BBE 2018 Position Rankings: MLB’s Top 15 Relief Pitchers


Over the offseason, the team of contributors at Baseball Essential voted upon every position on the diamond, compiling our comprehensive Top 15 countdowns for the 2018 season.

Major League Baseball is overflowing with youth and skill, but don’t forget about the rugged veterans we all know and love. These Top 15 rundowns will feature a splendid mix of young, exuberant athletes, and the aged, mature individuals who mentor them.As for the positions, we will unveil the top 15 starting pitchers, relievers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, shortstops, left fielders, center fielders, and right fielders, as well as the foremost designated hitters, utilitymen, and managers, over the next few weeks.

Our voting format is simple. The team of writers and analysts at BBE were given ballots a few weeks back for their top 10 individuals at each spot. A first-place vote is worth 10 points, second-place is good for nine, and so on.

As the spring training season starts to get underway, you will see these countdowns published prior to the beginning of another exciting MLB season. To keep track of the Top 15 lists you might have missed, stay posted to the Top 15 tag on the site.

In the rundown, we list the pitcher, their position among the list, and how many points they have received in the voting. Now, you’re ready. Here are MLB’s Top 15 starting pitchers for the 2018 season.


Honorable Mentions:

Four relievers received votes but did not compile enough to crack our Top 15. Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Archie Bradley and Houston Astros middle-reliever Chris Devenski received three points, while New York Yankees fireballer Dellin Betances and Los Angeles Angels righty Blake Parker totaled one point on a tenth-place vote each.

Alex Colome – 15th (4)

The American League leader in saves last season was Tampa Bay Rays closer Alex Colome, who capitalized on injuries to former All-Star Brad Boxberger to steal the job as the bullpen’s anchor. Colome’s stats took a step back last season, as the Dominican went 2-3 with an earned run average of 3.24 in 66.2 innings.

While Colome, predominantly a fastball and cutter pitcher, took a step back in 2017, he is still a very solid pitcher, and one of the best at limiting home runs. Colome allowed just four home runs in his 65 appearances last season, an average 0.5 home runs per nine innings. It’s possible, and somewhat likely, that Colome will end the 2018 season on a team other than the Rays. For now, however, Tampa fans can rejoice in their relief maestro.

Ken Giles – 14th (4)

Postseason Ken Giles did not make this list — boy, he didn’t even come close. Regular-season Ken Giles, though, is about as effective as any in the AL. Giles was a nominee for the Mariano Rivera Award for the AL’s best reliever after leading the Astros bullpen with 34 saves and a 2.30 ERA in 62.2 innings.

Giles, who throws fastballs clocked as fast as 101 MPH and mixes in a tricky slider, blossomed into a premier closer after his 2016 struggles in his first Houston season. At just 27, the New Mexico native still has room to grow and will likely be able to exorcise his postseason demons with the defending World Series champs in 2018.

Brad Hand – 13th (5)

At age 27, Brad Hand was a National League All-Star in his first year as a certified closer, leading all San Diego Padres with a 2.19 ERA and a 2.8 bWAR rating in 79.1 innings. A bright spot on the lowly Padres in 2017, Hand was rewarded with a three-year contract extension worth $19.75 million this offseason.

Predominantly a fastball/slider pitcher, Hand struck out 104 batters his 72 appearances last season. The left-hander set career-highs in WHIP (0.933), walks per nine innings (2.3), and strikeouts per nine innings (11.8). On an up-and-coming team like that in San Diego, Hand could be part of the “volcano of hot talent lava” set to explode in the near future.

Cody Allen – 12th (6)

While Andrew Miller dazzles hitters with his nasty breaking balls, Cody Allen closes the deal for the Cleveland Indians as part of perhaps the best bullpen duo in MLB. Allen appeared 69 times in 2017, totaling his third straight season with 30 or more saves with exactly 30 in 67.1 innings pitched.

Allen throws a nifty cutter in addition to an effective fastball with some late break to it. Allen was worth 1.7 bWAR while striking out 92 batters, walking just 21.

Raisel Iglesias – 11th (8)

After a breakout 2016 season, Raisel Iglesias followed it up with a 2017 season that led all Cincinnati Reds pitchers in ERA (2.49), strikeouts per nine (10.9), ERA+ (177), and fielding independent pitching (2.70).

Iglesias, who can follow his menacing 100-MPH fastball with a filthy slider, totaled 28 saves in 63 appearances (76 innings), going 3-3 on the year.

David Robertson – 10th (9)

Another finalist for the AL’s reletively new Rivera Reliever of the Year Award, David Robertson rode a midseason trade from the Chicago White Sox to the New York Yankees, continuing his fluid pitching and dominant stat line from city to city.

While Robertson’s full season stats were outstanding (9-2, 1.84 ERA, 0.849 WHIP, 12.9 K/9), his numbers with the Yankees were borderline incredible. In his second stint in pinstripes, the reliever went 5-0 with an ERA of 1.03 in the second half of 2017.

Robertson throws a four-seam fastball and a circle changeup, and as a righty, does pretty well against left-handed hitters. In a stacked Yankees ‘pen, Robertson is about as valuable as anyone in the relief unit.

Zach Britton – 9th (22)

Much like nearly every pitcher on the Baltimore Orioles, Zach Britton took a step back in 2017 after a ridiculous 2016. In Britton’s case, however, his off season was based on injury.

Britton is expected to be sidelined until after the All-Star break with a ruptured Achilles. Nonetheless, he remains one of the premier relief pitchers in MLB. It’s difficult to follow up a 47-save, 0.54 ERA 2016 season, but Britton went 2-1 with a 2.89 ERA and an ERA+ of 151.

With a fastball and a sinker with the same velocity (96-99 MPH), Britton’s stuff gives everyone in the O’s camp hope that he will return to the left-handed pitcher’s previous stature.

Felipe Rivero – 8th (27)

The 2017 season served as a coming-out party for Felipe Rivero, as the left-handed pitcher had a dominant season that few fans outside of Pittsburgh know about. Nonetheless, the 26-year-old put together a 5-3 season with an ERA of 1.67 over 75.1 innings pitched. Rivera totaled 21 saves in 73 appearances.

With a 101-MPH fastball and a changeup with two-seam movement, Rivero is an extremely dangerous weapon out of the Pirates bullpen. Still young, Rivero — who was third on Pittsburgh in WAR at 2.5 — will only get better in building off of a tremendous 2017 campaign.

Aroldis Chapman – 7th (27)

Most will say Aroldis Chapman took a step back in 2017, but hey, that only evens the reliever landscape out a bit. Chapman, 30, had his lowest single-season save total since 2011 (22) and his highest ERA (3.22) since he was 23 years old. Chapman went 4-3 with a 2.56 fielding independent pitching and 69 strikeouts.

However, Chapman has all the tools to return to the top of the closer totem pole. A fastball that tops out at 104 MPH, a tricky and downright filthy slider, and an occasional changeup will give Yankees fans hope that their lefty closer will come back to life, so to speak.

Corey Knebel – 6th (30)

Corey Knebel is one of my favorite pitchers to watch on the hill; Milwaukee Brewers fans oughta feel the same way about the National League All-Star right-hander. Knebel had 39 saves and an ERA of 1.78 in 2017, striking out an absurd 14.9 batters per nine innings. He whiffed 126 batters in his NL-leading 76 appearances on his way to a nomination for the Trevor Hoffman Award for NL Reliever of the Year.

The Georgetown, Texas, high school graduate set an MLB record for consecutive games with a strikeout by a receiver in 2017, at 45. If Knebel, a fastball/cutter pitcher, can curb his issue with walks (40 in 2017, 4.7 per nine), he will instantly jump into the upper echelon of MLB relief pitchers.

Roberto Osuna – 5th (37)

As Roberto Osuna has been an elite closer for two seasons now, it’s easy to forget he’s just 23 years old. At a time when most pitchers are still blocked in Triple-A, Osuna has 94 career saves and 240 strikeouts. Last season was no different in terms of relief prowess, as Osuna went 3-4 with a 3.38 ERA and 39 saves, fanning 83 and walking just nine.

Osuna has a wonderfully diverse set of pitches, throwing two different fastballs, a sinker, a slider, and a changeup. The Toronto Blue Jays righty was an AL All-Star in 2017, and the Mexican is the focal point of a Blue Jays strong relief pitching staff.

Wade Davis – 4th (40)

The transformation of Wade Davis from decent starter to middle-reliever to borderline Cy Young Award candidate has been an interesting and fascinating one. Once a Rays and Kansas City Royals struggling starter, Davis has been an elite reliever ever since his shift to the bullpen.

Twice a recipient of Cy Young Award votes as a relief arm, the three-time All-Star posted 32 saves and a 2.30 ERA in 59 games with the Chicago Cubs, striking out 79 batters and walking 28.

Now a member of the Colorado Rockies, the right-hander will display his fastball, cut fastball, and knuckle-curve in Denver. Davis was a finalist for the aforementioned Trevor Hoffman Award.

Andrew Miller – 3rd (65)

When you look at how well-traveled Andrew Miller has been — he’s now on his sixth MLB team — you would think he’s a middling reliever who’s able to find work anywhere as a lefty. When you see his stats, you begin to realize that Miller has been one of the most dominant relievers of the last few years.

Last season, the two-time All-Star was good for a career-best 1.44 ERA in 62.2 innings, going 4-3 on the season. The 2016 AL Championship Series MVP had a WHIP of 0.830 while fanning 95 and walking just 21.

The 6’7″, fastball/slider behemoth has been used predominantly in the “fireman” role for Terry Francona and the Indians as Cody Allen closes.

Craig Kimbrel – 2nd (69)

The shelf life of an elite closer is usually a couple of years, and if you’re the best of the best, you might be able to extend that to six or seven seasons. Craig Kimbrel is the exception to this statement. Kimbrel hasn’t even hit his 30s, yet he’s been a phenomenal MLB closer for eight years.

Kimbrel went 5-0 with a 1.44 ERA with the Boston Red Sox last season, striking out 126 and yielding only 14 walks in 69 innings. The six-time All-Star has been so consistently marvelous for so long that his ridiculously good 1.44 ERA was only his fourth-best single season average.

Kimbrel was good for 3.6 bWAR last season, posting 35 saves (his seventh-straight season with 30 or more saves). The right-hander with a knuckle-curve and a fastball generating from his patented unorthodox stance on the mound won the Mariano Rivera Award in 2017.

Kenley Jansen – 1st (80)

Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Kenley Jansen was a unanimous decision at the top by our panel of writers. To say it isn’t a well-deserved place atop the rundown is a lie.

In 2017, Jansen led the NL in saves with 41, going 5-0 over 65 games with a 1.32 ERA. He walked only seven of the 258 batters he faced all season – and didn’t yield a base on balls until June 25. Jansen’s strikeout-to-walk ratio was an unbelievable 15.57.

The former catcher who relies almost exclusively on a cut fastball earned All-Star honors, the NL’s Trevor Hoffman Award, a fifth-place Cy Young Award finish, and even MVP votes in a tremendous 2017 season that assisted heavily in the Dodgers’ pennant win.

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