Giles, Kimbrel, Robertson in AL; Davis, Jansen, Knebel in NL
By Mark Newman
The Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award, both presented by The Hartford, are scheduled to be presented Oct. 28 at Game 4 of the 113th World Series.
Everyone knows how important bullpens are in Major League Baseball these days, but can everyone agree on which two relievers should receive this important hardware from those legendary closers at the big ceremony?
From now through Oct. 26, you can submit a pair of names at MLB.com to determine who the fans believe should be the winners. Balloting for the awards is being conducted among a panel of eight all-time great relievers. Rivera and Hoffman, both of whom spent their entire careers in the same league en route to the top of the all-time saves list, are joined by three Hall of Fame relievers -- Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter -- as well as Lee Smith, John Franco and Billy Wagner. The panel includes the six all-time saves leaders who are no longer active players.
The eight voters rank the top three AL relief pitchers and the top three NL relief pitchers based solely on regular-season performance and using a 5-3-1 weighted point system. Commissioner Rob Manfred and an executive from The Hartford typically present the honors along with the awards' namesake closers.
This has become a tradition during each Fall Classic, as these Reliever of the Year Awards in 2014 replaced the Delivery Man of the Year Award, which had been presented to one winner from 2005-13. The awards continue a longstanding baseball tradition of honoring the game's top bullpen arms. Here's a look at this year's top contenders:
Ken Giles: The Astros' closer converted all 19 of his save chances at home during the regular season, the longest single-season home saves streak in franchise history. He posted a 0.84 ERA (three earned runs in 32 innings) at home, with 45 strikeouts in 31 appearances there. Overall, Giles recorded 34 saves in 38 chances and boasted a 2.30 ERA in 63 outings.
Giles struck out 83 batters in 62 2/3 innings for 11.92 strikeouts per nine innings. He walked 21 for 3.02 walks per nine, his lowest walk ratio since his debut season in 2014 (2.17). Giles ranked highly among AL relievers in several categories: ERA (seventh), strikeouts per nine (13th), strikeouts (14th) and opponents' batting average (18th).
Craig Kimbrel: Kimbrel won the NL award the first year these two honors were presented in 2014, while closing for the Braves, so he has a strong shot at the distinction of taking a Hartford prize in each league. Kimbrel led Major League relievers in strikeouts per nine (16.43) and WHIP (0.68), and tied for first in strikeouts (126). That whiff total was the most by a Boston reliever since Dick Radatz struck out 183 in 1964.
Kimbrel led AL relievers in ERA (1.43), was second in strikeouts-to-walks (9.0) and opponents' average (.140) and third in saves (35). It was his third career 100-strikeout season, one shy of his career high (127) set in 2011, his first full Major League campaign. With Boston from 2016-17, Kimbrel has converted 66 of 72 save opportunities (91.6 percent), including 35 of 39 this year.
David Robertson: The right-hander rejoined the Yankees on July 18 and proceeded to go 5-0 with a 1.03 ERA (35 innings, four earned runs) and 51 strikeouts in 30 appearances. Relying heavily on a curveball -- thrown 45.5 percent of the time, third-highest among anyone who threw at least 500 pitches -- Robertson had a career-high nine wins, most among relievers. He finished with an 18-inning scoreless streak in 15 games and retired 26 of the last 29 batters he faced during the regular season.
Robertson succeeded Rivera as Yankees closer in 2014, so how appropriate would it be if Rivera presented the award to Robertson? Robertson has an active streak of eight appearances without allowing a hit or run (since Sept. 15), surpassing Rivera (seven games, June 3-20, 2010) for the longest such single-season streak in Yankees history (minimum one inning per game).
Wade Davis: The Cubs traded Jorge Soler to Kansas City and made Davis their closer following last year's breakthrough championship. He was selected to his third consecutive All-Star Game presented by Mastercard and was excellent in big spots during Chicago's repeat chase, hoping to win his second ring in three years.
Davis was one of only 35 relievers to face at least 100 at-bats with the tying or go-ahead run on base or at the plate, and according to Statcast™, he had one of the lowest expected batting averages (.169) against him in those situations. On Sept. 23, his franchise-record 32 straight successful saves to start a season snapped.
Kenley Jansen: The Dodgers' closer collected his third career 40-plus save season (2014, '16 and '17) and joined Eric Gagne (2002-04) as the only pitchers in Dodgers history with three seasons of 40-plus saves. Jansen led all regular relievers with a 1.32 ERA (10 earned runs in 68 1/3 innings) and tied for second in the big leagues in saves (41). He led all NL relievers in WHIP (0.75) and ranked second with 109 strikeouts.
Jansen had the highest cutter usage rate in baseball -- 88.4 percent of his pitches during the regular season. And it was usually unhittable. According to Statcast™, Jansen had the lowest xBA allowed -- .141 -- among righties (minimum 100 at-bats against) with the tying or go-ahead run on base or at the plate.
Corey Knebel: The right-hander became the ninth reliever in Brewers history to be selected for an All-Star Game. He ranked among MLB relievers in strikeouts (tied for first, 126), strikeouts per nine innings (third, 14.92), saves (tied for fourth, 39) and appearances (tied for fifth, 76). His strikeout total surpassed Julio Machado's 98 in 1991 to become a Brewers single-season record by a reliever.
Knebel's 45 consecutive appearances with a strikeout from April 3 to July 15 set a single-season MLB record for relievers (Bruce Sutter, 39 games in 1977). His 45 consecutive appearances with a strikeout to begin the season broke an MLB record for relievers (Aroldis Chapman, 37 games in 2014). And according to Statcast™, Knebel (.150) ranked behind only Jansen (.141) among relievers with the tying or go-ahead run on base or at the plate (mininum 100 at-bats).
Do you still favor saves as a measuring stick? Or maybe expected batting average is more important to you now? Consider this Statcast™ nugget: Among 341 pitchers to face at least 200 at-bats this season, Kimbrel had the second-lowest expected batting average against him, Knebel had the third-lowest, Jansen had the fifth-lowest and Robertson had the sixth-lowest. That is based on the quality of contact they allowed, plus their strikeouts totals.
There are many ways to evaluate a reliever's strengths to his club, and MLB is counting on you to help determine who should be sitting with two bullpen legends at a World Series ceremony.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him on Twitter @Marathoner and read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com/blogs hub. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.