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Ranking the Top 20 Relievers (20-11)

Recently, in Major League Baseball, we have seen a surge in the use of relievers. They are being used differently than in the past, and they are used more than they were in the past. In 1990, starters threw 67.9% of the total innings pitched, with that figure falling to 55.5% in 2020. The introduction of the opener contributes to this figure, but bullpens are throwing more innings regardless. To win games in modern MLB, having a bullpen is more important than ever. Let’s count down the 20 best relief pitchers in the league entering 2021.

20. Kenley Jansen

Jansen is no longer one of the best relief pitchers in the league, but he is still serviceable and had a decent season in 2020. He’ll never be the same Kenley Jansen as he was from 2011 to 2017, when he had a 2.16 ERA, 1.84 FIP and 16.4 WAR. Since then, he has a 3.34 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 2.0 WAR and 23.4 K-BB%. The emergence of Victor Gonzalez and Brusdar Graterol in the Dodgers’ bullpen should help them deal with Jansen’s decline. LA has options to use as their closer in 2021, and Jansen is surely one of them.

19. Chris Martin

Martin is entering his 2nd full season in Atlanta after being traded there from the Rangers at the 2019 deadline. Until 2018, Martin was a career minor league with under 40 major league innings. Since being called up in 2018, Martin has logged 115.1 innings with a 3.43 ERA, 3.21 FIP, 3.13 xFIP and 2.95 SIERA. In 2020, he had a 1.00 ERA in 18 IP. With relievers Shane Greene, Will Smith, Mark Melancon and Martin, the Braves should have a good bullpen once again next year.

18. James Karinchak

The Indians’ reliever burst onto the scene with an elite rookie season in 2020. Although overshadowed by NL ROTY Devin Williams, Karinchak had a 2.67 ERA, 1.52 FIP, 2.50 SIERA and 2.33 xFIP, while striking out 48.6% of the batters he faced. Karinchak features one of the best curveballs in baseball, ranking 6th in the league in K% on his signature pitch. Karinchak made his MLB debut in 2019 but recorded only 5.1 IP. He still has only 32.1 innings of MLB experience, so it was tough to place him on this list, but he has shown no signs of slowing down in 2021. After the Indians declined Brad Hand’s option, their plan is probably going to include using Karinchak to lock down the 9th next year.

17. Trevor May

Another late blooming reliever, May broke out in 2018 in his age 28 season. Since 2018, he has thrown 113 innings with a 3.19 ERA, 3.58 FIP and 3.05 SIERA. Despite a drastic increase in walks, he had a career-best season in 2019 with a 2.94 ERA and 3.73 FIP and pitched his highest number of innings since 2015, when he spent time as a starter. In 2020, he set a career-high in K/9 (14.66) and K-BB% (32.3). Trevor May has been a focal point of the strong Twins bullpen for the past few seasons, but the reliever is a free agent this offseason, who could be a safe option for a solid bullpen piece.

16. Tyler Duffey

Another Twins’ reliever, Duffey broke out in 2019 with a 2.50 ERA in 57.2 innings. He struggled in 2018, posting a 7.20 ERA and 5.36 FIP, but his peripherals were better and he has taken massive steps forward since then. This year, he had a 1.88 ERA, 2.57 FIP and a 27.2 K-BB%. Taylor Rogers is likely still the Twins’ closer, but Duffey could make a great set up man should May leave in free agency.

15. Chad Green

Since 2017, Green has been one of the best relievers in Major League Baseball. He has taken a slight step back every year since his elite season in 2017 when he put up a 1.83 ERA, 1.75 FIP, 2.03 SIERA and a 2.55 xFIP, with a 40.7 K%. Although he will likely be the Yankees’ setup man in 2021, with Aroldis Chapman likely closing games, he would be the best reliever on many teams in the league.

14. Will Smith

Smith signed with the Braves in free agency last offseason but had a rough first year in Atlanta. His HR/FB% increased to 33.3%, well above his career average of 13%, inflating his FIP to 7.38 and his ERA to 4.50. He only made 18 appearances and threw 16 innings, but his strikeout rate was down. For San Francisco and Milwaukee from 2015-2019, he had a 2.80 ERA, 2.72 FIP, 2.93 xFIP and 12.41 K/9. He has a great track record and has shown that he is a better pitcher than he was in 2020. He may not be closing games for Atlanta next year, but he is the best reliever in their pen.

13. Taylor Rogers

The Twins’ closer has been a consistently great option since he reached the majors in 2016. The lefty had a 4.05 ERA in 2020, but his 2.84 FIP, 3.28 xFIP, 3.22 SIERA and 22.0 K-BB% look good entering 2021. Since 2018, he has a 2.62 FIP, 2.80 ERA and 2.78 SIERA since 2018. He allowed more hits in 2020, but he still had great peripherals and looks like a great closer for a team that projects to make the playoffs.

12. Ken Giles

Giles is a free agent after throwing only 3.2 innings in 2020, posting a 9.82 ERA. From 2017-2019 with the Astros and Blue Jays, he had a 2.87 ERA, 2.56 FIP, 2.70 SIERA and 32.8 K%. He will likely have many suitors this offseason, as one of the best relievers on the market. There are plenty of teams in the league that need bullpen help, and Giles is a great option for them.

11. Roberto Osuna

Roberto Osuna was traded for Ken Giles in 2018. He is now a free agent after being placed on outright waivers by the Astros. He has missed a lot of time due to a domestic violence suspension and injuries, but when he is on the field, he is one of the top relievers in the league. He has a career 2.74 ERA, 2.76 FIP and 9.94 K/9, solidifying himself as one of the top relievers since his debut in 2015. At only 25, he has plenty of great years ahead of him and is one of the top free-agent closers for teams looking to strengthen the back end of their bullpen.

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