The Baseball Bloggers Alliance has started handing out their awards for the 2011 season. Up next is the Goose Gossage Award for the top reliever in each league. As a member of the BBA, I thought I'd share my ballot for the award. My vote will only count for the American League, as I'm a member of the Minnesota Twins chapter, but I've outlined my thoughts on both.
1. Mariano Rivera, NYY
2. Jonathan Papelbon, BOS
3. Koji Uehara, BAL/TEX
Believe me, I did not give this to Rivera on reputation. He earned it once again (I realize he actually did not win it last year, he finished third) with a sparkling season. With nearly one strikeout per inning and impeccable control, Rivera totaled 7.5 strikeouts for every walk. He recorded a a 1.91 ERA (4th), a 0.90 WHIP (2nd), and a 2.19 FIP (3rd) to round out another phenomenal campaign at age 41.
Papelbon was a close 2nd, as he exhibited similar control but showed a much greater ability to miss bats, striking out 12.17 batter per nine innings. His WHIP was also quite comparable, coming in at 0.93, but due to some worse luck he had an ERA of 2.94. Unfortunately for him, luck is part of the equation, so he gets the runner-up position.
I don't think anyone will quibble with Rivera and Papelbon being on the ballot, but I'm a little worried people won't be as accepting of Uehara. He doesn't have the saves that Rivera and Papelbon do, but otherwise he's not far behind. Another guy who showed pinpoint control and still missed a bunch of bats, Uehara actually had the highest K/BB rate in the league (a ridiculous 9.44). He gave up a ton of homers, even more than you'd expect from a fly-ball pitcher such as himself, but he balanced that out with good luck in the BABIP department (.196). All in all, his zesty K/BB rate and league-best WHIP of 0.72 were too much to overlook.
Also considered: David Robertson (NYY), Daniel Bard (BOS)
1. Craig Kimbrel, ATL
2. Tyler Clippard, WAS
3. Sean Marshall, CHC
Kimbrel has already claimed the BBA's Willie Mays Award for the league's top rookie, and now he should add the Goose Gossage Award to his mantle. His sky-high strikeout rate (14.84/9) was second to Kenley Jansen, and, while his control was never his strong suit, he averaged almost 4 strikeouts for every walk. Combining that with a solid ground ball rate (44.8 %) allowed Kimbrel to lead the NL in both FIP and xFIP. As long as his ERA (2.10) and WHIP (1.04) were reasonable--and they were better than reasonable--that was a recipe for winning this award.
Clippard may not find his way on to many ballots because he isn't as big a name as closers such as John Axford and Joel Hanrahan (who had very good years in their own rights), but if you don't overvalue saves, he's right there with the best relievers. He led the league in WPA despite not recording a single save, posted 4 strikeouts for every walk. In addition his WHIP topped all other NL relievers and his ERA was third among that group. Critics will point to his infinitesimal ground ball rate (20.2 %) and his unsustainable BABIP (.197), but I think the facts I already offered outweigh those two factors.
Marshall is another non-closer who pitched very well for a bad team, meaning he may not get much recognition here, even though he should. While he doesn't top any single category, he rates very highly across the board. He topped one strikeout per inning, kept his walk rate very low, induced a high number of ground balls, and kept runners off the bases and prevented runs from scoring.
Also considered: Rafael Betancourt (COL), Jonny Venters (ATL), Joel Hanrahan (PIT), John Axford (MIL), Eric O'Flaherty (ATL), J.J. Putz (ARI)