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FAN Projection Targets: Sophomore Relievers

Fan Projection Target season is upon us, a time for FanGraphs readers to show those computers what’s what and out-project them using only intuitive genius. In past seasons, relievers have sometimes suffered from a relative lack of ballots, and while I am not sure this is true of all the relievers mentioned below, it might be a good place to start getting into projecting bullpens. How will some notable 2011 rookie relievers fare in 2011?

Braves Rookie of the Year closer Craig Kimbrel is doing pretty well for projections so far, but he could use more. Will he be able to keep up his incredible strikeout rate and high workload? The Angels’ Jordan Walden also ended up in a closer role and had a very nice season. Will he be able to keep it up with Jeff Mathis now in Toronto? A less-heralded 2011 rookie who had a number of saves is the Cardinals’ Fernando Salas. After Tony LaRussa‘s mix-and-match approach to the 2011 bullpen, will Salas settle in to the closer’s role?

Mark Melancon is another sophomore reliever, and right now he may be slated to close for Boston, so how he will make the transition from perhaps baseball’s weakest division to its strongest is something worth your input. But this is not all about 2011 rookies who were closers, either. For example, the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen had a great season in 2011, with an amazing 1.74 FIP. Perhaps even more impressive was the Royals’ rookie reliever Greg Holland: while Aaron Crow got the All-Star nod and Eric Hosmer was understandably seen as the flagship player of the Greatest Farm System in the History of Whatever, it was Holland who was arguably the Royals’ most valuable rookie, and his 2011 performance is one reason the Joakim Soria trade rumors have started up again. Holland’s 2011 performance was far beyond what one might have reasonably expected given what he did in the minors; was he for real or just a mirage? Vinnie Pestano was another AL Central rookie reliever who had a great year.

Some rookie relievers were disappointing, such as Daniel Schlereth and especially Lil’ Timmy Collins, who may have been “fun to watch” while warming up, but seemed to walk at least one batter during each of the approximately 183 games into which Royals manager Ned Yost inserted him.

Finally, there are a couple of 2011 rookie relievers whose teams are rumored to be considering moving to the rotation in 2012. White Sox southpaw Chris Sale had a great year as a reliever, totalling 1.4 WAR. Even with Sergio Santos traded to Toronto, the team is said to be ready to try him in the rotation. On the other end of the spectrum is the previously mentioned Aaron Crow, who started the year hot, but really fell off in the second half (which may have been missed if one looked only at his ERA rather than his FIP). The Royals are thinking of moving him to the rotation despite Crow walking 4.5 batters per nine innings in 2011 as a reliever, and few thinking he has the repertoire to handle left-handed hitters on a regular basis. Will he develop such a pitch, become a surprisingly successful (mostly) two-pitch starter in the vein of Michael Pineda, or crash and burn?

Click here to enter your 2012 projections from some of these 2011 rookie relievers.