Aroldis Chapman #54 of the Cincinnati Reds and Jay Bruce #32 of the Cincinnati Reds shake hands after the final out against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. Cincinnati Reds defeat the Houston Astros 5-3. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
With the demise of the Steroid Era, we need a new name for today's game. How about the Era of the Lights-Out Relief Pitcher? Because there are some eye-popping numbers out there!
The other day I was watching the Yankees on YES, because I enjoy Michael Kay's stylings (also his style, but that doesn't really show up during the telecasts). There was a poll, which for some reason intrigued me. Essentially, the question was about this season's most impressive relief-pitching feats. Here were the four choices, updated (by me!) through Thursday's action:
Aroldis Chapman: 117 strikeouts
Jim Johnson: 20 1-run saves
Craig Kimbrel: .121 batting average allowed
Fernando Rodney: 0.71 ERA
Tough choice, don't you think?
I suppose the idea is that we're just supposed to vote, without really thinking about it. Or without any real context, anyway. How many innings has Chapman pitched? How many one-run saves do top closers generally get? What's a great batting average allowed for a top closer? How many closers finish seasons with sub-1.00 ERAs?
I don't know. And some of those questions, I can't answer easily.
Some, though, I can. Others, too.
Aroldis Chapman's strikeouts are phenomenal. But among relievers with at least 50 innings in a season, his strikeout rate is just fourth best in the last four seasons. And just two seasons ago, Carlos Marmol had exactly the same rate in more innings than Chapman's likely to throw this season. Granted, Chapman's strikeout-to-walk ratio is significantly better than Marmol's ... but we weren't asked to consider strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Kimbrel's .121 batting average allowed, on the other hand, would be a new record; the old record (again, among relievers with at least 50 innings in a season) is Eric Gagne's .133 (2003).
Finally, Rodney's 0.71 would be the second lowest ever, behind only Dennis Eckersley's 0.61 in 1990.
Johnson? I don't know what to do with him, except say his brilliance in one-run games is a HUGE reason the Orioles are tied for first place.
We are, it seems, in the midst of an era loaded with great relief-pitching performances. The reasons for this are obvious, I think: hitters are happy to strike out, and relievers are better than ever at striking them out. Which makes for some mighty impressive numbers.
What's the most impressive relief performance this season?
Chapman's strikeouts (88 votes)
Johnson's tough saves (115 votes)
Kimbrel's stingy batting average (260 votes)
Rodney's ERA (76 votes)
Joe Nathan's K/W (28 votes)
567 total votes