Okay, so I take back everything I said about starting pitchers being the hardest. Because, not only does each team have 6-7 relief pitchers on their roster (260 relievers have pitched at least 40 innings over the last two seasons), but they perform completely different roles. Obviously, some categories will remain constant (ERA, FIP, etc.), but closers aren’t as likely to have quite as many strikeouts as the guys that can come in for multiple innings. And, saves are an entirely different category from holds – though, you probably can consider each similarly. So, here we go with the best relief pitchers, starting with MLB Network’s list, and their 2011 stats:
1. Mariano Rivera (44 saves, 1.91 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 60 K’s, 7.50 K/BB, 2.19 fip)
2. Mike Adams (32 holds, 2 saves, 1.47 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 74 K’s, 5.29 K/BB, 2.47 fip)
3. Craig Kimbrel (46 saves, 2.10 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 127 K’s, 3.97 K/BB, 1.97 fip)
4. Joaquin Benoit (29 holds, 2 saves, 2.95 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 63 K’s, 3.71 K/BB, 2.96 fip)
5. Jonathan Papelbon (31 saves, 2.94 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 87 K’s, 8.70 K/BB, 1.53 fip)
6. Andrew Bailey (24 saves, 3.24 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 41 K’s, 3.42 K/BB, 2.86 fip)
7. Ryan Madson (32 saves, 2.37 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 62 K’s, 3.88 K/BB, 2.25 fip)
8. John Axford (46 saves, 1.95 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 86 K’s, 3.44 K/BB, 2.41 fip)
9. Heath Bell (43 saves, 2.44 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 51 K’s, 2.43 K/BB, 3.23 fip)
10. Joakim Soria (28 saves, 4.03 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 60 K’s, 3.53 K/BB, 3.49 fip)
Now, here’s my list, with a a brief description of why I chose the relievers I did. One thing I will add is that I’m more willing to place a high value on holds than MLB Network seems to be. I would say that holds & saves are virtually interchangeable. I believe that a guy that can come into the 7th inning with two men on, and keep their opponent from scoring is every bit as important as the guy that comes into the 9th to get the last 3 outs. And, I think that’s one reason why my list looks a good bit different from MLB Network’s. Also, keep in mind that with so many relief pitchers out there, ranking in the top 50 is far more impressive than you might think – that means you’re better than over 80% of the relievers out there!
1. Sergio Romo – yeah, I’d never heard of him before doing this post either. But, he’s 29, and has been lights out in the Giants’ bullpen the last two seasons. He ranks in the top 20 in 9 categories over that span, including 5 top-10 rankings (which includes ERA, WHIP, K/BB, and FIP). No one else on this list can lay claim to all that.
2. Craig Kimbrel – already a star, and he doesn’t turn 24 until May. One of only a few that ranks in the top 50 in 9 categories, he also ranks in the top 10 in 6 (including the best FIP in the league), despite the fact he’s only had one full season in the big leagues.
3. Mike Adams – I don’t think many took notice of him before he arrived in Texas. But, he ranks in the top 30 in 9 categories the last two seasons, including 7 top-15 rankings (topped by his major-league leading 70 holds!).
4. Sean Marshall – he doesn’t turn 30 until August, and I doubt anyone would have guessed that over the last two seasons this is the relief pitcher with the highest WAR, 5th most K’s, and 3rd best FIP. He ranks in the top 50 in 8 categories, including 5 top-10’s.
5. Mariano Rivera – also ranks in the top 50 in 8 categories, and also has 5 top-10’s over the last two seasons. But, he also is 42, and ranks 3rd in WAR, so I gave Marshall just a slight edge.
6. Joaquin Benoit – he’ll be 35 in July, but has been absolutely dominant the last two years. He ranks in the top 30 in 9 categories, including 3 top-10’s.
7. Koji Uehara – the last of the group that ranks in the top 50 in 9 categories, he also has the best WHIP in the majors the last two seasons (0.82), and a 10.00 K/BB ratio! I place him here, though, because he’ll be 37 in April, ranks in the top 10 in just 3 categories, and is 25th in WAR over the last two years.
8. John Axford – the guy is just now coming into his prime, and already led the NL in saves last year. He ranks in the top 50 in 8 categories over the last two seasons, including 4 top-10’s.
9. Rafael Betancourt – a guy I’ve wished for years my team would go get. He ranks in the top 50 in 7 categories, including 4 top-10’s, and the best K/BB ratio in the league (10.13!) over the last two years.
10. Jonathan Papelbon – as he has approached and passed the age of 30 the last two years, his numbers have seen a dip. But, he’s still in the top 50 in 7 categories over the same period, including the 2nd best WAR.
Honorable mention goes to a group of guys that were right on the heels of Papelbon: Joel Hanrahan, Tyler Clippard, and Ryan Madson – all of whom are also in the top 50 in 7 categories. You’ll notice that just 4 of my top 10 are closers (though 2 of the next 3 would be), which I think is a reflection of my equal treatment of holds & saves. And, your thoughts??