As many years as I have been selecting monthly Pitcher of the Award winners for the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system, I am pretty sure I have never given the recognition to a relief pitcher. There are always at least a few starting pitchers with exceptional results, and often many. By the definition of their job, those in the rotation have a leg up.
Often, I gave bullpenners a paragraph or two of honorable mention, but that really is not enough. Therefore, I am pleased to announce that The Cardinal Nation has added a monthly top reliever award for 2014, as well.
Let's start with the numbers. I narrowed down a list of 33 relief pitchers across four levels to just seven individuals. They each pitched at least 10 innings and logged an ERA under 2.00.
We can eliminate several candidates. Peoria's Joe Donofrio has extremely strong strikeout and walk totals, tied for the system lead in holds, but also had a blown save and had to work around three unearned runs. Palm Beach's Robert Stock is living extremely dangerously, with the highest walk rate in the entire system at 8.3 per nine innings.
Both Wright and Thomas logged ERAs and WHIPs at 1.00 or less. With three saves, Thomas was second in the system to the five collected by Springfield's Dean Kiekhefer (6.10 ERA). Wright counters with four holds, tied with Donofrio for the organizational lead.
The two have the exact same strikeout, walk and earned run totals, though Wright allowed one less hit in 1 2/3 innings more. Therefore, his ERA and WHIP are slightly lower. An unearned run also scored while Thomas was pitching.
In a close call, Justin Wright is the first recipient of The Cardinal Nation's Relief Pitcher of the Month, our winner for April 2014.
Other honorable mentions
As the above table indicates, there were eight relievers with at least 10 strikeouts per nine innings last month. ERAs and walk rates are listed to help with context.
At the top of the strikeout rate list are the Palm Beach duo of Sam Tuivailala and Dixon Llorens. While their ERAs were OK, their walk rates were not. They are the third and fourth highest in the entire system, indicating more work is required. Peoria's Kevin Herget is another strikeout artist who needs to cut down on his free passes.
In terms of those issuing the fewest walks, Memphis' Jorge Rondon is on top. The right-hander issued none in 10 1/3 April innings. As noted above, Kiekhefer had five saves, but his rough ERA was clearly not due to free passes. The lefty walked just one batter in 10 1/3 frames.
2014 monthly award winners
|Starter of Month||Pitcher of Month||Reliever of Month|
|2014||The Cardinal Nation||Cards organization||The Cardinal Nation||2014|
|April||Nick Petree||Justin Wright||April|
|Player of Month|
|2014||The Cardinal Nation||Cards organization||2014|
Coming soonThe Cardinals organization's own selection for top pitcher and player will be announced any day now. In addition, our first monthly update to the Cardinals top 40 prospect rankings is coming on Monday, exclusively for TCN subscribers.
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