The Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA) recently announced Craig Kimbrel (Atlanta Braves) and Eric Hosmer (Kansas City Royals) as the winners of the 2011 Willie Mays Award, which is awarded to the top rookie in both the NL and AL. In the next round of BBA voting, we shall determine the winners of the Goose Gossage Award, which is awarded to the top relief pitcher.
Being a member of the Philadelphia chapter of the BBA, my vote is restricted to the NL. With all due respect to great relief pitchers in non-closing roles, I believe only closers should be nominated for the Goose Gossage Award. Closers often find themselves being counted on to preserve very slim leads in precarious positions. It takes incredible poise to be an elite MLB closer. Below are my votes for the 2011 NL Goose Gossage Award.
First place: John Axford (Milwaukee Brewers)
Axford had an NL-best 46 saves to accompany his 2-2 record and 1.95 ERA. Axford had 46 saves in 48 opportunities for an incredible 95.83% save rate. Axford also struck out 86 batters in 73.2 innings (10.51 K/9).
More importantly, Axford allowed zero earned runs in 63 of his 74 appearances (85.14%).
A closer who can pitch innings without conceding runs not only preserves the lead for his team, but also the sanity of his manager, his teammates and his fans.
In the 2011 MLB season, the Brewers were 81-1 when leading after eight innings; their lone loss when leading after eight innings was at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds on opening day!
Axford’s miniscule 1.95 ERA and his 10.51 strikeouts per nine innings speak great volumes about his dominance; however, his incredibly high percentage of saves and percentage of outings without allowing an earned run cement his status in my eyes as the best closer in the NL. Axford is indeed worthy of the Goose Gossage Award.
Second place: Craig Kimbrel (Atlanta Braves)
Kimbrel had a 4-3 record to accompany his 2.10 ERA and NL-best 46 saves (tied with Axford). Kimbrel was perhaps the best strikeout pitcher in baseball this season, as he struck out 127 batters in 77 innings (14.84 K/9)!
Kimbrel’s amazing strikeout rate and his incredible hot stretch from June through August (26 saves, 0.70 ERA) were what made him the overwhelming first-place choice among BBA voters in the Willie Mays Award voting; however, I hope voters do not allow these numbers to tempt them again.
While Kimbrel’s numbers are amazing, his 2.10 ERA does not defeat Axford’s 1.95 ERA, nor do his 46 saves in 54 opportunities (85.19%) match Axford’s 46 saves in 48 opportunities (95.83%). Furthermore, Kimbrel allowed zero earned runs in 67 of his 79 appearances (84.81%); however, he again is bested by Axford, who allowed zero earned runs in 63 of his 74 appearances (85.14%).
Third place: Joel Hanrahan (Pittsburgh Pirates)
Hanrahan had a 1-4 record to accompany his 40 saves and 1.83 ERA. Hanrahan is an excellent closer who tends to be overlooked by the media and the fans because he pitches for the Pirates.
Deciding whom to vote for in third place was a tough decision for me, as I considered Hanrahan and J.J. Putz (Arizona Diamondbacks) for the vote. Both men had similar numbers. Hanrahan’s 1.83 ERA bests Putz’s 2.17 ERA; however, Putz’s 45 saves in 49 opportunities was a higher save rate (91.84%) than Hanrahan’s 40 saves in 44 opportunities (90.91%).
Although Putz blew four saves in 49 opportunities and Hanrahan blew four saves in 44 opportunities, one could speculate that Hanrahan could have possibly converted his next five opportunities if he had them (thus tying Putz in save rate). Nevertheless, the numbers are what they are, and that gives Putz the edge in saves and save rate; however, Hanrahan has the edge in ERA.
To break the tie for my third-place vote, I looked at their game logs to determine who was more successful in achieving appearances with zero earned runs against them. In this category, Hanrahan is the victor, having allowed zero earned runs in 59 of his 70 appearances (84.29%); Putz allowed zero earned runs in 49 of his 60 appearances (81.67%).
Some of you readers might be thinking, “Wait, they both had 11 appearances in which they allowed at least one earned run; one could speculate that Putz may have 10 consecutive scoreless appearances to tie Hanrahan.” You would be correct in stating that one could speculate such a thing; however, I do not view that as ammunition against my vote for Hanrahan because my speculation of Hanrahan possibly converting five more consecutive saves is a greater likelihood (due to possible multi-run leads) than Putz achieving 10 more consecutive scoreless outings (not an easy task).
All three of these closers had an excellent 2011 season and are worthy of praise. As evidenced by his overwhelming victory in the Willie Mays Award voting, Kimbrel will obviously get his share of votes; however, I hope I am not alone among the BBA voters in giving Axford his fair due and awarding him first place. Likewise, I hope I am not alone in giving Hanrahan some recognition for his stellar play.