30 Days of MLB Rankings: Top 15 Relief Pitchers

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Ladies and Gentlemen: 30 days, 30 MLB position rankings. Nine positions and the top starting pitcher ranked from each team in three parts each. Each player on the list is based on the projected starter for a team for the 2020 season by position. On day twenty-seven of this series, we’ll look at the top 15 relief pitchers in MLB. 

Check out my previous rankings from this series:

Catchers 30-21 | Catchers 20-11  | Catchers 10-1  | First Base 30-21 | First Basemen 20-11 | First Basemen 10-1 | Second Basemen 30-21 | Second Basemen 20-11 | Second Basemen 10-1 | Third Basemen 30-21 | Third Basemen 20-11 | Third Basemen 10-1 | Shortstop 30-21 | Shortstops 20-11 | Shortstop 10-1  | Left Field 30-21 | Left Field 20-11 | Left Field 10-1  | Center Field 30-21 | Center Field 20-11  | Center Field 10-1  | Right Field 30-21 | Right Field 20-11  | Right Field 10-1 | Designated Hitter 15-1 | Relief Pitcher 30-16 

It’s worth mentioning that this ranking is the best reliever on each team, and not just an overall top 30 relievers ranking. Also, the pitchers on this list are not necessarily the team’s closer, but their best reliever. Josh Hader is the Brewers’ best reliever, but Corey Knebel will be their closer in 2020. Hader, not Knebel, will be mentioned on the reliever rankings.  

15. Scott Oberg, Colorado Rockies

2019: 49 games, 56.0 IP, 2.25 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 58 Strikeouts, 5 Saves

Quietly, Scott Oberg has pitched exceptionally well for the Rockies the past two seasons, despite pitching in Coors Field. While Oberg doesn’t rack up a ton of strikeouts, he is elite at limiting home runs, having only allowed five last season. While Wade Davis projects to be the closer, Oberg is the Rockies’ best reliever.  

14. Alex Colome, Chicago White Sox 

2019: 62 games, 61.0 IP, 2.80 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 55 Strikeouts, 30 Saves

In his first year with the White Sox, Alex Colome had a great season as the closer, converting 30 saves. Like Oberg, Colome is not a strikeout machine but prides himself on limiting the long ball, and forcing ground balls. His best pitch is his cutter, which he threw on 71.0% of his pitches last year.  

13. Hansel Robles, Los Angeles Angels

2019: 71 games, 72.2 IP, 2.48 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 75 Strikeouts, 23 Saves

After Cody Allen got demoted, Hansel Robles got the opportunity to close and didn’t look back in 2020. Having been a league-average reliever for the Mets for four seasons, Robles has taken his game to a new level these past two seasons. Now the closer from day one, it will be exciting to see how Robles performs in 2020.  

12. Brad Hand, Cleveland Indians

2019: 60 games, 57.1 IP, 3.30 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 84 Strikeouts, 34 Saves

In 2018, Brad Hand was one of the most dominant relief pitchers in MLB. While he still pitched well last season, Hand was not elite as he had previously been. A left-handed pitcher, Hand only throws two prominent pitchers. His fastball is above-average, while his slider is one of the best in MLB. 

11. Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

2019: 62 games, 63.0 IP, 3.71 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 80 Strikeouts, 33 Saves

After posting sub-two ERAs in 2016 and 2017, Kenley Jansen has taken a step back these past two seasons. While he is still a great pitcher, he isn’t as dominant as he once was. After never allowing more than six home runs in any season, Jansen has allowed 22 homers these past two years. 

10. Giovanny Gallegos, St.Louis Cardinals

2019: 66 games, 74.0 IP, 2.31 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 93 Strikeouts, 1 Save

In his first full MLB season in 2019, Giovanny Gallegos was dominant out of the pen for St.Louis. He projects to be the Cardinals’ closer for 2020. He posted an incredible WHIP of 0.81 in 2019. If he can cut down on how many home runs he allows, he’ll be one of the best relievers in MLB. 

9. Will Smith, Atlanta Braves

2019: 63 games, 65.1 IP, 2.76 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 96 Strikeouts, 34 Saves

After an all-star year for the Giants in 2019, Will Smith signed a three-year deal with the Atlanta Braves. Smith has great control and strikeout stuff as a lefty out of the bullpen. His best pitch is his slider. It will be interesting to see how he performs as the closer with his new team in 2020.  

8. Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins

2019: 60 games, 69.0 IP, 2.61 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 90 Strikeouts, 30 Saves

Quietly, Taylor Rogers has been one of the best relievers in MLB since breaking into the bigs back in 2016. A lefty, Rogers has one of the filthiest sliders in MLB, as he posted a 7.4 wSL in 2019, per FanGraphs. Along with Rogers, Trevor May and Tyler Clippard give Minnesota one of the best bullpens in MLB.  

7. Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays

2019: 53 games, 53.0 IP, 1.87 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 83 Strikeouts, 23 Saves

After a down year with the Astros and Blue Jays in 2018, Ken Giles rebounded and was one of the most reliable relievers in MLB last season. Giles can hit up to 99 with his fastball, while consistently throwing 97 with that pitch. His slider/fastball combination is tough to hit as he posted a K/9 of 14.1 last season. 

6. Liam Hendriks, Oakland Athletics

2019: 75 games, 85.0 IP, 1.80 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 124 Strikeouts, 25 Saves

A mediocre pitcher for the first eight years of his career, Liam Hendriks figured it out and was an elite reliever last season. With his heavy fastball and a wipeout slider, Hendriks can strike out batters at will. At age 32, Hendriks has established himself as a top relief pitcher. Fun fact: he’s the only player in MLB from Australia.  

5. Brandon Workman, Boston Red Sox

2019: 73 games, 71.2 IP, 1.88 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 104 Strikeouts, 16 Saves

Like Liam Hendriks, Brandon Workman went from a league-average reliever to one of the best in MLB in 2019. Workman’s great numbers and high spot on this list can mostly be attested to one statistic: he only allowed one home run last year! Workman projects to be Boston’s closer in 2020, over Matt Barnes.  

4. Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros

2019: 66 games, 65.0 IP, 2.63 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 73 Strikeouts, 38 Saves

The Astros’ closer, Roberto Osuna led the AL with 38 saves in 2019. His slurve is one of the nastiest pitches in MLB, and he yields a ton of ground balls. He only walked 13 batters in 2019 in 65.0 innings. At age 25, Osuna should continue to be one of the best relievers in MLB for years to come.  

3. Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees

2019: 60 games, 57.0 IP, 2.21 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 85 Strikeouts, 37 Saves

Nicknamed the Cuban Missile, Aroldis Chapman remains one of the fastest pitchers in MLB at age 32. Early in his career, Chapman’s only weapon was blowing hitters away with his fastball. However, as he’s gotten more experience, his slider has become arguably the best in the league. While he doesn’t hit 104 like he used to, Chapman is still a top relief pitcher. 

2. Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres

2019: 60 games, 60.2 IP, 1.19 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 101 Strikeouts, 41 Saves

This was an extremely tough decision; Kirby Yates easily could have earned the top spot on this list. After a great year in 2018, Yates took his game to a new level last season, posting an ERA barely above 1.00, while leading the NL in saves. Yates has arguably the best splitter in MLB, making him extremely tough to hit for the Padres. He also does a great job at limiting deep flies after he only allowed two homers last season.  

1. Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers

2019: 61 games, 75.2 IP, 2.62 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 138 Strikeouts, 37 Saves

Simply put: Josh Hader makes MLB hitters look silly. His quirky left-handed motion, rising fastball, and a wipeout slider make him nearly impossible to hit. In three MLB seasons, he’s recorded a ridiculous 15.3 K/9. The only issue with Hader is that when he gives up hits, they’re often home runs. If he can cut down on the long-ball, Hader could become one of the greatest relievers in MLB history.  

Come part tomorrow for the first part of my starting pitchers ranking!

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