Miller a solid contender for Reliever of the Year
The award is named for a Yankees reliever who loved closing games so much, he cried on the mound when teammates came out two years ago to remove him from the game for good.
Now Mariano Rivera himself is leading a group of the most elite closers of all time who are deciding which 2015 relievers were the best in the business -- and if one of his successors, Andrew Miller, is worthy of that ultimate recognition.
The Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award presented by The Hartford will be handed out on Wednesday, before Game 2 of the 111th World Series.
While there are no official "nominees" for these awards, likely candidates could include Miller, along with Cody Allen of the Indians, Zach Britton of the Orioles and Wade Davis in the AL, and Mark Melancon of the Pirates, Jeurys Familia of the Mets, Aroldis Chapman of the Reds and Trevor Rosenthal of the Cardinals in the NL.
The awards are voted on by a nine-member panel comprised of Rivera and Hoffman, as well as fellow legendary closers Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, John Franco and Billy Wagner. The group represents the four living relief pitchers in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and is inclusive of the top six all-time saves leaders.
As part of the balloting process, all nine voters will pick three relievers from each league based solely on regular-season performance; selections are not restricted to closers. From there, a 5-3-1 weighted point system is used to determine the winners.
The Hartford awards were first presented in 2014, to Greg Holland of Kansas City in the AL and Craig Kimbrel in the NL. Yankees right-hander Dellin Betances was a runner-up to Holland a year ago, and Betances' late-bullpen partner probably holds the Yankees' best chance now.
Miller's 36 saves tied him with Britton for third in the AL (behind Brad Boxberger of Tampa Bay with 41 and Huston Street of Los Angeles with 40), and he led the AL in strikeouts per nine innings with 14.59 -- trailing only Chapman across all MLB. Only Davis topped Miller's 0.86 WHIP and .149 opponents-against average in the AL.
The Yankees' big left-hander teamed with Betances to form arguably the Majors' most intimidating late-relief combinations. In a Sept. 26 victory over the White Sox, as the Yankees were inching closer to a postseason berth, Justin Wilson, Betances and Miller each threw 1-2-3 innings in succession -- a formula that made manager Joe Girardi's life easier.
"There's no way we have this opportunity without those three guys," Girardi said after that game. "There's just no way. As good as they've been, when we have a lead, you turn it over to them and you feel really good."
Miller is a 10-year veteran who has 37 career saves, all but one of them this year. He transitioned from starter to reliever in the rival Boston bullpen while the great Rivera was still going strong in the Bronx, and in his first year as a closer, Miller said he has adapted to the role.
"It wasn't exactly where I wanted to go or how I wanted to end up here," he said, "but it's really been a lot of fun and I think I've thrived in it."
The Hartford awards replaced MLB's "Delivery Man of the Year Award," which was presented to one winner in all of MLB from 2005-2013, and it continues a longstanding baseball tradition of honoring the game's top relief pitchers.