Who was 2012's Setup Man of the Year?

Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

Which isn't a real award, but pretend along with us.

It's that time of year where we all argue about the GIBBYs. You know, the GIBBYs?

(You can find the GIBBYs here. Please read up on them, or at least acknowledge their existence so we can argue about them.)

Yes, the GIBBYs are important for a lot of reasons, but the most important reason is that they honor the mostly unheralded, mostly overlooked setup men. It's a nice gesture for a bunch of pitchers who are just as important as closers in a lot of cases, but don't get the salary or the fame that the closers do. There are 12 nominees for Setup Man of the Year, with some of them obvious (Mitchell Boggs) and some of them curious (Joaquin Benoit).

It's also the time of year to lament there not being an official BBWAA award for this. We took a look last year and decided to call it the Mike Stanton (Not That One) Award for Pitching Excellence. But it looks like Giancarlo ruined everything by getting all fancy-like with his real name.

Instead, let us award the Michael Jackson (Not That One) Award for Pitching Excellence. This time, we'll award one for each league.

National League nominees:
Craig Stammen, 88.1 IP, 2.34 ERA, 2.33 WPA, 23 shutdowns, 7 meltdowns
Eric O'Flaherty, 57.1 IP, 1.73 ERA, 2.64 WPA, 28 shutdowns, 5 meltdowns
Sean Marshall, 61.0 IP, 2.51 ERA, 0.35 WPA, 19 shutdowns, 12 meltdowns
Mitchell Boggs, 73.1 IP, 2.21 ERA, 2.18 WPA, 30 shutdowns, 9 meltdowns
Jason Grilli, 58.2 IP, 2.91 ERA, 0.78 WPA, 27 shutdowns, 9 meltdowns
Ronald Belisario, 71 IP, 2.54 ERA, 2.19 WPA, 25 shutdowns, 8 meltdowns
David Hernandez, 68.1 IP, 2.50 ERA, 0.74 WPA, 26 shutdowns, 10 meltdowns
Luke Gregerson, 71.2 IP, 2.39 ERA, 2.49 WPA, 34 shutdowns, 9 meltdowns

Note: I eliminated Sergio Romo from consideration because he became the Giants' closer. After, oh, 10 saves, that should take a guy out of the running. I'm stuffing the hell out of the ballot box for Romo in the GIBBYs because I'm a Giants fan and we're good at that, but he's not eligible here. Plus, he didn't have nearly the innings pitched as the top contenders here.

Usually with pitching awards, I like to focus on the innings. The AL Cy Young? Justin Verlander had more innings. Easy. And those 88 high-quality innings from Stammen look awfully tempting to reward. But he pitched so many innings because he wasn't a traditional setup man; he'd enter the game in the fourth, fifth, or sixth inning when Davey Johnson asked him. That probably makes him ineligible. Mitchell Boggs ain't coming in no fourth inning, no sir.

The definitions of shutdowns and meltdowns can be found here. When a pitcher helps his team win, he gets a shutdown, and vice versa for hurting his team's chances and the meltdown. WPA stands for Win Probability Added, which might not be the best predictive stat, but it helps retroactively explain why a setup man felt like a sure thing throughout the season.

Between the two, it's pretty hard to argue against O'Flaherty, who set the barn on fire less than any other reliever in baseball, and was continually put into high-leverage situations.

Gregerson and Boggs have a substantial advantage in innings pitched, but I'll take the nerd stats on this one and go with O'Flaherty.

American League nominees:
David Robertson, 60.2 IP, 2.67 ERA, 0.34 WPA, 27 shutdowns, 9 meltdowns
Darren O'Day, 67 IP, 2.28 ERA, 3.42 WPA, 24 shutdowns, 7 meltdowns
Jake McGee, 55.1 IP, 1.95 ERA, 1.17 WPA, 26 shutdowns, 10 meltdowns
Kelvin Herrera, 84.1 IP, 2.35 ERA, 2.01 WPA, 27 shutdowns, 9 meltdowns
Vinnie Pestano, 70 IP, 2.57 ERA, 3.53 WPA, 37 shutdowns, 7 meltdowns
Robbie Ross, 65 IP, 2.22 ERA, 1.58 WPA, 14 shutdowns, 6 meltdowns

Ryan Cook is out, too, because of his 14 saves. He would have provided real competition, too, but after minutes of deliberation, I'm not about to give up these carefully crafted criteria.

The innings bias comes up again, as Herrera gave the Royals about 20 more innings than the typical setup man, and they were often high-leverage situations. It's awfully tempting to pick him based on that alone.

But Pestano has the newfangled reliever stats in his favor. Because every other pitcher on his team allowed an average of five runners per inning, Pestano often came into the game with runners on base, and he pitched with aplomb. He entered 13 games with runners already on base, and he gave up the lead in just two of them. That's pretty spiffy.

Herrera entered 29 games with runners on base -- in four of those, he gave up the lead or the tie. That's a better margin than Pestano, but there's more context. Herrera wasn't an eighth-inning guy until the end of the year; before that, he was a seventh-inning guy, and he occasionally came into the fifth and sixth innings. Is that a true setup man? Is that what the award is truly about?

...

Maybe I should just pick Darren O'Day and be done with it.

Instead, I'll go with Herrera. Fourteen innings and fewer runs allowed trumps the situational stats and usage pattern that Pestano has in his favor. Now, Royals, if Herrera becomes one of the best closers in baseball, and he's signed to a team-friendly deal when you're not anywhere near contention, I think you know what to do ...

If there's any justice for long-suffering fans, though, the Royals will just ignore that option and win in some of those years. Herrera will help that cause. Why, he's the MJNTOA winner along with Eric O'Flaherty, after all.

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