In the first of a League-wide series, we will look at one reliever who outperformed expectations and one who failed to live up to them, along with some honorable mentions. Here are your Breakout and Washout performances from the National League West.
Rex Brothers led the league in name awesomeness in 2013, and also posted the 10th highest strikeout rate and 13th highest fWAR amongst NL relievers. You could be forgiven for not having heard of him (even though he put up remarkably similar numbers in 2012) because he is, afterall, a child of Baseball’s forgotten son; the Colorado Rockies. Brothers started grabbing headlines throughout 2013 once he picked up the closer gig from the shell of Rafael Betancourt and started racking up saves; but in all fairness he did this last year, only this year he outperformed his FIP by a huge margin and put up some eye-popping traditional numbers. The southpaw finished 2013 with a 1.74 ERA and 10.19 K/9 but it wasn’t fully backed up as his 3.36 FIP was actually a step down from his 2012 mark of 3.29, and his K rate also was nearly a full strikeout less per nine. But, Saves, man! ERA!!
Brothers dominates hitters with fantastic velocity from the left side. His fastball lost a couple ticks off the average this year, putting him at an average of 93.6mph which is still above average for a left reliever, but it’s probably him trying to harness his heat a little to gain a little control. Brothers’ 13.6% swinging strike rate since 2012 is 10th amongst NL relievers in that time frame, just behind Trevor Rosenthal. Brothers is showing himself to be consistent, if a bit walk-crazy (4.81 BB/9 in 2013), and with teammate Adam Ottavino (who also put up eerily consistent numbers in the same debut-timeframe as Brothers) and free-agent acquisition LaTroy Hawkins, the Rockies’ long-suffering fans should look forward to holding even more leads in 2014, even if their bullpen’s ERAs will never reflect it.
Brandon League was terrible in 2013. He posted the eighth lowest WAR for a reliever in all of baseball, costing his team a full win. The positives about Brandon League’s 2013 season can be summed up as such: Brandon League only walked 2.48 batters per nine innings, and he timed his failures well enough to allow Kenley Jansen to show everyone how awesome he is. (He is awesome.) That’s it for the positives. Brandon league pitched to a 4.93 FIP, 5th worst in the MLB for relievers over 40 IP. He struck out a hilarious 4.64 batters per nine-innings and Don Mattingly still handed him the ball 58 times. Until he ceded the position to Jansen permanently on June 15th, League had a 5.54 ERA. If any of these were career-worst marks, that would be bad enough, but League has been this bad or worse at several points in his career. In fact, he’s only put up more than 0.6 fWAR 3 times in 10 seasons and has struck out more than 6.75 only once. The 22.5 million dollar contract the Dodgers’ gave their supposed closer looks even more hilarious now than the day it was signed, and I for one wouldn’t have believed that was possible. The Dodgers’ loss is his saving grace, however, as after a 2013 performance like that following a career like his, there’s a good chance he’d be signing a minor league deal somewhere this offseason.
(-) Huston Street is falling apart. He posted a 2.70 ERA last year on the back of a definition-of-unsustainable .213 BABIP and his probably-record-setting 99.5% strand rate over 56.2 IP. The Fangraphs flavor of WAR, which uses FIP to rate pitchers, gave Street’s 2013 performance the same grade as League’s with a -1.0, largely thanks to his career low strikeout rate and a homerun rate of 1.91/9IP.
(+) Credit where credit’s due, Kenley Jansen was incredible this year. He struck out over 13 batters per nine innings and walked only 2.11 for a 1.99 FIP and was third in the NL with a 2.2 fWAR. He’s rightfully taken the closer gig from League and even with the signing of Brian Wilson, the team intends for him to continue in that role. The boys in Blue will have a filthy back-end in 2014, with rookie relief sensation Paco Rodriguez and Wilson bridging the gap to Jansen.