Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen Among Those Named as Reliever of the Year Finalists

MLB award season has officially begun.

The nominations for the Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman Reliever of the year awards were announced on Wednesday the 16th, and it is a stacked list. In case you didn’t know, The reliever of the year isn’t voted upon in the traditional sense where baseball writers are tasked with casting their vote. This award is voted upon by 8 of the best relievers to ever do it; the aforementioned Hoffman and Rivera, Billy Wagner, Dennis Eckersley, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, Rollie Fingers, and John Franco. AKA these guys know their shit.

Let’s take a look at the candidates:

American League

Blake Treinen is one of the biggest reasons for the Athletics’ return to relevance this season. The 30-year-old right-hander was virtually unknown coming into this season, despite having a solid career with the Nationals dating back to 2014. But this year, Treinen went ballistic. In his first season as a full-time closer, Treinen racked up 38 saves, recorded an even 100 strikeouts in 80 ⅓ innings, and pitched to an unheard of 0.78 ERA. In addition to having the best ERA out of all the pitchers on this list, Treinen might have the best stuff as well. He throws a 98-mph fastball, a 97-mph Zach Britton-esque sinker, and a ridiculous breaking ball thrown in the high 80’s. I truly believe that Treinen deserves Cy Young consideration, although one can only dream.

If you’re a Red Sox fan, you really have to question why Craig Kimbrel is on this list, especially after seeing Cardiac Kimbrel live and in person during this playoff run. However, if you look at his regular season numbers, he was pretty damn good. Last season, Kimbrel returned to his 2013 form. Now, even though he came back down to earth a little bit this season, he was still elite. Kimbrel closed out 42 games, good enough for second in the AL and 3rd in the MLB. He also struck out 13.9 batters per nine and had a WHIP under 1.00. Kimbrel appears to be the outsider of the American League relievers. It should be noted that Kimbrel has won this award twice during his career, first with the Braves in 2014 and last year with the Red Sox. He had a good season, but not good enough to win the award.

When I looked up at the end of the season and saw that Edwin Diaz hadn’t broken Francisco Rodriguez’s single-season saves record, I was actually surprised. He came OHHH so close, but close is only good in horseshoes and hand grenades. Diaz still managed to close out 57 games, the most since K-Rod set the record back in 2008 with a mind-boggling 62. Diaz also struck out 15.2 batters per 9 and had 124 strikes to only 17 walks in 73.1 innings. The crazy thing to know about Diaz is that he’s only 24 years old and he’s only getting better. Expect seasons like this for the next decade or so.

National League

Josh Hader, up until the All-Star break, was on pace to have one of the greatest seasons by a reliever that we’ve ever seen. Now, say what you want about the kid about his off-field antics before he turned pro, but you can’t deny that the kid can flat out pitch. His hiccup in the All-Star game and subsequent public shaming for his past racist tweet may have altered his performance, as well as his public perception, but he still finished as one of the most lights out pitchers in the game. Even though his stats aren’t particularly eye-popping, as he only had a 2.43 ERA, he did it all while being a super-reliever of sorts. Out of the 55 games Hader pitched in this season, he went 2+ innings in 24 of those games. That’s ridiculous. He also struck out more than 15 batters per 9, and maintained a WHIP of .811 over 81.1 innings. Hader is my pick to take home the hardware.

Kenley Jansen is a pro at winning the Trevor Hoffman Award, as he has grabbed the trophy each of the last two season. Even as Jansen battled complications with an irregular heartbeat, it hardly altered his performance. Even though he missed more than 2 weeks due to heart troubles, Jansen still threw more than 70 innings as a closer, and managed to save 38 games, good enough for 2nd in the National League. Though 2018 was statistically his worst season as a pro, it more goes to show how consistently phenomenal Jansen has been over his 9-year career. He may not take home the award this year, but Jansen will likely be in the conversation for years to come.

Wade Davis, similar to Craig Kimbrel, is the black sheep of this group. In fact, I’m honestly very surprised that he even is being considered for the award. Sure, he led the National League in saves and was 2nd in MLB in that category, but when you look beyond saves, Davis was shaky at best. He had a 4.13 ERA with a WHIP over 1.00, not ideal for supposedly one of the best relievers in the National League. I don’t have much to say about Davis simply because, other than his save total, his year was unremarkable. Maybe Coors Field had something to do with it, maybe not. I don’t know. All I know is that Wade Davis will not be this year’s best National League reliever.


Photo: Michael Dwyer/ Associated Press

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