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The 2021 IBWAA Awards (My Ballot): NL Reliever of the Year

Over the next two weeks, I am going to be releasing my ballots for the various end-of-the-season awards across Major League Baseball. These are the same ballots/players that I submitted to the IBWAA before the postseason began.

This week we will go through all the National League Awards, starting with the Reliever of the Year.

 

Preface:

For the IBWAA (Internet Baseball Writers Association of America), voters get to vote for the Top-10 players for the MVP, the Top-5 pitchers for the Cy Young, the Top-3 players for the Rookie of the Year, Reliever of the Year, and the Top-3 managers for the Manager of the Year awards.

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A common theme for me with relief pitchers is that I still value the save because I value what the save means in terms of how it works situationally. Being the “guy” that has to finish off a game that should be won (or at least held close for the offense to hopefully win) brings about a big challenge mentally, even if not facing the 2-3-4 hitters in the line-up during each appearance.

So, it should be no surprise that my top-3 relievers were also in the Top-6 for saves in the National League. And without further ado…

 

Number Three:

Name: Jake McGee

Team: San Francisco Giants

Reliving Line: 62 G, 2.72 ERA (151 ERA+), 31 Saves (42 GF), 59.2 IP, 0.905 WHIP, 58 K’s

To get save chances, unfortunately that also likely means that the reliever/closer was on a good team. Jake McGee went from the 2020 World Series winning Dodgers to the best team (by record) in the MLB in 2021 with the San Francisco Giants. Across all qualified NL relievers, McGee had the 15th best ERA, 13th highest fWAR, and the 6th most saves. His profile is much different that most relievers in baseball, relying mostly on command (97th percentile BB%) over dominant strike-out stuff (56th percentile K%). A 35-year-old who threw his 4-seam fastball 90% of the time, he’s had two good seasons back-to-back since changing his approach to do so.Embed from Getty Images

 

Number Two:

Name: Kenley Jansen

Team: Los Angeles Dodgers

Reliving Line: 69 G, 2.22 ERA (185 ERA+), 38 Saves (52 GF), 69.0 IP, 1.043 WHIP, 86 K’s

The closer for a team that had the 2nd best record in the MLB (the Los Angeles Dodgers), he was the better reliever to their in-division rival. Across all qualified NL relievers, Kenley Jansen had the 6th best ERA, 5th highest fWAR, and the 2nd most saves (and just 1 behind Mark Melancon). Jansen has consistently been one of the best relievers and/or closers in the MLB since moving into the closer role in 2012, and while he’s had a few disappointing seasons recently (though all with an ERA+ above 110), he found it again in 2021. He relied mostly on his cutter (58%) in 2021, though his usage is at an all-time low as he continues to throw more sinkers (27%) and sliders (15%). He struggles with command (8th percentile BB%), though almost all the rest of his BaseballSavant metrics are in the 90th percentile or above (not including an 89th percentile K%).Embed from Getty Images

 

Number One:

Name: Josh Hader

Team: Milwaukee Brewers

Reliving Line: 60 G, 1.23 ERA (348 ERA+), 34 Saves (42 GF), 58.2 IP, 0.835 WHIP, 102 K’s

And while having a team that wins above 105 games tends to help your case as a reliever and/or closer, one guy was clearly the best of the bunch in the National League, Milwaukee closer Josh Hader. Hader was the 2nd best qualified NL reliever by ERA, he had the most fWAR (at +2.6), and he notched the 4th most saves. However, that doesn’t show the full story for the 27-year-old lefty. Since breaking into the MLB in 2017 he has been the best reliever (by fWAR) and is one of 5 pitchers with an ERA under 2.50…and the only one still in baseball with more than 200 innings pitched. He also had the most strikeouts by an NL reliever in 2021. It’s also hard to argue with Hader being the #1 reliever as his ERA+ is higher than that of McGee and Jansen combined. He had the best season for a reliever in the National League by a wide margin, and it was not particularly close.Embed from Getty Images

#AwardVoting #JakeMcGee #JoshHader #KenleyJansen

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