Capping off the 2000-2009 decade on the Cincinnati Reds farm system, we’re looking at the best season from a relief pitcher. There was some interesting competition here, but for me, the nod went to former Major Leaguer Robert Manuel for what he accomplished in the 2008 season.

Robert Manuel was an undrafted free agent signed after going undrafted in 2005 by the New York Mets. The Cincinnati Reds acquired him in a trade the following May in exchange for David Willams. In 2006 and 2007 he would see time in A-ball, pitching for the Dayton Dragons and Sarasota Reds, splitting his time between the bullpen and the rotation.

But when 2008 began for Robert Manuel he was a full-time reliever. His season began back with the Sarasota Reds – his 3rd season in a row where he would see time in the Florida State League – but that stint didn’t last very long. The right-handed reliever made just four appearances over a span of 11 days for Sarasota, striking out 11 batters in 7.2 shutout innings before being promoted to Double-A Chattanooga.

Once in the Southern League, Manuel picked up right where he had left off. The new Lookouts reliever began his stint with Chattanooga by tossing 16.0 consecutive innings of no earned run baseball, striking out 20 batters. On May 13th he would finally give up his first two earned runs of the season against the Carolina Mudcats.

In back-to-back outings on May 31st and June 2nd he would give up two earned runs in each appearance. It would be another month plus before he’d give up another earned run. From June 3rd through July 9th he would throw 19.2 innings with just one unearned run charged against him while picking up 23 more strikeouts for the Lookouts. In most seasons, the stretch from July 10th through 19th would be a solid showing as he gave up three earned runs across 8.0 innings – but those three earned runs were half as many as he had allowed up to that point in the entire season in his previous 55.2 innings.

Despite his absolute dominance in Double-A, Robert Manuel would only see one appearance in Triple-A during the year. On August 4th he was called up and threw 2.0 shutout innings for the Louisville Bats before returning to Chattanooga to finish out the month and the season. He would allow just two earned runs across 16.0 innings for the Lookouts in his final eight appearances.

When the season was completed the then 24-year-old had held opposing hitters to a .174/.227/.228 line on the year with 103 strikeouts and just 19 walks across 86.2 innings. Six of his 19 walks were of the intentional variety. His ERA stood at 1.25 across three levels and his WHIP was an absurdly low 0.84.

Stacking up with the contenders

There were some strong seasons among the relief crew from 2000-2009. Some had better stats in certain categories than Robert Manuel did, but overall his season in 2008 just felt like the best one to me. Let’s take a look at some of the other standout seasons from this decade.

Innings totals were a big player in my final decision. Robert Manuel and Pedro Viola had a big advantage over just about anyone else on the list. And they both had an ERA+ just over the 300 mark. For me, it came down to those two guys for the top spot. Manuel got the edge because of his advantages in WHIP, levels played at, and strikeout-to-walk numbers.

The season’s in 2008 by both Aguido Gonzalez and Zach Stewart were outstanding – but both were functionally only half-seasons. Gonzalez began the year in BIllings in late June before moving up. Stewart was drafted in June before going on a tear for Dayton and Sarasota.

Let’s round up this article with some video of Robert Manuel facing off against Zack Cozart in the first “Futures” game that the Cincinnati Reds organization put on way back in 2009.

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. Billy

    Traditionally, MLB relievers have often been MiLB starters. Is that changing? It seems like relievers are being developed as relievers now, more so than in years past. Is that true?

    • Doug Gray

      No, I don’t think it’s true. But we’ll probably need another handful of years to be able to look back and see how, say, the 2019 crop of “big league relievers” worked out.

  2. Stock

    I think they are changing Billy. I play fantasy so I really focus on closers but so many now are pitching exclusively or mainly in relief while in the minors. I looked it up real quick and have a list of 19 RP who were RP in the minors. This list includes pitchers who saved 20+ games last year or I project to be closer this year.

    Neris, Yates, Osuna, Jansen, Doolittle, Ken Giles, Gallegos, Romo, Pagan, Scott Oberg, Watson, Givens, Jimenez, Melancon, Leclerc, Kintzler, Kimbrel, Kela and Knebel

    13 came up as mostly SP: Hader, Chapman, Hand, Iglesias, Rogers, Diaz, Hendriks, Robles, Bradley, Workman, Kennedy, Colome and Magill.

    The only one on these lists that can be thrown off is Knebel. But my opinion is Milwaukee really wants Hader to revert to the role he played 2 years ago so I included Knebel.

  3. Stock

    Just because a player is a SP in the minors does not mean the club projects him as a SP. Starting him is just a great way to maximize his innings and reduce the learning curve.

    Tony Cingrani is a great example. Someone who throws a FB 80% of the time will not survive as a SP in the majors. Yet the Reds never took the time to let him learn additional pitches in the minors. Part of this may because he was probably the most dominate SP in the history of minor league baseball (minimum 200 IP). He kind of forced the Reds hand.

    The second reason you have them start in the minors is because SP have more value than RP and you never know when something will click. Luis Castillo is a great example. His first 3 years as a professional he appeared in 94 games, all in relief. Traded to Miami they moved him to SP and he was good but only striking out about 7 per 9 IP. The prospect ranking systems continued to project him as a RP. But something clicked with the Reds and everyone here knows what that has meant to the Reds. So why not let projected RP start because you never know if a specific pitch turns around their career or they add 2-3 MPH to their FB as they age (see Josh James).