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 National League East.
David Carpenter was traded to the Blue Jays in 2012 as a minor part of a larger overall package for back-end Houston Astros’ starter J.A. Happ. Later, as a part of an organizational-politics trade of John Farrell between the Blue Jays and the Red Sox, the Sox ended up with Carpenter for a brief time in the offseason before designating him for assignment to be picked up by the Atlanta Braves. David Carpenter would go on to post the fifth highest ERA amongst NL relievers, backed up by a robust 0.9 fWAR and 2.83 FIP in his 65.2 innings, and help his Braves to a playoff berth. After never posting a positive fWAR mark at any point during his career, Carpenter established himself as a force out the Atlanta bullpen, striking out an excellent 28.9% of the batters he faced and walking less than 8%. He was used by manager Fredi Gonzalez in increasingly high-leverage situations as he continued to establish himself, eventually setting up mostly exclusively for the King of Saving* through September. It’s safe to say that David Carpenter likely caused at least an organization or two to re-examine their evaluation practices in regards to young relievers, as the Braves clearly were able to extract something from Carpenter than previous orgs had missed. By FanGraphs FIP-based WAR measurement, he was the 19th most valuable reliever in the National League.
The NL East in 2013 was, as is fitting of the realm of the King of Saving*, rife with excellent pitching performances. This unfortunately, for basically only the purposes of this article, took away roster spots that could have otherwise gone to embarrassing performances the likes of which are seen in other divisions and have made the Washout section my personal favorite. This is definitely a misapplication of the word ‘washout'; make no mistake, it’s not as if Rafael Soriano is in any danger of being out of baseball. However, Rafael Soriano in 2013 at the very least significantly washed up. His strikeout rate dropped by two and a quarter batters per nine innings below both his career average and his 2012 numbers with the Yankees. His flyball tendencies still haven’t caught up with him, allowing a below average number of homers per fly ball as he has through most of his career, but even with a relatively low walk-rate at 2.30 BB/9 Soriano only managed a half a win by FanGraphs’ FIP based WAR. Considering his 14 million dollar salary, it’s tough to not view Soriano’s first year in the Nation’s capital as a failure to meet expectations, if not an outright failure. No teams are lining up to pay $28 million per WAR, and regardless of his hilarious postgame remarks about his prodigy teammate, Rafael Soriano will need to re-prove himself in 2014 if he wants to re-enter free agency with anything near the stock he came into 2013 with. The days of paying unrealistic amounts of money for “proven closers” may (hopefully) be coming to a close, so he will be in line for a deserved pay-cut either way, but another performance like 2013 could see that pay cut be more substantial than anyone in Washington, let alone Soriano himself, could have feared. Such is the case of the strong NL East bullpens that a pitcher with a 3.11 ERA is being called a washout.
(+) Steve Cishek is another case of “didn’t break out because he already broke out”, but it was nice to see the big Marlins’ closer get past the scary walk-rate spike he saw in 2012. His FIP spiked above three before returning to his previously-excellent marks in 2013. He struck out batters above his career rate and posted an excellent walk rate of 2.8 BB/9 that earned him the 14th best ERA amongst NL relievers.
(+) *Craig Kimbrel is the King of Saving. The best-two-pitches-in-baseball continued their streak of early-career dominance in 2013, tying for the MLB lead in saves and posting the lowest reliever-ERA in the National League. Kimbrel continued to establish himself as a relief superstar, but failed to replicate his historic 2012 performance in which he struck out over half the batters he faced. He posted the lowest strikeout rate of his young career which was a hilarious 13.16 while still maintaining his developing control and walking less than three batters per nine.