2016 Top 10 Relief Pitchers

And I thought deciding on who the top left fielders are was challenging!  Relief pitchers are all over the board.  How do you determine the level of excellence of a guy that pitches an inning or two?  Are holds worth as much as saves?  Is the 9th inning more valuable than the 6th or 7th or 8th?  It appears that the way MLB Network’s “Shredder” operated was in such a way that it eliminated the time of the game a reliever was used.  They seem to have simply based their ranking on the overall success of the pitcher over the last two seasons, regardless of whether or not the pitcher got a save, hold, or otherwise.  Here are their rankings:

  1. Wade Davis (KC)
  2. Dellin Betances (NYY)
  3. Aroldis Chapman (NYY)
  4. Andrew Miller (NYY)
  5. Zach Britton (BAL)
  6. Mark Melancon (PIT)
  7. Ken Giles (HOU)
  8. Tony Watson (PIT)
  9. Darren O’Day (BAL)
  10. Craig Kimbrel (BOS)

Obviously, saves don’t mean anything to the Shredder.  Wade Davis has 20, Darren O’Day has 10, and Tony Watson all of 3 saves over the last two seasons.  At first, this might sound ludicrous.  Many claim that the last three outs of the game are the hardest to get.  And, while that may be true in a 1-run game in the bottom of the 9th, I believe the reliever that can come in with two on and nobody out in the 7th, and hold a one or two-run lead is just as important as the guy getting the last three outs of the game.  Without that guy in the 7th or 8th doing his job, the guy getting credit for the save never has a chance to do his.  And, let’s not forget how often a guy gets a “cheap” save.  If he comes in with a 3-run lead, walks two, gives up a couple hits, and finally gets out of the jam by only giving up a run or two – it goes down as a save.

This is why I began with ERA.  At first, I decided that if a guy wasn’t in the top 20 among relievers who have pitched at least 80 innings over the last two seasons, then he didn’t belong in the discussion regarding the top 10 relievers in the game.  But, as I moved on to WHIP, K/BB, BAA and other stats, I began to see some other names near the top on a regular basis.  So, I went back and added them, just in case their ERA was just outside the top 20.  In the end, my list consisted of 24 names.  However, there were four of those who weren’t in the top 60 in two or more categories under consideration.  So, that eliminated them, leaving me with my original list size of 20.

Some names that ended up surprisingly high, but not quite on my top-10 list: Jonathan Papelbon (WSH), who ranks 12th in WHIP (0.96), 16th in ERA (2.08), and 16th in RE24 (22.9) over the last two seasons; Joaquin Benoit (SEA), who ranks 9th in ERA (1.96), 3rd in WHIP (0.84), and 4th in BAA (.153), but isn’t even in the top 40 in two of the other three categories under consideration (K/BB & SIERA).  Names that were on other analysts’ lists that make absolutely no sense:  Trevor Rosenthal (STL) and Jeurys Familia (NYM).  Rosenthal is barely in the top 50 in ERA, and doesn’t crack the top 100 in WHIP over the last two seasons!  Familia at least has a nice ERA (2.03 – tied for 11th), but the rest of his stats are mediocre – 1.09 WHIP (37th), 3.1 K/BB (60th), .205 BAA (29th), 2.76 SIERA (31st).

So, here are my top 10:

  1. Andrew Miller16805658894_169f8e5386_z
  2. Wade Davis
  3. Dellin Betances
  4. Jake McGee (COL)
  5. Aroldis Chapman
  6. Darren O’Day
  7. Zach Britton
  8. Mark Melancon
  9. Koji Uehara (BOS)
  10. Ken Giles

Miller tops my list, because he’s the only reliever to crack the top 10 in all six categories, and he ranks 1st in SIERA, while trailing only Davis in WHIP (0.83) and BAA (.150).  Davis comes in 2nd, as his lone shortcoming is his 21st-ranked K/BB ratio of 4.3.  He’s also 8th in SIERA, which tells me that he’s getting some extra benefit from the excellent defense behind him.  Betances is second only to Davis in ERA (1.45), and leads all relievers in RE24 (55.5).

7184187440_351b773178_zThe first surprise on my list comes at #4 – Jake McGee.  I think we may look back at the Rockies-Rays trade of Corey Dickerson for Jake McGee as one of the worst decisions made by Tampa Bay’s front office.  As I mentioned in my top 10 Left Fielders post, I don’t trust Corey Dickerson’s numbers because he has significantly worse stats away from Coors Field.  Meanwhile, Jake McGee is one of best relievers no one knows about.  He ranks 6th in WHIP (0.91), 5th in K/BB (5.7), 10th in RE24 (26.7), and 7th in SIERA (2.05) over the last two seasons.  He also ranks in the top-15 in ERA and BAA.

Chapman is behind McGee because, he only ranks ahead of McGee in ERA and BAA, while trailing significantly behind in WHIP (21st) and K/BB (30th).  O’Day leapfrogged his own teammate, Britton, because he ranks ahead of him in ERA, WHIP, K/BB and BAA.  Melancon fell back a little, because his ERA is only good enough for 14th (2.07), and he ranks 22nd in BAA (.200), and 15th in SIERA (2.43).  His other numbers are all in the top-10, though, so he still made my list.

9055258148_552f8f39c3_zKoji Uehara – the guy just doesn’t seem to get any older.  Maybe the Japanese players that come over claim to be older than they are – like the Cuban players that claim to be younger.  But, even at the ages of 39 and 40, Uehara has managed to rank 8th in WHIP (0.92), 1st in K/BB (7.5), and 10th in SIERA (2.20) over the last two seasons.  An astonishing feat for his age.  And, even though his other numbers don’t blow you away, he still ranks in the top-25 in ERA, BAA & RE24.

Ken Giles nearly fell off my list.  His only top-10 is in ERA (1.56 – 3rd).  But, as I was just about to put Craig Kimbrel in at #10, I noticed that Giles doesn’t rank outside the top-30 in any category.  And, he’s actually 12th in RE24 (25.0) and SIERA (2.32), and 20th in BAA (.197).  Meanwhile, Kimbrel is 34th in K/BB (3.8) and 28th in RE24 (19.6).  So, Kimbrel falls to #11 on my list.  The other name from MLB Network that didn’t make my list is Tony Watson.  Watson is probably somewhere around 15th on my list.  I can’t figure out why he’s rated so highly by MLB Network.  Yes, he’s 5th in ERA (1.77) and RE24 (34.2), but that’s the end of the list of great numbers.  He’s barely in the top-20 in WHIP and K/BB, he’s not even in the top-30 in SIERA, and is outside the top 40 in BAA.  That is not the resume of one of the top 10 relievers in the game today.  Is it?

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