MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

To find reliever's skill, look to runners left stranded

While some trumpet low ERA, leaving runners on base is most important

To find reliever's skill, look to runners left stranded

James Shields is moving into an ideal situation in San Diego, personally and professionally. A Southern Californian, born and raised, he has a new home within commuting distance of Petco Park, every pitcher's dream yard. He's joining a team bursting with an infusion of exciting talent. And when he leaves the mound, usually late, he can bank on relievers with superb track records.

They might not have the reputation of the Royals relievers he is leaving behind in Kansas City, but Shields will be well protected by the likes of Joaquin Benoit, Nick Vincent, Kevin Quackenbush, Alex Torres and Dale Thayer.

Only the Mariners had a better bullpen ERA than the Padres' 2.73 mark last season, and San Diego's 84-percent success rate in save situations was the best in the Majors. Granted, Huston Street was a big part of that before he was dealt to the Angels, but the Padres' group continued its excellent work after their closer left in a midseason trade.

One of the most underrated stats in connection with relievers is inherited runners left stranded. A reliever's ERA can be blasted out of all proportion by one or two bad outings. Leaving potential runs on the bases is the best way for any reliever to endear himself to teammates, especially starters who depart with their ERA in danger of getting damaged.

Quackenbush escapes jam

In Torres, Quackenbush and Vincent, the Padres had three of the best in damage control in 2014. Together they allowed only 14 of 110 inherited runners to score, a success rate of 87.3 percent.

Let's take a look at the game's best, individually, in preventing inherited runners, using 24 as the minimum, from scoring:

1. Vic Black, Mets: 26 inherited runners, one run allowed, four percent scored.

2. J.P. Howell, Dodgers: 35 inherited, two runs, six percent

3. C.C. Lee, Indians: 27 inherited, two runs, seven percent

4. Scott Rice, Mets: 25 inherited, two runs, eight percent

5. Joel Peralta, Rays: 24 inherited, two runs, eight percent

6. Randy Choate, Cards: 39 inherited, four runs, 10 percent

7. Jake McGee, Rays: 30 inherited, three runs, 10 percent

8. Zach Putnam, White Sox: 29 inherited, three runs, 10 percent

9. Torres, Padres: 44 inherited, five runs, 11 percent

10. Jerry Blevins, Nationals: 35 inherited, four runs, 11 percent

11. Eric Surkamp, White Sox: 28 inherited, three runs, 11 percent

12. Carlos Martinez, Cardinals: 26 inherited, three runs, 12 percent

13. Charlie Furbush, Mariners: 39 inherited, five runs, 13 percent

14. Fernando Abad, Athletics: 38 inherited, five runs, 13 percent

15. Quackenbush, Padres: 24 inherited, three runs, 13 percent

16. Vincent, Padres: 42 inherited, six runs, 14 percent

17. Cody Allen, Indians: 35 inherited, five runs, 14 percent

18. Scott Downs, White Sox: 28 inherited, four runs, 14 percent

19. Scott Atchison, Indians: 41 inherited, six runs, 15 percent

20. Nick Hagadone, Indians: 33 inherited, five runs, 15 percent

21. David Carpenter, Braves: 27 inherited, four runs, 15 percent

Andrew Miller qualified for the list based on his work with the Red Sox, for whom he allowed just two of 26 inherited runners (eight percent) to score. But after he moved to the Orioles, five of 16 inherited runners crossed the plate, bringing his season rate to 17 percent. Miller has taken his talents to the Yankees, joining overpowering Dellin Betances at the back end of the New York bullpen.

From a team standpoint, no club matched the depth of manager Terry Francona's Indians in terms of snuffing inherited runners. Along with Lee, Allen, Atchison and Hagadone, Marc Rzepczynski (57 inherited/11 runs), Josh Outman (18/4), Kyle Crockett (37/9) and Bryan Shaw (35/10) also were kept busy.

With Black and Rice shutting down rallies, the Mets were also highly effective in controlling damage. Carlos Torres (33/6), Dana Eveland (23/6) and Jeurys Familia (37/9) contributed under duress.

A big part of the Orioles' success was the collective work of Tommy Hunter (32/5), Darren O'Day (30/6), Brian Matusz (49/10), Ryan Webb (22/5) and Brad Brach (25/7) along with Miller. Closer Zach Britton permitted one of his 10 inherited runners to score.

Herrera ends 4th-inning threat

Dominant at the back end, the Royals surprisingly ranked only 10th in the Majors in bullpen ERA. Kelvin Herrera, setting up in front of overpowering Wade Davis and closer Greg Holland, inherited 43 runners and allowed nine to score, and Jason Frasor also was effective (16/4).

The World Series-champion Giants, fifth in the Majors in bullpen ERA, return their deep, effective group, led by setup man Sergio Romo (12 inherited runners/one run) and closer Santiago Casilla (18/3). Jean Machi (40/12), Javier Lopez (41/13), Jeremy Affeldt (27/8) and Juan Gutierrez (36/10) take turns controlling damage for manager Bruce Bochy.

Linking veteran workhorse Peralta, acquired in a trade with the Rays, with Howell in front of closer Kenley Jansen, could go a long way toward resolving relief issues that plagued the Dodgers last season.

Lyle Spencer is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.