Today we are going to wrap up the 2010-2019 stretch of the Cincinnati Reds farm system by looking at the season of the decade among relief pitchers. The offensive season went to Devin Mesoraco’s 2010 campaign, while the starting pitcher season went to Tony Cingrani’s 2012 season. For the reliever we’ll hand the award over to Cingrani’s teammate for a whole week in Pensacola, Donnie Joseph.

Cincinnati selected Donnie Joseph out of the University of Houston in 2009 in the 3rd round. The Reds pushed the lefty quickly his first full season as he pitched in Daytona, Lynchburg, and Double-A Carolina at the end of the year. In 2011 he returned to Double-A, but struggled as he posted a 6.94 ERA in 58.1 innings with 30 walks and 66 strikeouts.

In 2012 Donnie Joseph would return to Double-A for a part of a third straight season, and things went much better for the left-handed reliever this time around. Joseph didn’t give up a single run, earned or unearned, in the month of April as he tossed 10.0 shutout innings of relief. In May he’d be almost as good, giving up just two earned runs in 17.0 innings while picking up 25 strikeouts and walking just three hitters. When June rolled around he would only spend another week with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, giving up one earned run in 3.1 innings while striking out another six hitters.

In his first 26 games pitched he posted a 0.89 ERA in 30.1 innings for the Blue Wahoos. He gave up just 13 hits, one home runs, walked eight batters – and two of those were intentional – and he struck out 46. Opposing hitters in the Southern League managed just a .129/.198/.178 line against him before he was promoted to Triple-A Louisville.

Once he joined the Bats in the International League he picked up where he had left off. The lefty reliever allowed just one earned run in his first seven games – and that run came on the final day of June. July was a bit of a tougher go of things for the left-handed Joseph, though, as hitters finally got to him. In 12.2 innings during the month he allowed six runs – good for an ERA of 4.26. That would be his final month with the Cincinnati Reds as he was traded at the deadline, along with J.C. Sulbaran to the Kansas City Royals for reliever Jonathan Broxton.

Despite not pitching in the organization for the final four weeks of the 2012 season, he still gets the nod for me. His season split between Double-A and Triple-A resulted in 52.1 innings pitched with a 1.72 ERA, 35 hits allowed, just one home run allowed, a 0.99 WHIP, 17 walks, and 68 strikeouts.

Stacking up with the contenders

There were more than a few really strong seasons in contention for this one. I went back and forth a few times on which season was “best”. Let’s take a look at some of the notable ones I came across.

On this list, Donnie Joseph doesn’t have the lowest ERA, lowest WHIP, most strikeouts, most saves, or the most innings. He did have the best ERA+ among the group and the second best WHIP.

For the most part, I kept coming back to choosing either his season or the 2011 season for Drew Hayes. It was Hayes who had the best ERA, by a decent gap, of the entire decade among stateside relievers with at least 40 innings pitched. He dominated that season for the Dayton Dragons out of the bullpen. He led the way in both WHIP and ERA, and his ERA+ was second best among the full-season pitchers and third overall.

It was a tough decision between the two. Ultimately I chose to go with Joseph over Hayes despite 7.2 fewer innings because his ERA+ was significantly better combined with the fact it came in the upper minor leagues instead of Low-A ball.

Here are the other winners for Season of the Decade:

Decade Hitter Starter Reliever
2010’s Devin Mesoraco Tony Cingrani Donnie Joseph
2000’s Adam Dunn Travis Wood Robert Manuel
1990’s Jason LaRue Curt Lyons Victor Garcia
1980’s Danny Tartabull Mike Dowless Clem Freeman
1970’s Gary Redus Keefe Cato

4 Responses

  1. SteveLV

    The list puts into perspective how good Alex Powers’ season was last year.

    Also seems to indicate minor league relief success doesn’t translate to success in the majors.

    • Doug Gray

      I haven’t seen the recent numbers, but someone had a study on it in the last five years or so that showed an overwhelming majority of big league relievers – both good and bad – were minor league starters and not minor league relievers.

      • SteveLV

        Makes sense. I looked at the top 15 closers this year and only 3 – Jansen, Kimbrell, and Neris – were primarily minor league relievers. Of anyone seriously in contention for the Reds bullpen this year, only Strop and Kuhnel were.

    • Oldtimer

      That plus it shows just how far it is from AAA to MLB.

      Mariano Rivera (maybe best reliever of my lifetime) was a starter in MiLB and early on in MLB.