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 American 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.
Daniel Bard (BOS)
Bard brought some much needed stability to the 8th inning for the Red Sox. He recorded only 3 saves while filling in for Jonathan Papelbon, but did lead the American League in holds with 32. He also posted a 1.93 ERA and 1.00 WHIP to go with 76 strikeouts in 74 2/3 innings pitched.
Mariano Rivera (NYY)
At some point, we’re going to remember that it isn’t as easy as Mariano Rivera makes it look every season. The numbers: 33 saves, 1.80 ERA, 0.83 WHIP. Not quite as dominant as he has been in the past, but I have to remind myself that he’s been doing this now for 14 seasons as the closer for the Yankees. This was also the third straight season he has posted a sub 2.00 ERA, and the 7th in the last 8 seasons.
Rafael Soriano (TAM)
Soriano was acquired by the Rays during the offseason to come in and take hold of the closer’s job, and he definitely did that. He finished the season with a league leading 45 saves, a 1.73 ERA and 0.80 WHIP. It was nice to see what Soriano can finally do when he stays healthy for a full season. The fact that he did it in the game’s toughest division (17 saves vs AL East) speaks to just how great his performance was.
Joaquin Benoit (TAM)
Joaquin was an epiphany for the bullpen of the Rays, as he wasn’t even expected to be a major portion of the pen at the start of the season. He became the trusted 8th inning pitcher for the playoff-bound Rays, posting 25 holds in 60 1/3 innings pitched. His ERA of 1.34 and WHIP of 0.68 were among the league leaders for relievers. He also struck out 75, a rate of over 11 per 9 innings pitched. He also stranded 95% of runners on base.
Matt Thornton (CHW)
Thornton made this list because of his ability to pitch anywhere from the 7th onward, and pitched excellently when called upon. He finished the season with 8 saves while filling in for the struggling Bobby Jenks, but also had 21 holds, and struck out 81 batters in just 60 2/3 innings. His 2.67 ERA was actually higher than his FIP, and also posted a WHIP of 1.01 on the season.
Joakim Soria (KC)
Soria had what would definitely be considered a quiet excellent season. Players tend to get overlooked in Kansas City as the team continues to struggle to perform, but Soria has been that good out there. He finished with 43 saves, 1.78 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and stranded 89% of runners.
Neftali Feliz (TEX)
Feliz was my choice for the AL’s Willie Mays award, and deservedly so. He finished the season with 40 saves, 3 holds, a 2.73 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and 71 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings pitched. He helped to solidify the end of the bullpen for the Rangers after closer Frank Francisco struggled mightily in the first week of the season.
The thing I kept coming back to was how vital the performance of Soriano was to the success of the Rays. The team had struggled in previous seasons with filling the closer’s role adequately, and Soriano owned that role and was as much of a lockdown closer as is possible. I just keep coming back to the fact that one of the biggest changes from last season for the Rays was Soriano, and the team had so much more success this year than last. Soria would probably win this award in nearly every other season, but he unfortunately gets punished slightly for playing in games that didn’t have the importance of the Rays games. But there has to be some distinction made when the performances are that good, and that’s the one I’ve chosen to use.