What does a non-guaranteed $1 million contract get these days? Well, it nets a pretty damn good reliever, for the Cardinals at least.
Pat Neshek has appeared in 21 games so far in 2014, and he leads all Cardinal relievers in ERA (1.00), FIP (2.13), and xFIP (2.87). Despite having a relatively undefined role, Neshek also leads the bullpen with a 0.5 fWAR (0.7 bWAR). He has the team's highest K% (32.8%) and lowest BB% (4.7%). When hitters are making contact against him, 16.2% are line drives—four percentage points lower than any other reliever on the roster. I realize that evaluating relievers is much better suited for the All-Star break or even better at season's end given sample sizes, but one cannot completely disregard the impact Neshek has had thus far in 2014.
Twenty-five percent of the time (18 PAs out of 64 total), the right-handed Neshek has been facing left-handed hitters. This is interesting considering many thought his best chance at having a positive impact on the club would be as a ROOGY. Considering I have only 18 PAs to work with, I won't include any numbers, but his early returns against lefties have been pleasant. However, as Ben noted in his post from March, "OOGYs don't change their splits," so he is likely due for some regression as the sample size gets larger. However, with Jason Motte back (and presumably healthy), there is a reasonable chance Neshek will return to the ROOGY role and then we won't have to see the probable lefty-split regression.
According to the PITCHf/x data on fangraphs, Neshek's sinker averages the most horizontal movement of any pitch by any Cardinal reliever. At -10.9 inches, it moves (on average) 1.3 inches more than the two-seamer of Carlos Martinez. That's pretty impressive given the filthiness of CMart's stuff. In fact, Neshek's horizontal movement is actually in the top five of the entire league (when looking at RHP's two-seamers and sinkers). To top it all off, his sinker is averaging over 91 MPH this season—his highest velocity since 2007.
His numbers compared to relievers around the MLB:
- 21 games: top 20
- 32.8 K%: top 15
- 4.7 BB%: top 25
- 93.8 LOB%: top 12
- 1.00 ERA: top 10
- 2.13 FIP: top 25
- 2.87 xFIP: top 35
- 2.03 SIERA: top 20
- 0.5 fWAR: top 25
As you can see, Neshek has essentially been a top 25 reliever in 2014. However, how sustainable is his league-leading .158 BABIP? One would rightly assume this will be extremely tough to maintain over the course of the season, but by how much and how relevant will the regression be? Even if he returns to near his career .227 BABIP, Neshek will still be a valuable weapon out of the bullpen, especially against right-handed hitters. That is one million dollars well spent.