Tasked with the responsibility of determining one of the two votes from the Minnesota delegation for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance for the Goose Gossage Award (best reliever), I must admit I figured my vote would probably come out of the Tampa Bay bullpen, I just didn’t expect that it would have been the one I selected.
As a unit, the Rays relief staff was the best in the American League. They finished the season with had most saves (51), the fewest runs (180), the fewest hits (383), the fewest walks (tied with the Twins with 150 but probably would have finished better had their manager not decided to intentionally walk five more hitters) and, ultimately, cost their team as a whole only 16 games in the loss column.
On the surface, closer Rafael Soriano could have easily have been the right choice. After all, his 45 saves in 48 chances led the league. For those that value that kind of termination, that’s outstanding. Flavoring that, Soriano’s WPA was the second-highest among relievers in baseball at 4.98, meaning he was directly influential at ensuring his team won games. Additionally, in his 62.1 innings of work, Soriano allowed just 14 runs, struck out 57 and a .190 opponent batting average.
Of course, what most people do not notice is those that help create the environment in order for the closer to succeed. Often times, closers are like Senior Vice Presidents that have been promoted over a middle manager or worker that might assume more of the dirty work with far less of the recognition. Given the right opportunity, the underling might actually be a superior contributor than his direct report. And that appears to be the situation in Tampa when it comes to my vote for the Goose Gossage Award, Joaquin Benoit.
Whereas Soriano received the accolades and saves, Benoit labored to ensure that Soriano would be in-line for his save when the ninth inning came. Coming off a missed season recovering from torn labrum surgery, Benoit was simply phenomenal at a low cost to the Rays. While taking on a similar workload as Soriano (60.1 innings) but was slightly more dominant than his bullpen-mate with more strikeouts (75), fewer runs (10) and a lower opponent batting average (.150). Furthermore, Benoit held baseball’s lowest WHIP (0.68) as well as the lowest on-base percentage (.189).
To be sure, Benoit’s season seems to transcend the factor of luck influenced by the small sample size of relieving. In analyzing his stuff, we find that he was downright lights out. The righty was reaching 94 miles an hour on average on his fastball, producing a heater that was 12.2 runs above average (5th best), and used it to get ahead of opponents then deploying what manager Joe Maddon described as an “elite changeup”. The so-called elite changeup garnered Benoit a dirty-filthy-sick-nasty 8.2 runs above average, best in the game, and was swung-and-missed at on 46% of hitter’s swings (3rd best changeup in that category). His stuff was simply disgusting in 2010.
Here’s my final ballot:
Third: Neftali Feliz
Already our selection for Willie Mays Award (best rookie), Feliz had a tremendous season as a closer in Texas, helping elevate the Rangers deep into the postseason. In addition to his 40 saves in 43 opportunities, Feliz held a 9.2 K/9 as well as a tidy 0.88 WHIP and a .180 opponent average.
Second: Rafael Soriano
Pretty much for all of the reasons listed above. Also, pitching in the AL East can never be emphasized enough.
First: Joaquin Benoit
Given his performance this past season for a team that won an extremely tough division (Yankees and Red Sox hitters were a combined 6-for-44, .136, against the right), Benoit has earned the right to be considered the BBA’s Goose Gossage Award winner.