Reliever of the Year Awards go to Melancon, Miller
Closers honored before Game 2 of World Series
By Mark Newman
KANSAS CITY -- Former teammates Mark Melancon of the Pirates and Andrew Miller of the Yankees were named respective recipients of the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year and Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Awards presented by The Hartford, as the gradual rollout of sanctioned 2015 Major League Baseball awards began in a ceremony on Wednesday before Game 2 of the World Series.
Attending the ceremony at Kauffman Stadium for the ultimate recognition of top relief pitchers was Commissioner Rob Manfred, Rivera, the all-time saves leader with 652, Hoffman, who ranks second with 601 saves and Doug Elliot, president of The Hartford.
"When we decided last year to overhaul our relief pitcher awards, the first thing that Commissioner [Bud] Selig did was sought the participation of Mariano and Trevor," Manfred said. "Their involvement in the selection process gave this award instant credibility. And their willingness to lend their names to the award gave it instant prestige."
Melancon (78 games, 3-2, 2.23 ERA, 76 2/3 IP, 62 strikeouts, 0.93 WHIP) completed the second All-Star season of his seven-year big league career by leading the Majors with 51 saves and a .962 save percentage. His 51 saves rank as the sixth-highest single-season total in NL history, making the Colorado native one of just 12 pitchers in Major League history to post a 50-save season. He anchored a Pirates bullpen that posted the lowest ERA (2.64) in the Majors en route to the club's third consecutive postseason appearance.
"I got to play with Mariano and am getting to know Trevor, so this award means more than just the on-field stuff," said Melancon, whose 11-day-old baby was in the first row ahead of him, another example of his big year. "These guys, their names are bigger than baseball, anything they've done in baseball. Tremendous people, and that goes so much further in my book to be with these guys up here in that regard. So it's just a special, special thing."
Miller (60 games, 3-2, 2.04 ERA, 61 2/3 IP, 100 strikeouts, 0.86 WHIP) converted 36 of his 38 save opportunities (an AL-best 94.7 percent) in his first season with the Yankees while posting an AL-best 14.59 strikeouts per nine innings. The 10-year veteran limited opponents to a .151 batting average. Miller and teammate Dellin Betances both hit the 100-strikeout mark -- a franchise first for relievers -- as the New York bullpen set a new single-season Major League record with 596 strikeouts, a key reason the Yankees reached the postseason.
"I've been lucky," Miller said. "The Yankees are about as good an organization as you can find. Their reputation is impeccable. Having the opportunity to play there is better than I ever dreamed of. On that front, no complaints. This is an incredible honor, something I never dreamed of. To be associated with anything with Mariano's name on it, probably more than I deserve. Nobody has a better reputation, and especially off the field, than him. It's something I'll cherish."
NL runners-up included right-handers Jeurys Familia (76 games, 2-2, 1.85 ERA, 43 saves, 78 IP, 86 strikeouts, 1.00 WHIP) of the Mets and Trevor Rosenthal (68 games, 2-4, 2.10 ERA, 48 saves, 68 2/3 IP, 83 strikeouts) of the Cardinals.
AL runners-up were Wade Davis of the Royals (69 games, 8-1, 0.94 ERA, 17 saves, 67 1/3 IP, 78 strikeouts, 0.79 WHIP) and, for the second year in a row, Zach Britton (64 games, 4-1, 1.92 ERA, 36 saves, 65 2/3 IP, 79 strikeouts, 0.99 WHIP) of the Orioles.
Balloting was conducted among a panel of eight all-time great relievers in order to determine the recipients of the Rivera and Hoffman Awards, which debuted in 2014. Rivera and Hoffman were joined on the panel by Hall of Fame relievers Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter, as well as the three relievers who round out the top five in career saves -- Lee Smith, John Franco and Billy Wagner.
The eight voters ranked the top three AL relief pitchers and the top three NL relief pitchers based solely on regular-season performance, using a 5-3-1 weighted point system.
"I think that fact that we have that opportunity to have a say on not just a statistic of a save, but to determine who might be Reliever of the Year, is rewarding," Hoffman said. "The last couple of years it has been a closer, it has been a guy who has been dominant in that role, but to take into account everybody who is a reliever, and to be able to decipher who had the best year, to be a part of that process has been great.
"I have never discussed with anybody else. It's kind of been a private ballot. But to gather the information and be somewhat unbiased toward it, and take the closer out -- there's Wade Davis in his reliever role, he was dominant, and equally as important as closing out a game. So to try to take in all the factors with everybody and their value, at the end of the day, it's still those three outs at the end that have a little more of an impact for me."
Rivera sat just feet away from his former manager, Joe Torre, now MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations. "It's a little early in the night for you, isn't it?" Torre asked him.
"It's amazing to have an award like this named after myself," Rivera said. Then turning next to Miller seated behind him, he added, "It's wonderful. Thank you. Again, more happier for the recipient, a guy that came from the beautiful New York Yankees. I couldn't be more proud for you, Andrew, to receive this award. Congratulations."
Melancon and Miller have plenty in common, notably the fact they both evolved into closers well into their careers. They were bullpen mates in Boston in 2012, combining for 94 appearances that season. In 2015, they appeared in their third consecutive postseasons, and both were closers on the teams that fell short in the Wild Card Games presented by Budweiser. Although there was no save situation in those finales, they did enough to start the ball rolling on this awards season.
Miller became the first pitcher in Yankees history to convert his first 24 save chances (from April 8-Aug. 6), according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Since the inception of saves in 1969, this marked the third-longest save streak to begin a career with a new team, behind only Brad Lidge (first 44 save chances in 2008-09) of the '08 World Series champion Phillies and Willie Hernandez (first 32 save chances) of the '84 World Series champion Tigers. Miller also missed 25 games this season (June 10-July 8) because of a left flexor forearm muscle strain.
The Pirates collected a Major League-best record of 36-17 (.680) in one-run games in 2015. Melancon converted a Pirates record 35 consecutive save opportunities from April 23-Aug. 15. His 1.85 ERA in his three seasons with the Bucs represents the second-best mark among NL relievers with at least 120 innings pitched, behind only Padres closer Craig Kimbrel (1.77). During that same span, Pirates relievers have fashioned an NL-best 2.90 ERA.
The Rivera and Hoffman Awards replaced MLB's "Delivery Man of the Year Award," which was presented to one winner in all of MLB from 2005-13, and have continued a longstanding baseball tradition of honoring the game's top relief pitchers. Last year's inaugural winners were Kimbrel, then of the Braves, in the NL and Greg Holland of the Royals for the AL.
This ceremony will be followed successively by MLB's announcement of the Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet before Game 3 and then the Hank Aaron Award for each league's top slugger before Game 4.
"I'm honored also to be here with two of the greatest closers that have ever been part of this special game, and they've also been ambassadors for us at The Hartford this past year," Elliot said. "We thank Trevor and we thank Mariano for an incredible run. Thank you here to helping us share in the glory of a fantastic year for Andrew and Mark."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.