The Pacific Coast League isn't exactly known as a pitcher's haven. Only one team in the 16-team league posted a team earned run average below 4.00, and the New Orleans Zephyrs only dropped below that mark by .04 points. Had the Zephyrs' pitching staff surrendered just five more runs all season long, their total ERA would have bumped up to an even 4.00.
From every league between high-A all the way up to the majors, the only league the pitching-led Zephyrs would have finished first in overall ERA would have been the California League of high-A. In a second-best case scenario, their 3.96 earned run average would have been good for fifth in the Carolina and Texas League, right smack in the middle of both.
Suddenly, a 4.00 ERA for any one player doesn't look so bad.
When naming the top reliever of the year for the Memphis Redbirds, not only was that taken into account, but also comparing each reliever to Memphis' overall 4.59 ERA, which tied for fifth out of 16 PCL teams.
In choosing the top reliever of any pitching staff, the first thing to do would be to look at the performance of a team's closer, but that wouldn't be so simple with the Redbirds. Ten different relievers nabbed a save at some point over the course of the season. The only reliever with more than 30 innings pitched out the bullpen who didn't record a save was Sam Freeman.
Upon being demoted from St. Louis in April, Eduardo Sanchez took over the role of closer, but then posted an 8.86 ERA over 9.1 innings in April, walking eight batters. Sanchez was eventually called back up to St. Louis on May 14th after a string of scoreless innings and lasted until July before being demoted again. Sanchez finished the season in Memphis with a 5.86 ERA, 26 strikeouts, and 21 walks in 27.2 innings, thus eliminating him from competition. The Venezuelan native did lead the team with nine saves.
No other reliever tallied more than three saves, so the closer-by-committee role was enforced for most of the season. Manager Pop Warner apparently didn't want to make this decision very easy for us.
A minimum number of 50 innings set would be convenient criteria in this case to eliminate certain relievers who didn't meet that threshold, but that wasn't so easy in this scenario.
Of the four relievers who tossed over 50 innings out of the bullpen, only Jess Todd and Nick Greenwood merited consideration for reliever of the year. Todd posted a 4.34 ERA over 66.1 innings, while Greenwood's was 4.40 over 77.2 innings, including four starts. Both relievers were below the team's 4.59 ERA, but neither was low enough to signal dominance out of the bullpen.
Upon looking at Todd and Greenwood's month-by-month totals to see if one awful month skewed their overall ERA - which tends to happen to relievers over the course of a season - only Todd had an ERA lower than 4.00 during more than one month out of the season, and his total only stood at two.
In this case, a minimum number of innings threshold had to be lowered to 40. Upon doing that, the competition was clear: there was no competition.
Barret Browning was initially selected in the 26th round of the 2003 MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs but elected to turn them down and was then taken in the 38th round by the Colorado Rockies in the 2005 Draft, not signing with them, either.
The southpaw was ultimately taken by the Los Angeles Angels in the 28th round of the 2006 Draft and spent six seasons in their organization before being eligible for the Rule 5 Draft in 2012. The Cardinals selected Browning as a minor league Rule 5 Draft pick in December.
Browning first work with the Cardinals organization was out of the Redbirds bullpen and he didn't disappoint. The Georgia native's 1.73 earned run average over 41.2 innings for the ‘Birds was by far the team best. The closest competition was Sam Freeman, whose 2.08 ERA over 30.1 innings wasn't enough to qualify for this particular award.
Browning fanned 38 batters over the season in Memphis, nearly a 1:1 ratio. Though the lefty's 18 walks were the only slight blemish on a fantastic season, he yielded just one long ball on the year.
The Florida State alum was the sole Redbirds player to be named to the PCL All-Star Game after accumulating an even 2.00 ERA prior to his selection and limiting the opposition to a league-best .189 batting average. However, Browning couldn't make the game as he was off to bigger and better things. Brandon Dickson was named as his replacement.
Browning was promoted to St. Louis on July 1st to make his major league debut. Posting a 5.12 ERA spanning 19.1 innings over nearly two months, the southpaw was demoted back to Memphis in August. Browning went on to toss 3.2 shutout innings for Memphis before the end of the season.
Congratulations to Barret Browning, The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Memphis Redbirds Relief Pitcher of the Year for 2012.
Link to master article with all 2012 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series.
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