Pat Neshek's gotten plenty of attention here at VEB this season, partly because he's a Butler alumnus and we currently have a future Butler alum on the editorial staff, partly because of the personal tragedy his family has gone through heading into this season, but mostly because he's been one of the best relievers in baseball this season.
I wanted to see just how good he's been in relation to other great reliever seasons in the age of the save stat, when bullpens started to take on a more expanded role within the game. Over at Fangraphs, you can look at qualified single seasons by relievers and select the time range you want to look at.
Since 1970, there have been just four reliever seasons with an ERA below 1.00 and and FIP below 2.00. See if you can guess each of these pitchers by their stat line that year:
Yes, I know, that last season doesn't quite fit my criteria, but considering that pitcher also had the lowest xFIP of all time for any pitcher with 50+ innings (a ridiculous 0.88) while also striking out nearly 17 hitters every nine innings (when only a small group of pitchers have ever struck out more than 16 hitters in any nine inning game) I thought he should probably be included. If you haven't guessed yet, pitcher D is Craig Kimbrel from 2012, when he struck just over half of the batters he faced on the year. Is Neshek that dominant? No, but in terms of minimizing runs he's been just as good in 2014.
Pitcher B is going to be the hardest one to guess, so here's a clue: He was the other pitcher involved in the James Shields trade two years ago and this is his 2014 season. He's been worth 2.2 fWAR this season, hasn't allowed a home run, and his team is the toast of baseball over the last couple of weeks, of which he's been no small part of.
If you haven't yet guessed Pitcher A yet, here's your hint: He won the Cy Young Award AND the MVP two years later, for a season that wasn't nearly as dominant as this one.
That's right, Dennis Eckersley. This is his 1990 season, which was right in the middle of his five year run of complete ninth inning domination that started in 1988 and ended in 1992. Over that stretch he pitched 359.2 innings, struck out 378 hitters and walked just 38. Yeah -- nearly 10 strikeouts for every walk (9.95 K.BB to be exact).
Neshek (who's pitcher C by deductive reasoning, Sherlock) and Eckersley have a ton in common with each other. Neither of them are your traditional "power pitcher" with the elite fastball velocity. Neither got an elite level of strikeouts, either. which we generally associate with dominance on the mound. What they do have? A funky delivery, a ton of movement on their pitches, and fantastic command of everything they throw.
Another reliever that comes up when you look at low walk rates is the late, great Dan Quisenberry, whose funky submarine delivery didn't lead to a lot of strikeouts but even while throwing from below his waist he rarely ever walked anyone during his peak years with the Royals in the early 1980's. Edward Mujica comes up a couple of times too, in 2010 and again last season with the Cardinals. Sean Doolittle's 2014 comes up too, which is certain to be one of the more underrated reliever seasons due to how many great seasons we're seeing this year.
The four seasons above show a great dichotomy: You can be a great reliever by striking out a ton of hitters, giving up a few walks, and just generally blowing the ball by everyone. You can also be a great reliever by having a funky delivery, great control, deception, and guile.
Regardless of how he's doing it, one thing is certain: Pat Neshek is just about as good as we've seen the last 40 years. Sit back and enjoy it.