Creating baseball's perfect reliever
Let's conclude our 'perfect player' series with a look at those who inhabit the bullpen.
Today we conclude our "perfect player" series, in which we've been giving the Frankenstein treatment to each position and role in order to create the greatest of all ballplayers. In conclusion, we take a look at the denizens of the bullpen.
So what kind of relief ace would we conjure up if we took the best assortment of pitches from today's relievers and rounded it out with the best in terms of control, durability and stamina? Let's answer that very question right now.
In keeping with the rest of the series, we're talking about current relief pitchers only and their current skill sets.
The perfect relief pitcher would have ...
Aroldis Chapman’s four-seam fastball
There’s little debate here. Chapman, as previously noted in this space, logged the most triple-digit fastballs of 2013, and he did so by a cavernous margin.
To put a finer point on it, Chapman's heater in 2013 averaged 98.99 miles per hour, and over the course of his career opposing hitters have managed to put that fastball in play just 11.3 percent of the time.
Also considered: Greg Holland, Trevor Rosenthal, Bruce Rondon
Brad Ziegler's sinker/sinker
Ziegler owes much of his sparkling 2.40 career ERA to this sinker, which, according to Pitchf/x data, he throws a healthy majority of the time. Thanks in large part to that pitch, Ziegler in 2012 notched an astounding groundball/fly ball ratio of 9.87 (!). In 2013, that figure was an almost-as-astounding 6.54. That, friends, is keeping the ball on the ground.
Also considered: Koji Uehara, Seth Maness
Kenley Jansen’s cutter
Jansen is mostly a one-pitch closer, as, per Brooks Baseball data, he called on his cut fastball 89.5 percent of the time in 2013. For his career, opposing hitters are batting .160 and slugging .250 against said cutter.
How nasty is it? Here’s just a taste …
David Robertson’s curve
Robertson's curve was, on a rate basis, his most valuable pitch last season, according to Pitchf/x. Perhaps most impressive is that the University of Alabama product didn't even throw the curve in college and instead cultivated it after being chosen by the Yankees as the 524th overall pick of the 2006 draft. Speaking of that curve, here's what Baseball America said of it following the 2007 season, Robertson's first as a pro: "... plus downer with bite, angle and depth, and he can throw it for strikes or bury it."
He mastered it quickly, and it's done nothing but get better over the years. In large part, that's why Robertson is in line to replace the irreplaceable Mariano Rivera.
Sergio Romo’s slider
At this point, it's worth noting that, with all these pitches in tow, our perfect reliever would surely be deployed as an ace starter, but who's counting? As long as we're fleshing out his arsenal, let's throw in Romo's slider.
Romo has been a shutdown reliever for pretty much his entire six-year career, and his slider has always been his go-to pitch. Even though Romo is capable of throwing four different offerings for strikes, he's gone to his slider roughly half the time. According to Brooks, Romo has thrown his slider 2,285 times and given up just eight home runs on it (good for an opponents' SLG of .232). Sliders tend to be a "platoon disadvantaged" pitch, but it's worth noting that the opposite side is batting just .175 against Romo's slide-piece.
Also considered: Greg Holland, Aroldis Chapman, Joe Nathan
Trevor Rosenthal’s changeup
Those previously unfamiliar with Rosenthal's change-of-pace surely got to know it during the postseason. Thanks to a consistent delivery, arm speed and arm slot, Rosenthal's 89-mph changeup has the ideal "velo gap" when paired with his 99-mph fastball. Throw in some good arm-side run, and it's a devastating pitch.
Also considered: Fernando Rodney, Joaquin Benoit, Tony Watson
Craig Kimbrel’s “slurve”
Kimbrel’s breaking ball is a little too hard to be a true curve and has a little too much vertical movement to be a true slider (note that these are good problems to have). Call it whatever you like, but most of all call it an utterly dominant wipeout pitch ...
Related: He's the best closer in baseball without argument. The man has a 1.39 career ERA. Career. 1.39. You can look it up and everything.
Joe Nathan’s stamina
This past season, Nathan was tied for third in MLB with 27 appearances on zero days' rest -- or more than 40 percent of his overall appearances. Twice in 2013 he pitched four straight days, and on three other occasions he pitched three straight days. As well, 2013 marked the seventh time in Nathan's career that he pitched at least 20 times on zero days' rest. Keep in mind that, since Nathan is a closer, those are largely high-leverage, high-stress innings he's throwing.
Also considered: Tyler Clippard, Rafael Soriano, Kenley Jansen
Koji Uehara’s control
Let's keep this simple: Since the start of the 2012 season, Uehara has issued 10 unintentional walks in 110 1/3 innings. This season, he didn't allow a free pass after Aug. 3, and that span includes the Red Sox's World Series run.
Also considered: Mark Melancon, Edward Mujica
Tyler Clippard’s durability
Also considered: Matt Belisle, Luke Gregerson