget he struck out over 12 strikeouts per nine innings while allowing only 1.4 BB/9. His 8.7 K/BB ratio was second in the league, and he finished first in all the major defense-neutral pitching stats, posting an insane 1.53 FIP and 1.58 SIERA. He also paced all AL relievers with 3.0 fWAR.
2. David Robertson, Yankees. He’s merely the Robin to Mariano Rivera’s Batman, but with all due respect to Mo, Robertson was the star of New York’s bullpen this year. His sterling 1.08 ERA was the best in the league, and with a 13.5 K/9 he paced the AL in strikeout rate too. His 4.26 WPA and 3.9 rWAR were also tops among Junior Circuit relievers, and his 2.8 rWAR put him in second.
3. Koji Uehara, Orioles/Rangers. I didn’t expect anyone else to vote for Uehara, and I was right—non-closers who get traded midseason and post ERAs over 2.00 usually don’t get much play for these awards. But don’t let that impair your judgment of his phenomenal season. In 65 innings pitched he struck out 85 while allowing only 9 walks, one-upping Papelbon for an AL-best 9.4 K/BB ratio. His .196 BABIP raises a potential red flag, but given his extreme strikeout and flyball tendencies a low hit rate is to be expected; SIERA (which takes those factors into account) has him at 1.59. I’m proud to have given him some support.
A few thoughts on the winners: Since I didn’t vote for Valverde or Rivera, I thought it would be pertinent to explain why.
Valverde had a great year—not blowing a single save is incredible—but we must be careful not to put too much faith in the almighty save. The save may be the most arbitrary mainstream statistic in baseball (more so, I would say, even than pitcher wins and RBI), and that’s what Valverde’s candidacy is based on. His 2.24 ERA is very good and his 1.19 WHIP is nice too, but his 2.0 K/BB rate and 3.58 SIERA leave something to be desire. Looking beyond his saves it’s clear that his season didn’t match up with Papelbon’s, Robertson’s, or Uehara’s.
Meanwhile Rivera was fantastic as always, but his high finish here is a due to his personal popularity and the fact that he is a closer and thus accumulates arbitrary saves. Compare his numbers to those of his setup man, Robertson. Rivera posted a much higher ERA (1.91 to 1.08) and performed worse in almost every defense-neutral estimator while pitching (slightly) fewer innings. Rivera’s great, but he wasn’t even the best pitcher in his own bullpen this year.