In the latest in 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 Bullpen Breakout and Washout performances from the American League East.
The easiest selection of the entire bunch has to be Koji Uehara, even if it really was a breakout from being underrated-but-great into being slightly greater and rated properly. Koji began getting save opportunities regularly on June 26th and never looked back, posting absolutely ridiculous numbers on the year before backing it up with a completely dominant postseason march to the crown. He upped his strikeouts by over 2 per nine to a robust 12.2, which combine with his unbelievable 1.1 BB/9 for a reliever-leading 11.2 K/BB ratio. He also led all of baseball in ERA (1.09), fWAR (3.3), batting average allowed (.129), and posted hilarious leads on the rest of the field with his 0.565 WHIP and 18.5% swinging strike rate. Koji redefined dominant and did so in a way that doesn’t feel like smoke and mirrors the way Rodney’s historic 2012 did.
Uehara has been good for some time now, but even in the beginning of his tenure in Boston his ridiculous K/BB ratios weren’t appreciated the way they should be, as had also been the case in Arlington. His previous strikeout rates were usually about 10 per nine innings and his walks have always been this low or lower, and tales of his splitter have long buckled the knees of opposing hitters. In 2013, Koji finally got noticed for being Koji, and his time spent being underrated should likely be over. His is a unique blend of stuff and command and his nigh-unhittable playoffs were no mirage.
It was a rough year for the Yankees former top prospect and future ace, Joba Chamberlain. Another rough year, really. After starting his career with 124 incredibly promising innings, the big man has continually battled, to his credit, in the face of ineffectiveness, repeated shuffling in and out of the bullpen, Tommy John Surgery and even a grotesque ankle injury on a trampoline that all dulled his once bright star. 2013 was nothing but another section on the water-slide out of baseball that Chamberlain appears to be hurdling down, as he threw 42 terrible innings for the Bombers. He put up a hideous walk-rate of 5.57 BB/9 and his swinging strike rate fell over two full percent. His agent has stated that teams are blowing up the phones now that the right-hander is a free agent but it’s hard to see anyone paying anything but flyer-money for a pitcher who’s seemingly been in decline from the moment he first hit the Majors. I’m sure he’ll get signed somewhere, even if just on a minor league deal, and if that walk-rate comes down closer to his career norms (which were fine) he does still throw hard enough to be useful, but he looked lost last year and his 5.64 FIP and pile of walks back that up. He’ll need to fix himself mechanically to be worth anything besides an invitation to Spring Training.
(+) Blue Jays LHP Brett Cecil looked like a washout with the team contemplating exposing him to waivers as recently as Spring Training. Training on a weighted-ball throwing program allowed Cecil to add substantial velocity and make the All-star team. He raised his strikeout rate by 10% and cut his 2012 ERA in half, finishing 2013 with a 2.82 mark that was backed up by his 2.88 FIP.
(+) While he was bound to regress from his record-setting 2012 line, the Rays’ Fernando Rodney maintained a lot of his gains en route to another great season. (albeit less great, obviously) His FIP only regressed .10 to a still-tidy 2.94 thanks to a nice increase in strikeout rate to offset a return to his career norms in the walk-rate category.
(-) While it gave Uehara a chance to shine, it’s a shame the amount of money the Red Sox spent on closers who got hurt and couldn’t close. Between Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan alone the Sox tied up $11.14M for only 35.3 innings, through no fault of their own of course. It’ll be interesting to see how teams value Hanrahan now that he’s a free agent with an already spotty control record coming back from Tommy John Surgery.