Top 10 Relief Pitchers

The latest Junkball Daily Top 10 moves on to relief pitchers. All RPs must have pitched at least 100 innings the last two seasons.

The categories I use to determine my rankings:

HR/FB (Home runs per fly balls)
IFFB (infield pop ups)
Win Probability Added (WPA)
High Leverage WPA (WPA/Li)
Whiff rate

All categories will be graded on a 1-5 scale. Ideally, you have the top five in each category awarded points accordingly. If two players have similar numbers, they share the points. Meaning, three pitchers have shutdown totals of 70, 69, and 67, they all get the same point value.

I gave double weight to: Shutdowns, Meltdowns, K and BB%, and WPA
Triple weight goes to: High Leverage WAP and WAR

#10- Pat Neshek, Twins
The Minnesota Twins got a huge boost in their bullpen by acquiring Neshek in the offseason. He doesn’t walk many batters, has a low HR/FB ratio, and has 4 shutdowns for every meltdown. The 11 year veteran was mostly a sub-1 WAR pitcher until 2017, when he walked an incredible 2.6% of batters. Along with some of Neshek’s other career-bests, it’ll could be hard to maintain that level of pitching because he hasn’t shown it before. In any case, Neshek’s 2017 momentum still puts him in the top 10.

#9- Addison Reed, Twins
Oddly enough, we have our second Minnesota Twins reliever; Reed has the third-most shutdowns (70), fourth best BB% (4.6%) and fifth best in high leverage win probability. Like his teammate Neshek, Reed mostly benefits from a strong season in 2016. Yet, in 2017 he caused a lot of batters to chase out of the zone and missed bats more consistently, which could be a sign of an improved repertoire.

#8- Chris Devenski, Astros
World Series Champion Devenski ranks this high thanks to a great rookie year in 2016. While his regression is alarming, he has the ability to return to his 2016 form. Ranking 4th in ERA, 3rd in WHIP, and a reputation for pitching well in high leverage, its much too early in Devenski’s career to label him a bust. In any case, he certainly hasn’t performed like a guy who was picked 771st in the 2011 draft.

#7- Aroldis Chapman, Yankees
Despite a down year in 2017, Chapman is still a terrific reliever. Finishing fourth in whiff rate and tops in home runs per fly ball, Chapman squeezes in the top ten RP WAR. He’ll have plenty of help in 2018, pitching with what could end up being the best bullpen in baseball history. Regardless, even when Chapman is bad, he’s still better than a large majority of relievers. Oh and he can still throw 100MPH.

#6- Raisel Iglesias, Reds
In his first full season as a closer, Iglesias excelled in some ways (K%, whiff rate and O-Swing%) but regressed in others (IFFB%, LD%, BB%). The former in that last sentence is the important note. He missed bats, induced bad swings, kept the ball in the park, and struck out a lot more batters.

#5- Zach Britton, Orioles
I hear the groans already. Yes, Britton will start the 2018 season on the DL. Just because he’s injured doesn’t take away what he has and could accomplish. He’s had the fewest meltdowns and the best ERA of all RPs on this list. Britton was well on his way to being a 2+ WAR pitcher before injuries knocked him a bit off course in 2017. It’ll be a bit before we can see if Britton is still top-notch, but he’s proved in the past he can be.

#4- Roberto Osuna, Blue Jays
Osuna was a beast for Toronto in 2017. 3rd in shutdowns and 5th in WHIP, Ozuna posted an impressive 33.3% K-rate with a walk rate of just 3.6%. Almost half of his contact results in ground balls, and with his .285 BABIP (.258 career), Ozuna still managed a WHIP of 0.83; the defense for him got worse, but he actually got better.. Additionally, his hard-hit contact dropped nearly 10% from 2016 to 2017. These signs point to a potential number one RP, should Ozuna maintain or exceed his 2017.

#3- Craig Kimbrel, Red Sox 
Kimbrel had a strong 2017 with the Red Sox. His WAR jumped from 1.2 to 3.3 from ’16 to ’17. Great in high leverage, Kimbrel misses a lot of bats and keeps runners off base at a high rate. His 2017 was his best year (by far) in five years. I wouldn’t be surprised if he maintains or improves; his numbers actually got better when his BABIP increased. That said, Kimbrel also has the third lowest BABIP of the group, which allows him to benefit from his defense.

#2- Andrew Miller, Indians
This is where the major divide in top relievers are. Miller is second in ERA, WHIP, and is probably the most ‘clutch’ pitcher on this list (tops in WPA and WPA/LI). With nearly 6 shutdowns for every meltdown, Miller has just two blown saves in 173 innings pitched. One of the facets that kept him from pushing for the number one spot is his 5+% jump in walks from 2016 to 2017. Along with the fact that he had a .073 decrease in his BABIP, Miller could have had some luck on his side in 2017; his LD% also jumped roughly 7%. As bad a picture as I’m painting, Miller is legit dominant. Everyone is allowed a couple bad seasons and Miller has proved he can dominate on a consistent basis.

#1- Kenley Jansen, Dodgers

First, have a look at what Jansen was able to do against the heart of the Cubs’ order last fall:

This one wasn’t even close. Jansen was tops or second in just about every category I evaluated, especially the higher-weighted ones. Have a look (bold indicates bests):

The last two seasons, Jansen separate himself by a fairly large margin from the other relievers.


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