Should a Royals Reliever be Pitcher of the Year?

It was announced today that Bruce Chen received the Bruce Rice Pitcher of the Year award from the KC Chapter of the BBWAA as the best Royals pitcher in 2011. It’s a legitimate selection; Chen went 12-8 with a 3.77 ERA, leading the Royals in both wins and ERA despite pitching in fewer games (25) than Luke Hochevar and Jeff Francis (31 each). It was another good year for Chen, who was also surprisingly effective in his 2010 campaign.

Now, I think that’s a fine choice. Chen was arguably the best starter for the Royals this season. What made me think was a post on Twitter from someone this morning, whose Twitter handle and name I don’t recall, that argued for Greg Holland over Chen. And it made my brain start cranking about whether that’s a good argument or not. I’m not sure there’s an easy answer.

Just to remind ourselves about Chen’s 2011 stats, here’s the rundown:

25 starts; 12-8; 3.77 ERA; 155 IP; 152 H; 18 HR; 50 BB; 97 K; 7 HBP; 108 ERA+; 1.303 WHIP

That’s a solid line for a middle-of-the-rotation guy, even for a winning ball club. Chen was definitely a strong contributor for the club, even including his lengthy downtime with a strained lat during the middle of the season. How Chen managed to win that many games seems a mystery and a dive into how he did so would be a question for another day, but suffice it to say that his pitching helped the Royals to win many of his starts during the season, even if the Royals batters often gave him considerable run support (based on a glance through his game stats). It was a second consecutive solid season for the Panamanian one-save wonder.

But who stands to compete with him? If we take Chen as the best starter this season, then we have to look to the young bullpen for answers. And, from a quick glance, I see a few guys that could stand a chance: Aaron Crow, Louis Coleman, and Greg Holland. Here’s a quick reminder of their season lines:

  Stat                  Crow            Coleman           Holland
Games                57                       48                    46
Record               4-4                     1-4                    5-1
ERA                    2.78                   2.87                 1.80
IP                        60.0                   59.2                  60.0
Hits                     55                       44                       37
HR                        8                           9                         3
BB                        31                       26                      19
K                          65                       64                      74
HBP                      0                         3                        1
ERA+                  149                    143                    228
WHIP               1.387                 1.173                0.933
 

For me, one of these three really stands out. That one is Holland, as the Tweeter suggested. I don’t have the rate stats for these three posted there, but Holland matched or bettered the other two in nearly every statistic while pitching in fewer relief appearances. He even threw in the same number of innings as Crow, who pitched in 11 more games. That really makes him stick out to me on a season success standpoint.

So, let’s do the same comparison between Chen and Holland, except with rate stats to make it easier to compare them. And I’ll throw in a couple random ones that can also be used to throw together a comparison.

  Stat               Chen             Holland
ERA                  3.77                 1.80
FIP                    4.39                 2.21
K/9                    5.63               11.10
BB/9                 2.90                 2.85
K/BB                 1.94                 3.89
HR/9                 1.05                 0.45
HR/FB             0.081               0.057
GB/FB              0.76                  1.15
K%                   14.8                  31.8
BB%                 7.7                    8.2
AVG                .255                 .174
LOB%              75.1                83.3
WHIP             1.303               0.933
BABIP             .278                 .250
WPA              1.00                  3.14
WAR               1.7                     2.1
 

Of course, we have to keep in mind that Chen is a starter and Holland is a reliever, but the stats are still telling. Holland excelled across the board, though he did walk a higher percentage of his batters and had a much lower BABIP than Chen did. Still, his ability to keep the ball on the ground and throw so few home runs was excellent for a strikeout pitcher and both his WPA and WAR reflect his importance to the team. Given the percentage of runners left on base (LOB%) for each, you can see that Holland’s role was really important to the team. And the low averages of opposing batters just tells the story for his season.

It’s really up to each individual person for how you choose. Chen was arguably the best starter for the Royals in 2011. Holland was arguably the best reliever. And it depends on where you place the most value for you to decide who takes the cake over the other. For what it’s worth, both players were away from the team for roughly the same number of games (the first 42 for Holland, about 45 for Chen), so they logged almost the same percentage of a season. And for each to do what they did in that time is very impressive.

From my perspective, I’d love to give this award to Holland. He was good in his short time in 2010, but he really dialed it up this season. In voting for best AL Relievers for the Fansided Awards, one of my votes went to Holland, as I joined 17 other writers to give him the fifth spot on the list of 15.

Holland had a great season, and I would personally give him the Bruce Rice Award. Use the comments to give me your choice or to tell me why I’m crazy!

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Tags: Aaron Crow AL Central Baseball Bruce Chen Greg Holland Kansas City Royals KC KC Royals Louis Coleman MLB Royals

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