While some stepped up with new teams, others stepped up in new roles. Some are familiar while others had us googling their names. Here are 10 relievers who stepped up in 2012.
10. Rafael Soriano, NYY
Soriano had already made his mark as a closer for the Rays, so it’s not like he wasn’t equipped to handle the role. The main aspect was replacing the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera. His season was very good as a fill in — 42 saves, 2.26 ERA, 1.17 WHIP — but he is not Rivera.
9. Tyler Clippard, WAS
To paraphrase the immortal Dennis Green, Clippard “is who we thought he was!” He was legit as an All-Star last year and this year he filled overtook Henry Rodriguez as closer after normal closer Drew Storen was injured. Clippard was money again, collecting 32 saves, 84 strikeouts and 29 walks. He also had a 3.27 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP.
8. Aroldis Chapman, CIN
It seemed that Chapman had been in limbo between starting and relieving, but this year, manager Dusty Baker must have just said, “screw it.” The young fire-thrower consistently topped 100 MPH and notched 38 saves and a 122:23 K:BB ratio. He also had an ERA of 1.51 and a 0.81 WHIP in 71.2 innings pitched.
7. Jim Johnson, BAL
How many of us had Johnson leading the MLB in saves with 51? None of us. He wasn’t the guy who missed bats, but he was money nonetheless as Baltimore made the playoffs for the first time since the dawn of man. He also had solid numbers in terms of ERA (2.49) and WHIP (1.12).
6. Joe Nathan, TEX
I, and many, thought Nathan was done after having Tommy John surgery. Well, Nathan had 37 saves, 2.80 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and a 78:13 K:BB ratio. Had he not returned to form, Texas might have been even further out of the AL West race.
5. Fernando Rodney, TB
Someone tried to dump Rodney on me last year in a trade and I wasn’t having it. I felt the same way this year. But sometimes, we must set our bias aside. Rodney made the All-Star squad and finished the year with stellar numbers — 48 saves, 76 K, 15 BB, 0.60 ERA and 0.78 WHIP.
4. Kenley Jansen, RP, LAD
Jansen was another guy that oozed potential. The one thing holding him back was his lack of control. While he did show flashes of unpredictability, he was very good as closer until replaced by Brandon League after seven blown saves. Jansen had 25 saves, 99 K, 22 BB, a 2.36 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP. He’ll be in the mix again for closing duties but might have to wait again for his opportunity.
3. Ernesto Frieri, LAA
Now we know why the Angels traded for Frieri — he had 23 saves, 7 holds, 98 K, 30 BB, 2.32 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. Had he taken the job sooner, the Angels might have been in the playoffs. Nonetheless, things set up well in 2013 for Frieri as he’ll have the faith of Mike Sciosia in his corner after a great 2012.
2. Ryan Cook, OAK
I had never heard of Cook until he started to heat things up for the A’s. When pressed into duty, he had 14 saves, but he did blow 7 saves. He also had 21 holds, 80 K, 27 BB while posting a 2.09 ERA and 0.94 WHIP. While Grant Balfour will likely reclaim the role in 2013, Cook is no longer an unknown when/if Balfour tanks again.
1. Tom Wilhelmsen, SEA
Wilhemsen made eventually made the tattoo-laden League expendable, and boy did he have a productive 2012. In total, he had 29 saves, 7 holds, 87 K, 29 BB, an ERA of 2.50 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. This was all accomplished on a team that has been perennially terrible.