Mention Pat Neshek to a Cardinals fan and you’ll no doubt get a positive reaction. “He’s having a good year.” “He deserved that All Star nod.” The 33 year old veteran relief pitcher that the Cardinals signed on a flier in Spring Training made the team and has put together a great season. However, just how great that season has been has flown under the radar.
As we approach the end of July, roughly 2/3rds of the way through the season, Neshek is sporting a 0.85 ERA and a 0.638 WHIP over just over 42 innings of work, both league leading numbers among relievers with more than 30 innings pitched. He has a 428 ERA+. For those who don’t know what ERA+ is, it’s an attempt to normalize ERA for league and park factors. An even 100 ERA+ means a league average pitcher. For Neshek’s 428, which leads the league as well, it means he is more than 4x as good as the league average pitcher this year.
But Neshek hasn’t just been arguably the best relief pitcher in baseball this season, you can make a case that it is among the best seasons for a reliever in the history of baseball. A couple of weeks ago, wondering just how good Neshek has been, I plugged it into the Baseball Reference Play Index tool (if you’re a stat-head like me, best $36 I ever spent). I asked it how many relief pitchers had thrown more than 30 innings with an ERA below 1.00 and a WHIP below 0.75. There were three.
At the time Neshek was even better. He wasn’t helped by his last appearance on Sunday where he allowed two hits and a solo homer after being told he’d have the day off. That bumped his ERA, from 0.65 to 0.85 and dropped his ERA+ by almost 150 points. But if Neshek can continue to perform at this level for another two months, we’re looking at a guy who just turned in one of the single greatest seasons of relief pitching in the history of baseball.
What’s even more amazing is that Neshek is not even the stereotypical relief pitcher. While most of the top relievers in baseball can reach back for triple digits if they want them, Neshek’s fastest pitch is a sinker which averages just a touch under 91 mph. But perhaps that is the reason for his success? Perhaps Neshek brings a change of pace that keeps hitters off balance.
Whatever the case, whatever Neshek is doing this season is definitely working.