Over at the Baseball Bloggers’ Alliance, we have been voting on our award winners for the regular season. Last week I posted my votes for the AL and NL Connie Mack awards, given to our managers of the year, and I wrote earlier in the week about the AL and NL Willie Mays awards, given to our top rookies in each league. Today’s vote is for the National League Goose Gossage Award, given to the top reliever in the past season.
The inherent nature of an award given to the best reliever implies automatically that it should be given to the best closer in the league for the past season. As a general rule, it makes sense on some level that the pitcher who has the most success at the end of the game is going to be the one who had the best season, but I actually considered some pitchers who weren’t necessarily closing games. As usual, these are in order from east to west, and I will have my vote at the bottom.
Tyler Clippard (WAS)
It was pretty clear coming into the season that the Nationals were going to need some good performances out of their bullpen with the lack of starting pitching depth out of Spring Training, and Clippard established himself as the jack-of-all-trades for the team. He finished the year with 11 wins, 1 save, 23 holds, a 3.07 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 112 strikeouts in 91 1/3 innings pitched. I included him because he honestly reminded me the most of how Gossage was used when he was pitching: any inning, any situation, as long as was needed.
Billy Wagner (ATL)
Wagner finished the season with 37 saves, a 1.43 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, and 7 relief wins for the Braves, and they clearly needed this performance at the back end of their bullpen. Wagner is retiring after the season, and he’ll definitely be missed by the team.
Carlos Marmol (CHC)
Marmol finished the season finished 4th in saves with 38, an interesting accomplishment considering that the Cubs didn’t seem to be in enough games for him to record that number of saves. The more interesting number from Marmol has to be 138: the number of strikeouts he recorded this season out of the bullpen. This number was good enough for 34th among ALL pitchers in the National League, not just relievers. A 2.55 ERA and 1.18 WHIP don’t necessarily tell the whole story, as the games where he struggled seemed to be spectacularly bad, but definitely one of the more dominant seasons in recent memory.
John Axford (MIL)
I wrote about Axford in my NL Willie Mays award article, but the numbers really speak well of Axford. He was called on to fill in for the struggling Trevor Hoffman, and did so very well. He finished with 24 saves, a 2.48 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 76 strikeouts in just 58 2/3 innings. Looks like the Brewers have their closer of the future.
Brian Wilson (SF)
Wilson led the National League in saves (48), posted a 1.81 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, and had 93 strikeouts in his 74 2/3 innings pitched. He posted a career high in K/9 (11.21), and was also 11 for 12 in save opportunities in the month of September.
Hong-Chih Kuo (LAD)
Kuo was called upon later in the season to replace the struggling Jonathan Broxton, and did so extremely well. For the whole season, he had 12 saves, 21 holds, a 1.20 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, and 73 strikeouts in 60 innings pitched.
Heath Bell (SD)
Bell was the stable end to the excellent Padres’ bullpen in 2010, finishing 2nd in the league with 47 saves, a 1.93 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, and 86 strikeouts in 70 2/3 innings pitched. He also posted a 6-1 record out of the pen as well.
I found it extremely interesting how similar Wilson and Bell’s numbers were to each other. Both teams clearly relied on their closers, and both teams would definitely not have been where they were without the performances they received over the span of the season. To me, the difference really ended up being the performance in September as both teams made their push to take the NL West title. Wilson posted a 1.17 ERA and the 11 saves, Bell a 2.51 ERA and 10 saves. The fact that the Giants ended up making the playoffs, and the Padres didn’t, was really the only factor I was able to use to help differentiate the two closers.