B/R MLB 500: Top 55 Relief Pitchers

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterSeptember 18, 2013

B/R MLB 500: Top 55 Relief Pitchers

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    This is it. The final stop on the B/R MLB 500 magical mystery tour. Fittingly, it ends with the guys whose job it is to see games through to the end: relief pitchers.

    The scoring for relief pitchers goes like this: 25 points for stuff, 15 points for command, 20 points for hittability, 15 points for reliability and, like everyone else, 10 points for health. Add it all up and you get a max of 85 points. Like designated hitters, relievers just aren't valuable enough to be scored out of 100.

    For stuff, we considered what sort of pitches each reliever has in his arsenal, as well as things like velocity, movement and general nastiness. The scoring is subjective, but it's important to note that it was decided that it would take more than just two plus pitches for relievers to earn a perfect score.

    The command category concerns what you'd expect it to concern. How good is a reliever at limiting walks? At finding the strike zone? At commanding the ball within the strike zone? And so on.

    The hittability category essentially answers the question, "How hard is it to hit this guy?" The ability to miss bats and rack up strikeouts counts for a lot with relievers, so that's primarily what we were looking for.

    The reliability category is this countdown's answer to the "Workhorse" category for starting pitchers. Many relievers are talented, but how many of them are actually legit "game over" guys? Which are "game (maybe) over" guys? Which are the "I can't watch!" guys? Like with the workhorse category for starters, a track record is helpful here.

    As for health, that's basically 10 free points. Unless, of course, there are reasons to be worried about a pitcher's ability to stay healthy. 

    As always, one thing to keep in mind is that a score that's, say, 10 out of 20 is not a failing score. That's an "average" score, making anything below it below average and anything above it above average.

    Lastly, here's a reminder that the whole idea is to round up guys we'd want on a team in 2014. Notably, that means Mariano Rivera will NOT be found within, so don't expect to see him. If there are any ties, the edge goes to the player we'd rather have.

    That's all there is to it, so let's go ahead and breathe easy with some relievers.

Sources

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    The statistics that informed the following analyses came from all over, so we'd certainly be remiss if we didn't dish out some shoutouts.

    Baseball-Reference.com was the go-to site for basic statistics. FanGraphs provided more complex data, most notably the data concerning plate discipline. For that, Baseball Info Solutions data was preferred over raw PITCHf/x data.

    When it comes to pitchers, however, no site is ever more useful than Brooks BaseballAnd here's the important part: Brooks Baseball was the go-to resource for pitch classifications, velocity and strike zone maps.

    Also important is the word "average." It's going to be used often in the ensuing slides in relation to many different things—i.e. an "average walk rate," and "average strikeout rate," etc. How exactly can you know we're not just making stuff up?

    Well, what defines "average" for relief pitchers has fortunately been pretty consistent over the past two seasons. According to FanGraphs, an average strikeout rate is between 21.5 and 22.0 percent, an average walk rate is about 9.0 percent, an average ground-ball rate is around 44-45 percent, an average Zone% (percentage of pitches in the strike zone) is around 45 percent, and so on.

    Also, there are some terms you need to know. The following slides will refer to "shutdowns" and "meltdowns," and these are actual stats tracked by FanGraphs. What they indicate is about what you'd think: They quantify how many times a reliever helped/harmed his team's chances of winning. These are much better indicators of reliever reliability than saves, blown saves and holds.

    And if you're wondering where all of the injury information comes from, the credit is owed to the injury databases kept by Baseball Prospectus.

55. J.P. Howell, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Stuff

    15/25

    Howell is a sinker-curveball southpaw on the surface, but he also has a changeup he breaks out about 14 percent of the time against right-handed batters. He faces more than his fair share of those. He doesn’t have overpowering velocity at 87-88, but his sinker does have some solid horizontal movement, and his curveball is a quality offering. But while it's nice that he has a changeup, it's really hit-or-miss.

    Command

    6/15

    Howell isn’t walking as many guys in 2013 as he usually does, but he’s still no better than the average reliever when it comes to limiting free passes. That’s not surprising given that he doesn’t live in the strike zone as much as the average reliever. A compliment he can be paid is that he’s not entirely clueless with his sinker, as he spots it away to both lefties and righties with some consistency.

    Hittability

    11/20

    Howell is working on his best swinging-strike rate in several years this season, but he misses bats better against lefties than he does against righties. However, he’s helped himself by inducing a ton of ground balls off the bats of both righties and lefties in 2013, a habit that has helped solve his longstanding issue with home runs.

    Reliability

    9/15

    This is Howell’s second strong year in a row, but this is also the second year in a row in which he hasn’t found himself pitching in many high-leverage situations. His score can only go so high because of that, but this much must be said: Meltdowns were infrequent in 2012, and they’ve been all but nonexistent this year. Howell has turned in far more good performances than bad ones.

    Health

    9/10

    Howell didn’t pitch in 2010 due to surgery on his labrum, and the recovery from that surgery lasted into 2011. He’s been fine since then, but suffice it to say that his left shoulder is not shipshape.

    Overall

    50/85

    There's another southpaw in the Dodgers' pen who's better than Howell, but he’s a guy who’s death on lefty hitters and who can handle his own against righty hitters.

54. Tanner Scheppers, Texas Rangers

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    Stuff

    18/25

    Scheppers has plenty of heat, and he doesn’t mind using it. He throws his hard stuff about 80 percent of the time, and it has both velocity (96-97 mph) and movement that make it a plus offering. And while his curveball (as classified by Brooks Baseball, but it can be called a slider) is inconsistent, it does come in hard at 84-85 mph and can be overpowering when he has a feel for it.

    Command

    5/15

    Scheppers doesn't have such a bad walk rate, but calling his command “solid” would be a bit of a stretch. He doesn’t pound the strike zone either in general or with his fastball, and he’s not one for spotting his fastball to boot. In addition, batters need to be on high alert when facing him, lest they catch a wayward heater in the ribs.

    Hittability

    9/20

    Scheppers has a live arm, but he gets surprisingly few swings and misses. His swinging-strike rate is under 10 percent, which is not ideal for a reliever and downright puzzling for a guy who can run his fastball up to the plate in the high 90s. It follows that he would be a subpar strikeout artist, and he indeed is. The only thing salvaging his score here is his ability to keep the ball on the ground, which is commendable.

    Reliability

    8/15

    The Rangers have let Scheppers handle many more high-leverage situations this year than they did in 2012, and the results have been decent enough. Scheppers has notched many more shutdowns than meltdowns, but he certainly hasn’t been immune to meltdowns and has generally been shaky since the All-Star break. He’s certainly done more good than harm, but he has a ways to go before he's a true shutdown reliever.

    Health

    10/10

    Scheppers was bothered by a bad back in 2011 when he was a prospect, but he’s been largely fine since then. He should just be careful to, you know, stay out of bar fights.

    Overall

    50/85

    Scheppers definitely has the arm to be a standout reliever, and goodness knows he’s shown flashes in 2013. But for now, his command is a bit too hit-or-miss, and he needs to work on missing more bats.

53. Jake McGee, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Stuff

    14/25

    McGee has a slider, but he prefers not to use it. His preferred weapon of choice is his four-seamer fastball, which he throws more than 90 percent of the time. He can be forgiven for that, as it goes 96-97 mph with some life on it. But that’s really all McGee has, so his score can’t go any higher than this.

    Command

    8/15

    A guy who throws so many fastballs should be able to maintain a low walk rate. McGee was indeed able to do so in 2012 with a 5.2 walk percentage, but not in 2013. Fewer of his pitches have found the strike zone, and his walk rate has risen accordingly. It's hard to forgive him for that seeing as how he throws all fastballs.

    Hittability

    14/20

    McGee actually does better against righties than he does against lefties, but it should be noted that he can strike both of them out well enough. But he has seen his swinging-strike rate decline this year, and part of that has to do with the fact that he just hasn’t gotten as many whiffs on his four-seamer. And while his strikeout rate is still around 30 percent, he hasn’t been keeping the ball on the ground as well as he did in 2012 and has gone back to struggling with gopheritis just like he did in 2011.

    Reliability

    5/15

    More walks, fewer strikeouts and an uptick in home runs doesn't make for a good reliability recipe. McGee can tell you all about that, as he’s committed more meltdowns than he did in 2012 and likely isn't going to match the number of shutdowns he piled up. His reliability has taken a step back.

    Health

    9/10

    McGee has been able to stay healthy over the past few years, but he did have Tommy John surgery back in 2008.

    Overall

    50/85

    McGee hasn't followed through on his brilliant 2012 season in 2013, suffering from regressions in command and his ability to miss bats. But there’s no mistaking that he has a live arm, and any non-LOOGY lefty is a good guy to have in a bullpen.

52. Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians

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    Stuff

    18/25

    Allen doesn’t mess around with a third pitch. In 2013, it’s been all four-seamers and curveballs for him, and rightfully so. Though it’s relatively straight, his heat sits 96-97 and seems to get on hitters even quicker than that. And while Allen’s curve can be inconsistent when he’s throwing it in the strike zone, it’s filthy when he’s burying it below hitters’ knees.

    Command

    5/15

    Allen walked nearly 12 percent of the batters he faced in a small(ish) sample size last year. The good news is that he’s walking fewer hitters this year. The bad news is that he’s still issuing more walks than the average reliever, and it’s not surprising that he is. His fastball command has a tendency to be all over the place, and he doesn’t get ahead with the first strike more than the average reliever.

    Hittability

    14/20

    Allen’s curve is an elite swing-and-miss pitch, as more than half of the swings taken at it go for whiffs. His swinging-strike rate in general is strong, and it feeds into a strikeout rate close to 30 percent. The catch is that it’s very easy to get the ball in the air against him, and the balls that do find the air don’t tend to be pop-ups. He lives dangerously.

    Reliability

    4/15

    Allen has been handed his share of high-leverage opportunities this year, and his performance with them leaves much to be desired. He finds himself among the league leaders in meltdowns, and he doesn’t have that many shutdowns to go with those. He really hasn’t helped Cleveland’s win probability all that much, nor does he have a track record of doing so. That's something for him to work on.

    Health

    10/10

    Allen has absolutely zero injuries listed on his track record. So we can move along to…

    Overall

    51/85

    Allen’s command is iffy, and he has a thing or two to learn about pressure situations. However, he does have the right kind of fastball-curveball combination to be a shutdown reliever, as well as the ability to miss bats.

51. Darren O'Day, Baltimore Orioles

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    Stuff

    9/25

    O’Day has a funky delivery, and he pitches backward to boot. He throws his slider more than 50 percent of the time, with four-seamers and sinkers accounting for the rest. His velocity is far from overpowering at 86-87, and his slider has curveball speed at 79-80. And despite the heavy usage, O’Day’s slider is hardly the nastiest in the business. It lacks the movement of, say, a Sergio Romo slider. 

    Command

    14/15

    For a guy with less-than-overpowering stuff, O’Day sure doesn’t mind pounding the strike zone. He throws more pitches in the zone than the average reliever, and his walk rates have been in the 5.0-6.0 percent range in each of the past two seasons. All of this alone is worth an impressive score, but O’Day deserves an extra point for his ability to avoid the middle of the plate like few other relievers can.

    Hittability

    9/20

    The biggest knock on O’Day is that he’s a platoon pitcher. He can get right-handed batters out just fine, but lefty hitters have handled him well throughout his career and are crushing him in 2013. And while the good news this season is that O’Day is striking out close 25 percent of the batters he’s facing, the bad news is that it’s easy to get the ball in the air off of him, which leads to home runs allowed.

    Reliability

    10/15

    O’Day found himself handling more high-leverage situations in 2012, and Buck Showalter has thrown even more of these situations in O’Day’s direction this year. He’s passed the test just fine, notching a new career high in shutdowns without racking up the meltdowns to an alarming degree. His job is made easier by the fact that he mainly faces righties, however.

    Health

    9/10

    O’Day was pretty banged up in 2011, needing hip surgery that cost him 60 games and hitting the DL with shoulder inflammation that cost him another 16 games. But the bigger worry now are the issues he's had with his right hand recently. The soreness he's been experiencing could be some sort of warning sign.

    Overall

    51/85

    O’Day fits the mold of the gimmicky submariner relief pitcher, as he doesn't have great stuff and has to get by on smoke and mirrors. But there’s no denying he’s death on right-handed batters and that he’s proven himself as a good guy to have in a pinch.

50. Casey Fien, Minnesota Twins

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    Stuff

    10/25

    Fien is a fastball-cutter guy, and neither pitch is particularly impressive. His fastball sits 91-92 without much life, and his cutter is 86-87, which looks petty in light of some of the great cutters featured by other relievers. These are the only two pitches Fien features regularly, so he doesn’t get much love in this category.

    Command

    14/15

    If you don’t have stuff, you better have command. Fortunately, Fien’s command is just fine. He throws close to 50 percent of his pitches in the strike zone, and this year, he is walking less than five percent of the batters he faces. He’s also keenly aware that he doesn’t have the stuff to challenge hitters, as you can tell by his preference to stay away from lefties and righties.

    Hittability

    12/20

    Another thing that Fien has in addition to his command is an ability to miss bats. His swinging-strike rate is around 14 percent, and that’s helped him push his strikeout rate close to 30 percent. The catch is that he doesn’t keep the ball on the ground well, and he’s been burned by that in the form of a rather large collection of home runs this season. Another catch is that his strikeout habit this year feels too good to be true in light of his stuff.

    Reliability

    6/15

    Despite his problems with home runs, it’s actually been mostly smooth sailing for Fien in 2013. He only has a couple of blown saves all season, and he’s not racking up meltdowns even though he’s handling more high-leverage situations than he’s ever had to. He’s been good for Minnesota’s win probability, which will do for the start of a formation of a track record.

    Health

    10/10

    Fien battled an elbow strain as a minor leaguer in 2011 that sidelined him for a couple of months. But no surgeries were needed, and aside from that, Fien’s injury history is clean.

    Overall

    52/85

    Fien’s a guy with a modest ERA and barely even a hint of a reputation as a shutdown reliever. But relievers who can throw strikes are always good to have, and Fien can do that and miss a few bats.

49. Matt Belisle, Colorado Rockies

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    Stuff

    13/25

    Belisle is a fastball-slider guy without elite velocity, so he absolutely needs the solid movement he has on his low-90s four-seamer. He also throws a slider and a curveball that he uses as an out pitch against left-handed batters, but neither pitch is really more eye-popping than his fastball. What Belisle has is little more than average stuff.

    Command

    14/15

    Belisle may not have stuff, but he definitely has command. He has a track record of pouring over half of his pitches into the strike zone, and he’s plenty able to spot his pitches within the zone to boot. With such fine command, it’s no fluke that he’s fixing to have a walk rate in the neighborhood of five percent for a second year in a row.

    Hittability

    9/20

    Belisle is getting ahead with first-pitch strikes more often than ever in 2013, and this habit is helping to pay off in a few more swings outside of the zone and less contact when such swings happen. So it’s not quite an accident that he’s working on the best swinging-strike percentage of his career. However, he’s still a below-average strikeout artist, and his ground-ball habit is better described as “strong” than “excellent.” He’s not a hard guy to hit.

    Reliability

    6/15

    Belisle led MLB with 19 meltdowns in 2012, so he came into this season with an image-repair job ahead of him. It hasn't gone particularly well. He's once again collected a large number of shutdowns, but he hasn't totally repaired his meltdown problem. He still passes for a decent setup guy, but that's a downgrade from what he used to be.

    Health

    10/10

    Belisle had a string of forearm issues between 2008 and 2010, but only one of them was serious enough to put him on the DL. His body has behaved ever since the 2010 season.

    Overall

    52/85

    Belisle's terrific command helps make up for his lack of overpowering stuff, and he's going to do the job more often than not. He has, however, seen his status as a shutdown reliever take a few hits over the last couple years.

48. Brandon Kintzler, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Stuff

    13/25

    Kintzler is essentially a sinker-slider reliever, but he does have a changeup he breaks out regularly against left-handed hitters. His sinker is his meal ticket, however, and it’s a quality pitch that sits 92-93 with decent movement. And because his slider and changeup aren't the kind of eye-popping offerings one associates with shutdown relievers, Kintzler’s sinker is the only thing saving him from a below-average score.

    Command

    12/15

    Kintzler has been terrific at limiting walks in 2013 with a walk rate in the 5.0-6.0 percent range. His control isn’t quite that good, however, as he doesn’t pound the strike zone more often than the average reliever and his command of his sinker can be iffy against right-handed batters.

    Hittability

    11/20

    Kintzler doesn’t have swing-and-miss stuff, but he’s been getting just enough whiffs in 2013 to post a strikeout rate in the neighborhood of 20 percent. On top of that, his sinker has been doing its job: Close to 60 percent of batted balls against him end up on the ground. He’s given up his share of hits, but extra-base hits have been hard to come by against him.

    Reliability

    7/15

    Kintzler has been given chances in high-leverage situations for the first time in 2013, and he’s performed admirably. There have been more shutdowns than meltdowns, and he’s been quite good for Milwaukee’s win probability overall. He's not one of the greats yet, but he's been criminally overlooked as one of MLB's better setup men this year.

    Health

    9/10

    This has been a good year for Kintzler’s health, but his elbow has felt its share of pain in the past. He suffered through a stress fracture in 2011 that ultimately required surgery, and he dealt with some serious inflammation last year.

    Overall

    52/85

    A nobody before 2013, Kintzler has put his sinker and command to good use in 2013, racking up tons of ground balls and proving himself as a guy who can handle tough innings.

47. Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals

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    Stuff

    15/25

    Soriano has lost some bite from his fastball. After sitting 92-93 in 2012, he’s sitting 91-92 in 2013. That’s more below average than average for a relief pitcher, and it’s a straight 91-92 to boot. It’s a good thing his slider isn’t dying, as it goes 84-85 and still has hard downward bite.

    Command

    12/15

    Soriano walked 8.6 percent of the batters he faced in 2012, which is about average for a relief pitcher. He’s walked less than six percent of the batters he’s facing this year, and he does have more pitches in the strike zone to thank for that. However, he also has more contact to thank for that, and it’s taken place both in and out of the strike zone. I'll reiterate that his control is indeed pretty good, but Soriano’s walk rate is a little misleading.

    Hittability

    8/20

    The zip Soriano has lost on his fastball has cost him. He’s not getting as many swinging strikes on it, and his slider has also lost some of its whiffability. It’s therefore not a fluke that Soriano is looking to have his lowest swinging-strike rate in many years, nor is it an accident that he’s become a below-average strikeout artist. And because he’s not racking up more ground balls…yeesh.

    Reliability

    9/15

    Soriano has been good for Washington’s win probability in 2013. Barely. He’s melted down more often than he did in 2012 and hasn’t provided nearly as many shutdowns. His sudden and drastic inability to miss bats suggests he may not be finished declining, so the only thing saving him here is his track record.

    Health

    8/10

    Soriano underwent Tommy John surgery in 2004 and has had multiple issues with his elbow since then. His health has been good over the past two seasons, but his injury history and his age (34 in December) don’t bode well for him going forward.

    Overall

    52/85

    Soriano has a big contract and has topped 40 saves once again in 2013, but think twice before labeling him as an elite reliever. He's still effective, but he's losing velocity and his struggles to miss bats this season are a legit concern.

46. Junichi Tazawa, Boston Red Sox

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    Stuff

    14/25

    Tazawa has a slider and a curveball, but he’s really a typical fastball-splitter reliever. His four-seamer sits 94-95, but it often seems to be moving slower than that and really doesn’t have much explosive life. His splitter has good velocity at 88-89, but it unfortunately has the same kind of “meh” factor as Tazawa’s fastball. It’s not bad stuff, but it is looking and playing a little bland in 2013.

    Command

    15/15

    How has Tazawa remained successful despite less-than-amazing stuff? Mainly by putting the ball exactly where he wants to. Roughly half of his pitches find the strike zone, and he’s walking less than five percent of the batters he’s facing for the second year in a row.

    Hittability

    11/20

    The erosion of Tazawa’s stuff has cost him some whiffs this year, but he still gets more swings-and-misses than the average reliever. He also has a strikeout rate that’s right where it was in 2012, in the mid-20s. The catch: His ability to keep the ball on the ground has been severely compromised. He had a ground-ball rate near 50 percent in 2012. Now it’s in the low 30s, and home runs have indeed happened.

    Reliability

    5/15

    Tazawa wasn’t used in many high-leverage situations in 2012, so his excellent performance had to be taken for what it was worth. This year has been a completely different story, as Tazawa has handled many high-leverage situations and has been hit-or-miss when handling them. His number of shutdowns is less than double his number of meltdowns, which is in the double digits.

    Health

    9/10

    Tazawa has been healthy over the past couple of seasons, but he did need Tommy John surgery in 2010. 

    Overall

    54/85

    That Tazawa’s stuff has lost some electricity from 2012 to 2013 should not be overlooked, but he has some of the best command you’re going to find among the reliever corps. It serves him well.

45. Steve Delabar, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Stuff

    19/25

    Delabar throws his four-seamer about 70 percent of the time. And while it does have good velocity at 95-96, there’s really not much there besides velocity. The real intrigue with Delabar’s repertoire is that he’s not a two-pitch guy despite all of those fastballs. He throws both a slider and a splitter regularly, and both are solid pitches. Nothing is really eye-popping, but depth and velocity will go far in the relief game.

    Command

    5/15

    Walks are a problem for Delabar. He walked close to 10 percent of the batters he faced last year and has only gotten worse with a walk rate around 12 percent in 2013. He actually does a decent job of pounding the zone, but his funky arm action can lead to location issues. Especially with his fastball command, which can be all over the place.

    Hittability

    15/20

    Delabar’s stuff may not be particularly overpowering, but his unique arm action and ability to mix things up help him rack up plenty of whiffs. He had a swinging-strike rate near 16 percent in 2012, and it's only regressed to around 14 percent in 2013. For a second year in a row, he has a strikeout rate easily over 30 percent. The catch is that batted balls tend to be in the air. Those turned into home runs in 2012. It’s a fluke that they haven’t this year.

    Reliability

    6/15

    Strikeouts and balls not going over the fence are good, but Delabar’s walk habit is not the kind of thing that’s good for win probability. He’s certainly been more reliable in 2013 than he was in 2012 when balls were flying out of the yard at a breakneck rate, but his shutdown-to-meltdown ratio isn't even 2-1 and he really hasn't helped Toronto's win probability all that much when he's entered games.

    Health

    9/10

    Delabar famously suffered a compound fracture in his pitching elbow when he was pitching in independent ball in 2009. More recently, he found himself on the DL with shoulder inflammation in early August. His elbow hasn’t bothered him since the injury, and his shoulder injury isn’t a long-term concern, but erring on the side of caution is the way to go here.

    Overall

    54/85

    Delabar is definitely on the map after making the American League All-Star team this year, as well he should be with his ability to strike hitters out. It's too bad his command is lacking and that he can be adventurous when it comes time to nail things down.

44. Sean Doolittle, Oakland A's

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    Stuff

    13/25

    Doolittle is trying his hand at other pitches this season, namely a changeup, slider and curveball. But that’s not his game. He’s a 90 percent fastball guy. While that hurts his score to a degree, his fastball deserves credit for being a pitch that can indeed stand on its own. It sits at 95 and has some impressive late life on it, most notably with some of the best vertical movement in the game.

    Command

    14/15

    All Doolittle throws is a fastball, so he darn well better not walk guys. And he’s not this year, with a walk rate close to five percent. That’s no accident either, as roughly 55 percent of his pitches find the strike zone. But for now, he’s not much for hitting spots. He just gets it over the plate.

    Hittability

    10/20

    Hitters know they’re going to get the heat when Doolittle is on the mound, but he still manages to salvage an above-average swinging-strike rate that feeds into an above-average strikeout habit. He can be hit, however, and he’s inviting a lot more line drives in 2013 than he did in his debut season.

    Reliability

    7/15

    Doolittle was thrown right into the fray last year, pitching in high-leverage situations in the middle of a surprise run to the AL West title. He performed admirably, notching 22 shutdowns to five meltdowns and boosting Oakland’s win probability when he pitched. He hasn't been as dominant in 2013, but he still has many more shutdowns than meltdowns and has still been good for Oakland's win probability.

    Health

    10/10

    Doolittle had knee and wrist injuries a couple of years back that cost him a lot of time. But that was when he was a first baseman, not a pitcher. He’s new to the profession, and here’s the best part about that: His arm is fresh.

    Overall

    54/85

    As a fastball-only reliever, Doolittle should by all rights be getting smacked around every time he takes the mound. Instead, he's been able to consistently overpower hitters since the moment he arrived, and has staked his claim as one of the better lefty setup men in the business.

43. David Carpenter, Atlanta Braves

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    Stuff

    18/25

    Carpenter is a fastball-slider guy with the usual trappings of a fastball-slider guy. His four-seamer sits 95-96 with movement and his slider sits 85-86 with the movement of a hyper-exaggerated cutter. It’s a pitch he’s struggled with in the past, but it’s been a very effective offering this season. Carpenter’s stuff isn’t elite, but it’s not far removed from the discussion.

    Command

    8/15

    Carpenter’s walk rate is right about in league-average territory in the high eights, but that’s slightly misleading. He gets ahead with first-pitch strikes over 65 percent of the time, and he also throws over 45 percent of his pitches in the strike zone. He’s not much for actually spotting his pitches within the zone, but he can get them in there better than most relievers.

    Hittability

    13/20

    Carpenter doesn’t get quite as many whiffs as you would think given the nature of his stuff, as his swinging-strike rate is only in the neighborhood of 12 percent. That’s what happens when you have a slider that’s more of an exaggerated cutter than an actual slider. But still, an 11ish percent swinging-strike rate is still good, and Carpenter has a strikeout rate near 30 percent to go with it.

    Reliability

    6/15

    The problem with this area for Carpenter is that the Braves haven’t used him in an abundance of high-leverage situations. He’s handled the chances he’s had, though, melting down only a couple of times all season and posting clean inning after clean inning. He has the potential to be a quality stopper.

    Health

    10/10

    Carpenter has no injuries listed in his history. We can move along.

    Overall

    55/85

    Carpenter is an overlooked member of one of baseball's better bullpens, but he has precisely the kind of fastball-slider combo you want in a late-inning reliever. He also has the ability to miss bats to go with it.

42. Brett Cecil, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Stuff

    18/25

    It wasn’t all that long ago that Cecil was starting, so it comes as no surprise that he still has a deep repertoire of pitches. He throws a four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter and curveball regularly, as well as a changeup that he throws more than 10 percent of the time against right-handed batters. He has solid velocity at 92-94. Nothing he throws is particularly overpowering, however, with only his curveball looking like a plus pitch. It’s depth more than electricity that earns him points here.

    Command

    7/15

    Cecil is not particularly bad about pounding the strike zone, as better than 45 percent of his pitches find the strike zone. His issues have more to do with highly inconsistent fastball command against both righty and lefty hitters, and this is a factor in him having a walk rate in the nine percent range. That’s not so good for a reliever.

    Hittability

    14/20

    Cecil gets plenty of swings-and-misses on his curveball, and his whiff rate on his changeup against right-handed batters testifies that he picks his spots well with it. Overall, he has an easily above-average swinging-strike rate and a strikeout rate close to 30 percent to go with it. To boot, better than 50 percent of batted balls against him end up on the ground, and he’s capable of doing his thing against both lefty and righty hitters.

    Reliability

    7/15

    This is Cecil’s first full season as a reliever, so it goes without saying that he doesn’t have a track record in this department. But things have generally gone well, as he’s mainly found himself pitching in high-leverage situations and has been good for Toronto’s win probability with more shutdowns than meltdowns. He seems to understand the whole relief pitching thing.

    Health

    9/10

    Cecil has an odd track record of suffering lacerations, including one incident in which he lost a fight with a blender (hey, we’ve all been there, buddy). The more concerning stuff has happened lately, as Cecil has been shut down with discomfort in his left elbow.

    Overall

    55/85

    Cecil owes his respectable standing on this list largely to his deep repertoire, but he does deserve credit for establishing himself as one of baseball’s rarer commodities: a lefty who can be used against both left- and right-handed batters in pressure situations.

41. Brad Ziegler, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Stuff

    13/25

    Ziegler is a legit three-pitch reliever with a sinker, changeup and curveball that he uses at least 10 percent of the time each. But his curve and change are mere show-me pitches that fail to impress. His arsenal is all about the sinker, and it’s a good one. It only goes 86-87, but it has plenty of movement to do the job it’s designed to do: get ground balls. More on that in a moment…

    Command

    9/15

    Ziegler isn’t immune to walks, but he's been better about limiting them this year with a walk percentage safely below the league average for relievers. Also, his command is better than what his walk rate says because of how uncannily consistent he is with the location of his sinker. He locates it at the bottom of the zone and just below the bottom of the zone like it’s nobody’s business.

    Hittability

    9/20

    Ziegler doesn’t fit the usual reliever profile in that he’s not going out to the mound looking to miss bats. Especially not this year, when his strikeout rate has dipped below 14 percent. But Ziegler does have this working for him: a ground-ball rate over 70 percent. He can give up the long ball, but he's much more likely to get hitters to put the ball on the ground.

    Reliability

    14/15

    Ziegler has been a dependable reliever for several years now, but never quite as dependable as he’s been in 2013. He’s found himself in more high-leverage situations than ever before, so it reflects well on him that this has been a career year for shutdowns and that he’s right up there with the elite closers in terms of Win Probability Added. If he had a smoother track record, his score here would be perfect.

    Health

    10/10

    Ziegler had a shoulder injury as a minor leaguer way back in 2004 that sidelined him for about two months. But ever since then, it’s been smooth sailing for his health.

    Overall

    55/85

    Need a ground ball in a pinch? That’s a job Ziegler is more cut out for than any other reliever in the game, and 2013 has seen him morph into one of the most dependable relievers in the business.

40. Joel Peralta, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Stuff

    17/25

    Peralta is a legit three-pitch reliever, throwing his four-seamer roughly 40 percent of the time, his curveball roughly 25 percent and his splitter about 35 percent. His fastball lacks even average velocity at 91-92, but it does have some serious rise on it that helps make it a quality pitch. Peralta’s curve and split, meanwhile, aren’t the most overpowering secondary offerings. The points Peralta is getting here are more for depth than nastiness.

    Command

    7/15

    Peralta is having a bad year for walks with a walk rate of more than 11 percent. He typically does a lot better than that. However, his 2013 walk rate is a little misleading, as he’s had more pitches find the strike zone than he did in 2012 and hasn’t seen his first-pitch strike percentage plummet. So he gets a slight pass.

    Hittability

    12/20

    Peralta was very hard to hit in 2012 with a strikeout rate over 30 percent, but that was not the norm for him. Sure enough, he’s come back down to earth in 2013 with a strikeout rate in the mid-20s. That’s still good, however, and Peralta is a guy who has proven himself as an effective fly-ball pitcher. It’s easy to get the ball in the air against him, but the amount of rise on his fastball makes it hard to take him for a ride.

    Reliability

    9/15

    Peralta has found himself pitching in plenty of high-leverage situations with the Rays over the past few years, and his performances have gotten to be rather predictable. He’s not a terrific shutdown reliever, as he’s been good for about a dozen meltdowns per year. He does, however, do well enough to have a good showing in the win-probability department. He’s even managed to do so this year despite the decreased strikeout rate and increased walk rate.

    Health

    10/10

    Peralta has yet to go on the DL in his career, and he boasts an arm that’s in pretty good shape for a 37-year-old reliever. He might want to be careful the next time he buys sandwiches, though.

    Overall

    55/85

    This has been a trying season for Peralta, as he hasn't missed as many bats as he did in 2012 and has seen his command suffer to boot. But he still boasts quality stuff, and he's still been capable of doing more good than harm in high-leverage situations.

39. Neal Cotts, Texas Rangers

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    Stuff

    20/25

    Cotts was basically out of the game for three seasons, and that makes the kind of stuff he’s shown in 2013 even more remarkable. He works off of a four-seamer that sits 92-93 but seems to get on hitters quicker than that. He also has a cutter that sits 88-89 and has little trouble getting in on the hands of right-handed batters. And then there’s his slider, which is a classic sweeper that is liable to hit the back foot of a righty hitter. The stuff Cotts has shown this season is truly vintage.

    Command

    8/15

    When Cotts pitched with the Cubs in 2009, he walked nine of the 55 batters he faced. That’s over 16 percent, and that’s not good. He’s been better than that in 2013 with a walk rate in the low eights, which is slightly better than average for a reliever. His game is more about getting the ball over the plate and letting his stuff do the work, but he deserves credit for this much: He can definitely spot his cutter.

    Hittability

    14/20

    It’s important to note that Cotts is certainly not a LOOGY. He can get both lefty and righty hitters out, and he can strike out righties almost as well as he can strike out lefties. All told, he gets swings and misses on close to 12 percent of his pitches and has struck out almost 30 percent of the batters he’s faced. In addition, he has a ground-ball rate in the mid-40s. 

    Reliability

    8/15

    In his heyday with the White Sox between 2004 and 2006, Cotts averaged about nine meltdowns per season. He’s likely not even going to come close to matching that figure this year, and it won’t be entirely due to a smaller sample size. He’s been overpowering and has been very good for Texas’ win probability. Really, the only thing holding his score back here is the one-year wonder aspect.

    Health

    5/10

    By all rights, health problems should have forced Cotts out of the league for good. He had Tommy John surgery in 2009 and battled all sorts of troubles with his hip in 2010, eventually having four surgeries on it: one repair job and then three additional surgeries to clear up an infection. Given his track record, we naturally have to be skeptical.

    Overall

    55/85

    Cotts’ remarkable return does have a “too good to be true” vibe to it, but the stuff he’s been getting hitters out with is legit. Thanks to that, he's done a good job of missing bats against both righties and lefties and has reestablished himself as an effective setup man.

38. Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles

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    Stuff

    20/25

    It’s still all about the sinker for Johnson, but it hasn’t been the same pitch in 2013 that it was in 2012. It still goes hard at 94-95, but it’s lost a little bit of velocity and hasn’t had the same kind of movement to boot. The bright side is that he has both a curveball and a changeup to turn to, with the latter being a regular feature against lefty hitters. Both pitches are solid offerings.

    Command

    10/15

    Johnson is getting ahead with more first-pitch strikes this season than he did in 2012, but his command with his sinker hasn’t been quite as sharp. That’s especially true of his matchups against right-handed batters, who have had a much easier time facing him. The bright side, such as it is, is that Johnson is still better than the average reliever at preventing free passes even despite the fact his walk rate is up this year.

    Hittability

    8/20

    With more runners on base, Johnson has found himself needing more strikeouts in 2013. He’s done an OK job of answering the call, but he doesn’t have an average strikeout rate for a reliever, and his ground-ball percent has dropped below 60 percent for the first time since 2010. Not so coincidentally, he’s seen more balls leave the yard. This is what running out of luck looks like.

    Reliability

    7/15

    Johnson was as dependable as they came in 2012, blowing only three saves in 54 opportunities (his only three meltdowns). But 2013 has been the complete opposite, as meltdowns and blown saves have come frequently, and he hasn't done enough to save par in the win-probability department. The one thing saving him is his track record, as it's worth noting that he was a quality reliever before 2012 too.

    Health

    10/10

    Johnson has had one notable shoulder injury and one notable elbow injury—a UCL sprain in 2010—in the past. But he needed surgery for neither and has otherwise been healthy.

    Overall

    55/85

    It’s been a down year for Johnson, one that definitely makes his 2012 season out to be largely a product of good luck. However, he still has the command and the quality repertoire to make the grade as one of baseball’s better relievers.

37. Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels

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    Stuff

    17/25

    Frieri has thrown a couple of changeups in 2013, but his arsenal consists of all hard stuff. It’s either going to be a four-seamer or a cutter, and it’s fortunately good stuff. Frieri’s fastball sits 95-96 with electric life that makes it one of the more overpowering heaters in the game. His cutter is essentially a slider, as it goes 86-87 and has hard darting movement. It’s not quite a plus pitch, however, so Frieri only has the one.

    Command

    5/15

    With nothing but hard stuff at his disposal, you’d think that Frieri would be able to avoid walks better than most relievers. But he doesn’t. He’s not terrible when it comes to pounding the strike zone, but it’s not an accident that he’s walking roughly 11 percent of the hitters he faces for a second year in a row. His fastball command consists of merely getting the ball over the plate, and things can get downright ugly when he can’t do that in a given outing.

    Hittability

    14/20

    Frieri has been getting whiffs on more than 30 percent of the swings taken at his four-seamer. The trouble is that his whiff rate on his four-seamer goes way down with two strikes, a sign that hitters are ready for it after seeing it a couple of times. As such, his strikeout rate isn’t quite as far above 30 percent as it should be. Making matters worse is the fact that it’s easy to get the ball in the air against him. Home runs can and will happen when he's on the mound.

    Reliability

    9/15

    Frieri was able to just blow hitters away upon joining the Angels in 2012, and even then he wasn’t the most reliable closer in the long run. He's been better in 2013, but only to a degree. He's set a new career-high for meltdowns, and he spent the better part of the season making things interesting in the ninth before settling down with the pressure off him and the Angels in more recent games.

    Health

    10/10

    Frieri came down with a back problem that required a DL stint in 2011, but he’s been injury-free since then.

    Overall

    55/85

    Frieri is the kind of closer who is going to make things interesting due to his poor control, and it’s clear he needs an off-speed pitch to keep hitters honest. These things being said, his fastball should be cloned and distributed across the land.

36. Drew Smyly, Detroit Tigers

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    Stuff

    15/25

    Smyly is a starter-turned-reliever, but he didn’t have the deepest arsenal of pitches to begin with. However, his fastball-slider-cutter combination is a three-pitch mix that’s deeper than most relief arsenals. His fastball only goes 91-92, which is below average for a reliever, but it does have some impressive vertical movement that makes it a solid pitch. But because neither his slider nor his cutter is particularly nasty, we can only think so highly of Smyly’s arsenal.

    Command

    13/15

    Smyly was just OK at limiting walks in 2012 with a walk rate of 7.9 percent. He’s been quite good at it as a reliever with a walk rate in the 5.0-6.0 range, and he has a slightly increased percentage of pitches in the strike zone to thank for that. It’s not just him getting the ball over the plate, either. As any former starter should be able to do, Smyly can spot his hard stuff.

    Hittability

    13/20

    Smyly’s slider may not be particularly overpowering, but he does get whiffs on about 40 percent of the swings taken at it. Those have played a role in boosting his swinging-strike rate by quite a bit from where it was as a starter/reliever in 2012, and he also boasts a solid strikeout rate in the mid-20s with a solid ground-ball rate in the 40s to boot. He’s done a fine job of keeping bats in check in 2013.

    Reliability

    5/15

    Smyly hasn’t found himself in an excess of high-leverage situations in 2013, but as the season has gone along he’s found himself being used more like a traditional setup man than a long-relief man. It’s a role he’s handled…well, just OK. He’s had his share of clean sheets, but he also has some meltdowns that haven’t helped him in the win-probability department. It's up in the air whether late relief is his thing.

    Health

    10/10

    Smyly went on the DL twice in 2012, once with a blister issue and again with an intercostal strain. But the only problem with his arm that he’s experienced as a pro was some elbow soreness as a minor leaguer in 2011, and he hasn’t had any such problems since.

    Overall

    56/85

    He hasn't been an ace in high-leverage situations in 2013, but Smyly has shown that he has the stuff, the command and the ability to miss bats to be a capable lefty reliever.

35. Paco Rodriguez, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Stuff

    13/25

    Rodriguez gives hitters a different look than most relievers. He’s a lefty who uses a cutter and a slider in about equal proportions. Hitters don’t know whether a given pitch is going to dart down (slider) or continue on a flat trajectory (cutter). But while it’s an interesting mix, Rodriguez’s arsenal boasts neither velocity nor overpowering movement. 

    Command

    8/15

    Rodriguez doesn’t live in the zone. In fact, he only throws about 40 percent of his pitches in the strike zone. Yet he has a walk rate that’s easily better than the league average for relievers, and when watching him, there’s no doubt he knows exactly what he’s doing when he throws pitches outside of the zone. It’s part of his deceptive-guy act.

    Hittability

    16/20

    Rodriguez is not a LOOGY. He can get both lefties and righties out, though he's a lot better at punching out lefties. In general, gets a ton of swinging strikes for a guy who doesn’t have overpowering stuff, ranking right up there with the fire-balling Ernesto Frieri in swinging-strike percentage. He has a strikeout rate that’s easily above average in the low 30s, and he also keeps the ball on the ground well.

    Reliability

    9/15

    Rodriguez has served as a primary setup man for the Dodgers in 2013, and has faced a ton of high-leverage situations along the way. He's performed admirably, with more than twice as many shutdowns as meltdowns, and has been quite good for the Dodgers' win probability. The one complaint to be made is over his lack of a track record.

    Health

    10/10

    Rodriguez’s funky delivery looks like one that might get his arm and/or shoulder in trouble one day, but he’s been injury-free during his pro career.

    Overall

    56/85

    He’s far from a household name and he doesn't boast overpowering stuff, but Rodriguez is a surprisingly hard guy for batters to square up and has proven to be an effective setup man in 2013.

34. Josh Collmenter, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Stuff

    14/25

    Collmenter offers a unique plan of attack, as his style is to go after hitters using cutters and changeups. His cutter doesn’t have overpowering velocity at 88-89 miles per hour, but it does have a downright obscene amount of vertical movement that makes it hard to pick up. And while his changeup doesn’t have plus movement, it does have a good velocity differential from his cutter. 

    Command

    7/15

    Collmenter generally isn’t one to walk hitters, but he does have a walk rate close to nine percent this year despite the fact he’s throwing more first-pitch strikes than he did in 2012. He’s not hopeless when it comes to pounding the zone, but he is liable to lose hitters because of how he prefers to flirt with the corners of the plate with his cutter.

    Hittability

    12/20

    Collmenter gets just enough whiffs on his changeup to salvage a decent swinging-strike rate, and he does have an above-average strikeout habit to boot. And while one wants to chide him for his inability to keep the ball on the ground, Collmenter saves face by generating a ton of pop-ups with his rising cutter.

    Reliability

    13/15

    It wasn’t that long ago that Collmenter was a starter, and Kirk Gibson has had the right idea of how to use him in 2013. Collmenter has averaged about two innings per appearance. But don’t call him a mop-up guy, as Collmenter has found himself in plenty of high-leverage situations. Despite those and his extra exposure, meltdowns haven’t come often. He’s a guy a lot of teams would love to have coming out of the 'pen.

    Health

    10/10

    Collmenter has been able to keep his arm and shoulder in good shape throughout his career. He has only one DL stint on his record, and it came courtesy of ulcers last season.

    Overall

    56/85

    Collmenter’s not the kind of guy who’s going to come out of the bullpen and blow hitters away, but he has the right mix to get hitters out, and his ability to go multiple innings at a time makes him all the more valuable.

33. Nate Jones, Chicago White Sox

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    Stuff

    21/25

    The radar gun can vouch that Jones has a strong arm. His four-seamer sits 98-99 and can touch 100, and it’s not really straight heat. Jones’ offspeed offering is a slider that goes 88-89 with enough life to make hitters look silly. And while he doesn’t throw it often enough for him to be considered a true three-pitch reliever, Jones’ changeup is none too shabby either. It goes 88-89 and acts like a changeup.

    Command

    7/15

    Jones has gotten better about issuing free passes, as his walk rate has gone from over 10 percent last year to under nine percent in 2013. That only puts him in average territory, however, and that may be the best Jones can do. When he has a good one working, his fastball simply moves too much to be controlled.

    Hittability

    15/20

    Jones has a fastball and slider that can miss bats, so he indeed should be doing well in the swinging-strike department. And he is…to a degree. His swinging-strike rate is above average, but way less than elite, and the result is a less-than-elite strikeout rate below 30 percent. But here's the good news: both his strikeout habit and ground ball habit are trending upwards, as well they should be with his stuff.

    Reliability

    3/15

    Jones may have awesome stuff, but he melted down in a whopping 17 games in 2012 and really hasn’t gotten better about that this year. He could melt down 17 times again by season's end, and he hasn't drastically increased his collection of shutdowns. This doesn’t look so good in light of the fact that the White Sox have let him handle more high-leverage situations.

    Health

    10/10

    Jones doesn’t have any injuries worth reporting. His golden right arm is in good shape.

    Overall

    56/85

    Jones can light up the radar gun with the best of them, and he's getting better at missing bats and keeping the ball on the ground. The catches are that his command needs some work, and he's also struggling to prove himself as an effective setup man.

32. Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Stuff

    22/25

    Rodney’s fastball-changeup combination is still a lethal one. He throws both a four-seamer and a sinker that sit 96-98, and his four-seamer can get up to 100. And then comes his changeup at 84-85, which means a potentially 15-mph difference between his hard stuff and his changeup if he has things working. And that's to say nothing of the fact that his changeup also has filthy screwball-ish movement.

    Command

    3/15

    Rodney walked only 5.3 percent of the batters he faced last year, and there’s really no overstating how huge of an outlier that is in light of his career norm. He’d always been a high-walk guy, and he has returned to that status in 2013 with a walk rate north of 12 percent. There’s no flukiness going on there, either, as his fastball command has been extremely hit-or-miss.

    Hittability

    14/20

    Last year, about half of the swings on Rodney’s changeup hit nothing but air. The figure is down to more like 45 percent this year, so it’s definitely remarkable that Rodney’s strikeout rate has gone up rather than down. The catch is that he still doesn’t have an elite strikeout rate, and his ground-ball rate has gone from sitting well over 50 percent to barely hanging on to 50 percent.

    Reliability

    9/15

    Here are the numbers from last year: 48 saves, two blown saves, 34 shutdowns and two meltdowns. Remarkable stuff, but Rodney has basically gone back to being himself this year. He has double-digit meltdowns and for the season has actually hurt Tampa Bay’s win probability more than he’s helped it. His score isn’t lower here in part because he's straightened himself out since his early-season struggles.

    Health

    8/10

    In his career, Rodney has lost a total of 369 games to the DL with: Tommy John, right shoulder inflammation, biceps tendonitis, a shoulder impingement and an upper back strain. That’s a spotty track record if there ever was one, but the good news is that Rodney hasn't dealt with any notable arm/shoulder problems since 2008.

    Overall

    56/85

    Rodney’s stuff is still outstanding, and he's been better ever since his early-season struggles. However, his command is a serious shortcoming, and he doesn't miss as many bats as he should.

31. Sean Marshall, Cincinnati Reds

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    Stuff

    16/25

    Hitters can’t go up to the plate looking for heat when they face Marshall. Since the start of 2012, his four-seamer and two-seamer only account for about 30 percent of his pitches. It’s his slider and curveball that do the bulk of his work, and they’re both big breakers than can make hitters look silly. And because there’s a seven-to-eight-mph difference between the two, a hitter can find himself in trouble if he’s thinking one and gets the other.

    Command

    12/15

    Marshall walked only 5.5 percent of the batters he faced back in 2011, but his command generally isn’t that sharp. He’s more like a seven percent walk guy. Marshall does, however, do an excellent job of pounding the strike zone for a guy who throws so many breaking balls, and he deserves a tip of the cap for his ability to sit consistently at the bottom of the zone. He doesn’t throw too many hangers.

    Hittability

    15/20

    Marshall was at his most unhittable in 2012 with a swinging-strike rate over 12 percent and a strikeout rate in the high 20s. It’s actually not so much his breaking balls that did the trick, as his four-seamer was his best pitch for getting whiffs. That speaks to how much his breaking stuff was in hitters’ heads. But here’s the even better part: In addition to the ability to strike guys out, Marshall also has the ability to keep the ball on the ground with the best of ‘em.

    Reliability

    8/15

    As talented as Marshall is, he’s not unbeatable. It was his rockiness as Cincinnati’s closer last year that led to Aroldis Chapman’s rise to power, and rockiness does come with the territory to a certain extent with Marshall. He’s been put in more and more high-leverage situations over the past few years, and he hasn’t responded by becoming drastically more reliable. Case in point: 23 meltdowns in 2011 and 2012 to 51 shutdowns. He’s better than a lot of setup men out there, but he’s no, say, David Robertson.

    Health

    6/10

    If you've forgotten about Marshall, you can thank his shoulder for that. His issues with it started with simple fatigue in April that turned into tendinitis that turned into a sprain. It wasn't until recently that he was finally activated. Having just turned 31, Marshall’s injury struggles this year are definitely a red flag.

    Overall

    57/85

    There are better relievers in high-leverage situations than Marshall, and there are certainly relievers who come with lesser health concerns. But any lefty with two nasty breaking balls, good command and an ability to miss bats is a lefty who’s a welcome addition to any bullpen.

30. Kelvin Herrera, Kansas City Royals

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    Stuff

    20/25

    Herrera is essentially a fastball-changeup guy, but labeling him as a two-pitch reliever is a bit unfair seeing as how he throws both a four-seamer and a two-seamer and he also has a curveball he likes to break out against right-handed batters. But it’s certainly all about the two main pitches, and one of them is outstanding. Herrera’s fastball sits 98-99 and can touch 100 with some life on it. His changeup can look like a plus pitch on occasion, but the “on occasion” part is the unfortunate truth there.

    Command

    8/15

    Herrera only walked about six percent of the batters he faced last year, but fewer of his pitches have found the zone this year and his walk rate has risen to league-average territory as a result. However, the good news is that he’s been a lot better about issuing walks since returning from a brief spell in the minors, so there’s definitely hope for his command in the long run.

    Hittability

    15/20

    Missing bats is something Herrera has gotten better at this year, raising his swinging-strike percentage a couple of points while pushing his strikeout rate up around 30 percent. That’s where it should be with his stuff. And while he still bears a huge HR/FB from his struggles earlier in the year, home runs haven’t been an issue for him ever since his trip to the minors. He looks fixed.

    Reliability

    5/15

    It was meltdown city for Herrera earlier in the year, as it seemed like he got touched up for a handful of runs every time he took the ball. If these struggles were still going on, he wouldn’t have even made the cut for this list. Obviously, they’re not. Herrera hasn’t been perfect, but he’s delivered plenty of clean sheets since his return from the minors. He hasn’t proven himself as a shutdown reliever yet, but he’s headed in the right direction again.

    Health

    10/10

    Herrera had a serious bout with elbow inflammation as a minor leaguer in 2010. It was bad enough to sideline him for more than 100 days, but no surgeries were needed.

    Overall

    58/85

    Herrera’s numbers don’t look like those of a top-tier reliever at first glance, but 2013 has been a tale of two seasons for him. The first was a season in which he was lost in every way possible. The second has seen him recapture the promise of his 2012 season, in which he was a top-15 or maybe even top-10 reliever.

29. Jesse Crain, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Stuff

    20/25

    Crain is a legit three-pitch reliever. He throws a four-seamer close to 50 percent of the time, but he also has a curveball and slider that he's used regularly in 2013. His fastball sits 95-96 and has some very real rise on it. His slider and curve aren’t equally great pitches, however, as his slider is a sharp breaker and his curve is more of a loopy pitch. It’s a third pitch, but not a very good one.

    Command

    10/15

    Crain walked close to 12 percent of the batters he faced in 2012, which is well above par. He's been much better in 2013, getting his walk rate down around seven percent. This despite the fact he wasn’t pounding the zone more often than he did in 2012, making the key out to be a spike in first-pitch strike percentage. He was getting ahead more often, allowing him to expand the zone more often.

    Hittability

    13/20

    Crain had a 13.2 swinging-strike rate in 2011, but it slipped to 11.5 percent last year and below 11 percent this year. Yet he's managed to maintain a great, if not quite elite, strikeout rate in the neighborhood of 30 percent, just like the one he had in 2012. The real complaint to be made is that this year Crain has attracted curiously few (read: “zero”) home runs for a guy who served up so many fly balls. It’s worth noting that this trend isn’t in keeping with his track record.

    Reliability

    10/15

    Crain managed to top his 2012 total for meltdowns in 2013 despite needing fewer appearances to do so. Some bad luck played into that, as it was neither the fault of his command nor his stuff, and goodness knows it wasn’t gopheritis that got him in trouble. And despite those meltdowns, Crain maintained his status as one of the most effective setup men in the business. He’s good for win probability like clockwork.

    Health

    5/10

    Crain’s shoulder is a wreck. He had surgery to repair his labrum and his rotator cuff in 2007, and he's landed on the DL three times since then with shoulder injuries. The most recent of those DL stints began in early July before he was traded to the Rays, and his road to recovery has gone so roughly that he may not even pitch for the Rays at all before heading into free agency. 

    Overall

    58/85

    Crain’s health is about as iffy as it gets, but he was in the middle of a terrific season before the injury bug who took a bite out of him. There was some overachieving going on, but he's a guy with good stuff, good command and a good ability to miss bats.

28. Grant Balfour, Oakland A's

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    Stuff

    19/25

    Balfour leans heavily on his heat, throwing his four-seamer over 75 percent of the time. It looks like it just has velocity at first glance, and it certainly does at 94-95. But it also has some rise to it that helps rescue it from dreaded “straight fastball” territory. Balfour does have two breaking balls, but it would be a stretch to call him a three-pitch pitcher because of how seldom he uses his curve. He’s three times more likely to use his slider, which is a good one with sharp two-plane break. All told, good stuff.

    Command

    6/15

    Precision isn’t Balfour’s style. His fastball command has a tendency to be erratic, and in general he pounds the strike zone less often than most relievers. It therefore makes sense that he would have a walk rate higher than the league average for relievers at around 10 percent. That has a lot to do with his second-half wildness. 

    Hittability

    12/20

    Neither Balfour’s heat nor his slider is unhittable, so it must be the rage that’s responsible for the fact that his swinging-strike rate is the highest it’s been in several years. And with that, he also has a strikeout rate that’s north of 25 percent. The catch is that his rising fastball is easy to elevate, and it’s not unheard of for him to be burned by the long ball.

    Reliability

    14/15

    Guess who had as many shutdown appearances as Craig Kimbrel in 2012? Yup, Balfour. He had 37 of them, running his total with the A’s to 69 in only two seasons’ worth of work. Against all those, he only had 14 meltdowns. It’s more of the same this year, as he’s collected about eight shutdowns for every meltdown. He can make it interesting, and he certainly has been in the second half, but Balfour has been one of baseball's surest things over the last few seasons.

    Health

    7/10

    Here’s where things get ugly. Balfour has had both Tommy John surgery and labrum surgery, and he’s been on the DL six times since 2004, losing a total of 421 games to those stints. This isn’t including the knee surgery he just had over the offseason. Oh, and he turns 36 this winter.

    Overall

    58/85

    With non-elite stuff, spotty command and a relatively modest ability to miss bats, Balfour shouldn’t be enjoying so much success. That he's experienced some regression in the second half is indeed a warning sign. But whether it's the rage or something else, he's a guy who gets the job done.

27. Tyler Clippard, Washington Nationals

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    Stuff

    17/25

    Clippard is a fastball-changeup reliever with only decent velocity on his heater at 92-93 miles per hour. But what keeps it from being just an average pitch is the rise he gets on it, as few relievers throw four-seamers with more vertical movement than Clippard’s. His changeup, meanwhile, is a plus pitch. At 80-81, there’s a big velocity gap between it and his fastball, and it has screwball action to boot.

    Command

    7/15

    Clippard isn’t going to walk any fewer batters than the average reliever, but the good news this year is that his walk rate is right at the league average rather than above it like it was in 2012. But while he’s decent at pounding the strike zone, Clippard’s M.O. with his hard stuff is to live above the zone. If hitters aren’t biting, he has a hard time adjusting.

    Hittability

    12/20

    Clippard’s swinging-strike rate went from more than 16 percent in 2011 down to a mere 10.6 percent in 2012, and that was largely a product of fewer swings on pitches outside of the strike zone. His swinging-strike rate is back up in the 14 percent neighborhood this year, yet his strikeout rate still isn’t back to where it was in 2011 when it finished above the 30 percent mark. It’s still in the mid 20s. That’s still good, but one catch with Clippard is that he gives up a ton of fly balls and is not immune to gopheritis.

    Reliability

    12/15

    Clippard didn’t have such a good year in 2012, committing 10 meltdowns to 32 shutdowns. In the process, he actually did more harm than good to Washington’s win probability. But he was an absurdly good stopper in 2011, and he’s back in that territory again this year. He’s probably not even going to sniff 10 meltdowns and has generally been very good for Washington’s win probability.

    Health

    10/10

    Clippard has had some problems with his shoulder in the past, but they haven't been frequent, and nothing has been serious enough to put him on the DL.

    Overall

    58/85

    Clippard’s magnificent 2011 season looks like an outlier. But armed with his rising fastball and killer changeup, he still has the goods to miss a fair amount of bats, and this season has seen him regain his status as a dominant setup man.

26. Rex Brothers, Colorado Rockies

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    Stuff

    18/25

    Brothers is a fastball-slider lefty, using the former more than 65 percent of the time and the latter close to 30 percent of the time. His heater has lost some velocity after sitting 95-96 last year, but it’s still good at 94-95 and seems to get on hitters even quicker than that. But his slider is the real eye-opener. Brothers throws it 86-87, and it’s an unhittable pitch when he’s throwing it low.

    Command

    4/15

    Brothers’ stuff is fine, but walks have been an issue for him throughout his career. His career walk rate is right around 12 percent, and that’s where his walk rate is hanging around in 2013. He doesn’t throw the ball in the zone more often than the average reliever, and he isn’t very good at spotting his pitches when he does. He needs hitters to help him out to be successful.

    Hittability

    13/20

    Brothers is a non-LOOGY lefty, which is always good. But he’s not getting as many whiffs this year, in part because his lost velocity has cost him some swings and misses on his fastball. Yet his strikeout rate is still hanging strong in the high 20s, and he has a ground-ball rate near 50 percent to go with it. His .200ish opponents' batting average is no fluke.

    Reliability

    13/15

    Brothers has found himself handling more and more high-leverage situations as his career has gone along, and indeed, he has been trusted with more pressure situations this year than ever before. He’s handled them extremely well, committing only a handful of meltdowns all season while establishing a new career high in shutdowns. He’s quietly been among the best stoppers in baseball in 2013, and he's starting to build a legit track record.

    Health

    10/10

    Brothers has exactly zero injuries listed on his track record. We can move along.

    Overall

    58/85

    Brothers’ velocity loss and lack of control are concerning, but he misses bats, does a good job of keeping the ball on the ground, and is a lefty reliever who can hold his own against righties. Also, he's been a very sure thing when he's entered games in 2013.

25. Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Stuff

    15/25

    It’s still all about the heater with Papelbon, as his four-seamer accounts for more than 70 percent of his pitches. But as you might have heard, it’s leaking velocity. Right now it’s only going 92-93, about average for a reliever, and isn’t nearly as explosive as it used to be. His slider and splitter are both non-elite pitches as well, as his slider has neither plus movement nor plus velocity and his splitter has lost about as much luster as his fastball.

    Command

    13/15

    Pap’s stuff may be declining in a hurry, but he still has his terrific command. He’s getting ahead with first-pitch strikes better than 65 percent of the time and is walking less than five percent of the batters he’s facing for the second time in the past three years. However, it should be noted that one thing keeping his walk rate down is a much-increased contact percentage.

    Hittability

    11/20

    Papelbon still gets plenty of swings outside of the strike zone, but his swinging-strike rate is well below his career norm this year and could end up being the lowest of his career. He’s also working on having a strikeout rate below 25 percent for the first time since his rookie season in 2005. And oh, by the way, he’s not particularly good at keeping the ball on the ground, either.

    Reliability

    10/15

    Papelbon bears the “proven closer” label. And as much as I want to roll my eyes about that, he is deserving of it. He’s undoubtedly more beatable now than he was in his heyday, but he’s probably not going to commit as many meltdowns as he did in 2012 and is still good for the Phillies’ win probability when he takes the mound. There are more overpowering relievers, sure, but Pap can still do the job.

    Health

    10/10

    Papelbon had a scare with his shoulder way back in 2006, suffering a subluxation that ended his season early and had many a Bostonian freaked out. But ever since then, his body has taken few hits. For a pitcher who’s going to be 33 in November, he’s in terrific health.

    Overall

    59/85

    Papelbon is declining, and he’s not going to turn things around unless he finds a way to regain some of his old velocity and general explosiveness. But he still has at least decent stuff, and he still has very good command of it. This combination serves him well.

24. Tommy Hunter, Baltimore Orioles

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    Stuff

    17/25

    Hunter was starting as recently as 2012, but he didn’t have a typical starter’s repertoire. It’s fastball, curveball and cutter with only an occasional two-seamer and changeup mixed in. His heater goes 96-97 and can get as high as 99. His cutter is basically a slider that goes in the 92-94 range, but it’s not quite as overpowering as it sounds. Hunter’s curveball isn’t a dandy either, as it’s much more of a ground-ball offering than a whiff offering. It’s not a bad arsenal, but it's certainly one that could be better.

    Command

    15/15

    Hunter had very good command as a starter, and it’s carried over to the bullpen just fine. He walked 4.7 percent of the batters he faced in 2012, and is doing even better than that in 2012 with a walk rate right around four percent. He’s a master at challenging lefties up and away with his hard stuff, and he deserves top marks for his ability to place his cutter off the outside corner to righties nearly every time. For a reliever, his command is truly terrific.

    Hittability

    8/20

    Hunter wasn’t a whiff artist as a starter, but being able to cut it loose with his velocity as a reliever has helped his cause. However, he doesn’t get more swinging strikes than the average reliever, and he also has a strikeout rate that’s below average in the 20-21 percent range. He doesn’t keep the ball on the ground particularly well, making it doubtful that his good fortune with home runs is sustainable.

    Reliability

    9/15

    What makes Hunter a bit more special than other relievers is the fact that he’s not confined to mere one-inning performances. He’s gotten more than three outs in a good chunk of his outings, which naturally means a little more treachery for his chances in the win probability departments. Yet he’s done a respectable job of avoiding meltdowns and has generally been a savior for an Orioles bullpen that hasn’t been able to repeat its dominant 2012 performance.

    Health

    10/10

    Hunter hit the DL with an ab strain in 2010 and again with a pretty bad groin strain in 2011, at which point it looked like staying healthy was going to be a problem for him. But ever since the start of 2012, he’s had a pretty clean bill of health.

    Overall

    59/85

    Hunter should be better at missing bats with so much velocity at his disposal, but he has excellent command and his ability to collect more than three outs when he appears is very much appreciated.

23. Luke Hochevar, Kansas City Royals

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    Stuff

    22/25

    Hochevar has tightened up his repertoire as a reliever, but he still has the kind of depth that you would expect of an until-recently starting pitcher.He works off of a four-seamer but also regularly mixes in a two-seamer, cutter and curveball. He’s added some velocity out of the bullpen, sitting 95-96 with his hard stuff. His cutter is basically a 90-91 slider, and his curveball is a 12-to-six breaker that goes 80-81. As far as relievers go, Hochevar has an arsenal that’s both deep and electric.

    Command

    10/15

    Walks were never really a problem for Hochevar as a starter, in part because he had a lot of contact made against him. The amount of contact made against him has gone way down after his transition to the bullpen, but he hasn’t seen his walk rate rise as a side effect. It’s in the six percent range, which is better than average for a reliever. His command is indeed solid, with one notable skill being his ability to work both sides of the plate with his hard stuff.

    Hittability

    13/20

    With some extra velocity in his back pocket, Hochevar has been missing more bats than he ever missed as a starter by a mile. His swinging-strike rates tended to be in the eight percent range in his starting days. Now it’s over 13 percent, and it’s all working toward a strikeout rate in the low 30s. The one thing he hasn’t gotten better at, however, is keeping the ball on the ground. It’s been hard to get extra-base hits off of him, but it’s going to be hard for him to make that last.

    Reliability

    4/15

    Hochevar hasn’t found himself pitching in a ton of high-leverage situations in his first season as a reliever, so there’s a limit to how high his reliability score can go. And indeed, it doesn’t help his cause that he’s committed nearly as many meltdowns as shutdowns. He’s been darn good as a reliever, but the best word to sum up his reliability is “inconclusive.”

    Health

    10/10

    Hochevar got a scare in 2010 when he went on the DL with an elbow strain and missed more than two months of action. But no surgery was needed, and his arm and shoulder have otherwise behaved.

    Overall

    59/85

    The Royals presumably weren’t counting on Hochevar merely becoming an effective reliever when they drafted him first overall in 2006, but oh well. He has the stuff and the command for relief work and could prove to be darn good in high-leverage situations if given the chance.

22. Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Stuff

    18/25

    Here are the pitches Janssen has thrown in 2013: four-seamer, sinker, changeup, slider, curveball and cutter. That’s a long list, but here are the ones he actually throws regularly: four-seamer, cutter and curve. So he’s a three-pitch guy instead of a multi-pitch guy, which is obviously still good. He needs the depth, because his four-seamer only goes 90-91 and his cutter only goes 89-90. The latter does have some good bite, however, and his curveball is a looper that he can use to get whiffs.

    Command

    9/15

    Jansen’s walk rate was a slick 4.6 percent in 2012, but it’s spiked back up toward 7 percent this year. He doesn’t have bad command, but hitters are on to him. Janssen gets ahead a ton with first-pitch strikes, but he doesn’t pound the zone, and he’s not getting hitters to chase as often. He’s getting by OK, but he hasn’t adjusted by living in the zone more.

    Hittability

    12/20

    When you get fewer swings out of the zone, you’re not going to get more swinging-strikes. Janssen has indeed seen his whiff rate fall from 9.5 percent to around 7.5 this year, and his strikeout rate has dropped accordingly. He’s now only a slightly above-average strikeout artist, so it’s a good thing he has his solid ground-ball rate that makes it hard to hit home runs off him.

    Reliability

    12/15

    Janssen has been good for Toronto’s win probability for several years now, and for that he deserves some points. He deserves further points for shattering his previous career high for shutdowns this season while also keeping his meltdowns at a minimum. To boot, he's done it while facing more high-leverage situations than he ever has before.

    Health

    8/10

    Janssen’s right shoulder hasn’t behaved throughout his career. He had to have labrum surgery in 2008 and had another surgery over the offseason. And with his 32nd birthday approaching, his body is only going to get more fragile.

    Overall

    59/85

    Janssen’s not the kind of closer who’s going to blow anybody away, but he has a deep repertoire at his disposal, as well as solid command and a decent ability to limit hits. Best of all, he's only getting better at handling high-leverage situations.

21. Bobby Parnell, New York Mets

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    Stuff

    20/25

    Parnell is essentially a fastball-curveball reliever. His four-seamer accounts for about 70 percent of his pitches, and it’s a lively one at 95-96 with good tailing movement. His curve is a curve in name, but it goes 85-86 and can at times be reminiscent of Brad Lidge’s slider when he was in his prime.

    Command

    13/15

    Parnell broke new ground with his command this year, throwing close to 50 percent of his pitches in the strike zone and boasting a walk rate in the low 6 percent range. That signals easily above-average command, and it was more about just throwing more pitches over the plate. Parnell got better about hitting his spots too.

    Hittability

    12/20

    Parnell’s swinging-strike rate this year is right at his 9.7 percent career average, which is below average for a reliever. His fastball may be lively, but he can’t blow it by hitters as well as some other relievers can with their hard stuff. His curveball is also not an elite swing-and-miss offering despite its electricity. But things could definitely be worse. Parnell may not be an elite strikeout artist, but he’s better than average and he's also good at keeping the ball on the ground.

    Reliability

    7/15

    The number of meltdowns committed by Parnell in 2011 and 2012: 29. The number of shutdowns: only 40. He made things adventurous. He improved in 2013, but only to a degree, as it was still a balancing act between shutdowns and meltdowns. He's a quality reliever, but he has work to do to earn his "proven closer" badge.

    Health

    8/10

    The injury buy left Parnell alone for a few years after messing with his elbow and fingers in 2010 and 2011, but it returned this year. He was put on the DL with a herniated disc in late July, and ultimately went in for surgery in September. Better his neck than his arm or shoulder, but it's still a red flag.

    Overall

    60/85

    There are more reliable relievers than Parnell out there, but he has an electric fastball-curveball combination and he knows how to command it. That's good enough.

20. Ryan Cook, Oakland A's

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    Stuff

    20/25

    Cook is a fastball-slider reliever, but with some twists. He uses his four-seamer close to 50 percent of the time, but he works in a sinker close to 20 percent and also has a changeup that he uses more than 10 percent of the time against lefties. His hard stuff has good velocity at 94-96 and some solid life to go with it. His slider can be inconsistent, but it’s still his best pitch. And don’t overlook his changeup. It has good diving action that makes it very effective against lefties.

    Command

    10/15

    Cook walked 9.4 percent of the batters he faced in 2012, but this year finds himself working with a walk rate around 7.5. That’s better than average, and it’s not accidental given that Cook is throwing about half his pitches in the strike zone this year. He’s also had better command within the strike zone. All told, everything is progressing in the right direction.

    Hittability

    12/20

    It’s a good thing Cook has improved his command, because his swinging-strike and strikeout rates have taken a tumble from last year. He struck out 27.8 percent of the batters he faced in 2012, and he is now working with a strikeout rate under 25 percent. The bright side: Cook’s ground-ball rate is strong and he's been very successful at keeping the ball in the park. The two things are related.

    Reliability

    8/15

    Cook has found himself thrust into just as many high-leverage situations as he did in 2012, but he hasn’t been as successful. He’s committed more meltdowns and won’t even come close to sniffing the 37 shutdowns he posted last year—those tied him with Craig Kimbrel and teammate Grant Balfour for third-most in MLB, for the record. Cook is still a reliable reliever, but not quite the stopper he teased himself as in 2012.

    Health

    10/10

    The only injuries in Cook’s past are a blister and a laceration. Such injuries don’t exactly make one break a sweat.

    Overall

    60/85

    This season hasn’t been the cakewalk that 2012 was for Cook, when he was one of the best relievers nobody was talking about. But he has good stuff and command for a relief pitcher, and he’s still been one of the game’s top setup men even despite his issues.

19. Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants

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    Stuff

    15/25

    Romo is an interesting take on the typical fastball-slider reliever. He throws both a four-seamer and a two-seamer and also features an occasional cutter. All three pitches have below-average velocity, but none of the three is straight. That counts for something. But Romo’s meal ticket is, of course, his slider. It’s not the hardest in the game, but the break on it is something out of a cartoon. 

    Command

    15/15

    Romo doesn’t pound the strike zone as much as the average reliever, but that’s by design. His less-than-overpowering stuff behooves that he toy with the strike zone instead, and it’s an art that he’s mastered. All he needs is two strikes, and then he knows what to do with his slider. And then there’s this: his walk rate has been under 5 percent each of the last three seasons.

    Hittability

    12/20

    His slider is one of the hardest pitches to hit in the game today, but Romo’s swinging-strike rate is trending in the wrong direction. It was 17 percent in 2011, then 15.3 percent last year and is now below 14 percent in 2013. His strikeout rate has also declined from 40 percent in 2011 to the mid-20s this year. That’s still good, but it’s not an accident that Romo is looking at having an opponents' batting average over .200 for the first time since 2010. Hitters are figuring him out.

    Reliability

    9/15

    Romo was hard to beat in 2011 and 2012, racking up 49 shutdowns to only 11 meltdowns. This time last year, he would have been a candidate for a perfect score. But not now. He could have as many meltdowns by the end of 2013 as he had in 2011 and 2012 combined, and he actually hasn’t helped San Francisco’s win probability all that much. He’s less than a sure thing relative to other closers.

    Health

    9/10

    Romo’s delivery doesn’t look like it’s good for his elbow, and it hasn’t been in the past. He’s been on the DL twice in his career with elbow injuries, and it’s fair to wonder whether he’s seen the end of it now that he’s on the wrong side of 30.

    Overall

    60/85

    It’s a concern that Romo isn’t getting as many whiffs all of a sudden, and another concern that he’s been beatable in his first full season as a closer. All the same, his slider and control are still valuable commodities, and he's still a highly effective reliever.

18. Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Stuff

    20/25

    Motte has thrown exactly zero pitches in 2013, because Tommy John surgery sucks like that. But when we last saw him in 2012, he was all fastballs and cutters. His four-seamer and two-seamer accounted for a little over 70 percent of his pitches, and his cutter accounted for another 25 percent. His hard stuff is indeed hard at 97-98 with movement, and his cutter is more like a 92-93 slider. That’s good stuff in my book, but whether he'll still have it in his comeback from Tommy John is a question mark.

    Command

    12/15

    How’s this for consistency: Motte walked 6.0 percent of the batters he faced in 2011 and 6.1 percent in 2012. And you’re darn right his walk rate should be low with only fastballs in his arsenal. It’s easier to pound the zone with such things, and Motte did to the tune of better than 50 percent both years. My gripe is that Motte’s fastball command goes by the following principle: “just throw it over the plate.”

    Hittability

    14/20

    Motte’s swinging-strike rate rose each year between 2010 and 2012, going from 11.2 to 11.9 to 12.6. That last one is well above average, and Motte achieved it more so thanks to his four-seamer than his cutter. Close to 30 percent of the swings on it hit nothing but air. The result was a strikeout rate over 30 percent, but here’s the catch: nine homers in 72 innings.

    Reliability

    10/15

    Motte saved 42 games in 2012, but he also blew seven while committing 10 meltdowns. That was after committing 13 meltdowns in 2011. He’s overpowering, but he has yet to prove himself to be invincible.

    Health

    5/10

    Motte isn’t pitching this year as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. The good news is that he had his surgery before the season started, so he should be back sometime early in the 2014 campaign.

    Overall

    61/85

    Motte hasn't been seen in 2013, but he should be along sometime early in 2014 season. If all goes well, he'll recapture his old stuff and command and go back to being one of MLB's more overpowering late-inning relievers.

17. Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox

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    Stuff

    17/25

    Reed is a fastball-slider guy, but he has a changeup that he busts out more than 10 percent of the time against left-handed batters. His four-seamer only has decent (for a reliever) velocity at 93-94, but it does seem to get on hitters faster than that. His slider isn’t on par with some of the elite sliders featured by elite relievers out there, however. And while changeup is a useful pitch, it’s more of a show-me pitch than a plus pitch.

    Command

    13/15

    Reed doesn’t mess around on the first pitch. He gets strike one over 65 percent of the time and doesn’t stop pounding the zone from there. Easily over half his pitches find the zone. Not surprisingly, he’s improved his walk rate from an already solid 7.6 percent in 2012 to around six percent this year. This is what they call “trending in the right direction.”

    Hittability

    12/20

    Reed is getting more whiffs on all three of his pitches than he did last year, and his overall swinging-strike rate has naturally felt the effects. It’s gone from being under 10 percent to being roughly 11 percent, with the payoff being a strikeout rate in the mid-20s. That’s still well under elite, however, and Reed doesn’t make himself tougher to hit by keeping the ball on the ground. 

    Reliability

    9/15

    Reed has walked fewer batters and struck out more batters this year. With that trend should come enhanced reliability, but, well, no. He’s continued to blown saves, and his shutdown-meltdown ratio is going to be right where it was in 2012. It's a good thing that's not a slight, as Reed has notched about three times as many shutdowns as he has meltdowns.

    Health

    10/10

    Reed has suffered exactly zero injuries during his career. We’re done here.

    Overall

    61/85

    Reed still doesn't come off as a finished product just yet, but he has made improvements with his command and his ability to miss bats in 2013. Naturally, he's been a more effective pitcher, and it bodes well for him that he appears to be trending in the right direction.

16. Jordan Walden, Atlanta Braves

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    Stuff

    24/25

    Leave it to the Braves to fix a guy like Walden. He still leans heavily on his four-seamer, throwing it close to 70 percent of the time and sitting at 96-97 with it with some nice tailing action. His main secondary pitch is still his slider, but it’s been popping this year like it didn’t in 2012. And last but not least, Walden is now featuring a changeup over 20 percent of the time against left-handed batters. It’s been effective in getting them out, making Walden a legit three-pitch reliever with three dangerous weapons.

    Command

    9/15

    Before he arrived in Atlanta, Walden’s career walk rate was in the 10 percent range. It’s down below eight percent now, and that’s no accident. Walden isn’t throwing more pitches in the zone, but he’s getting ahead with strike one more often and putting himself in a position to expand the zone later in the count. Thanks in large part to his slider and changeup, he’s doing so better than he ever has. That means more strikes on pitcher’s pitches.

    Hittability

    13/20

    Walden has three plus pitches, and all three of them are good for drawing whiffs. So there he is with one of the highest swinging-strike rates in the league that has helped boost his strikeout rate up from where it was in 2011 and 2012. Oddly enough, however, Walden’s strikeout rate is still well below elite, and it’s frightening that he has such a low HR/FB rate despite allowing half of his batted balls to go flying through the air. There’s some overachieving going on.

    Reliability

    8/15

    Walden did more harm than good in 2012, posting six shutdowns and six meltdowns and actually lowering the Angels’ win probability when he came in games. With fewer walks and more strikeouts going for him this year, suffice it to say he’s been a lot more dependable. He’s not among the league shutdown leaders, but meltdowns have been few and far between. There’s a limit to how much stock we can put in his reliability, but things are looking good.

    Health

    7/10

    Walden is no stranger to arm problems. He had to hit the DL for over a month last year with a bicep strain and had to hit the DL with a shoulder injury this year. More recently, he battled a groin injury that sidelined him for a while in late August. Given his injury track record and the strenuous nature of his delivery, we're best served playing it safe here.

    Overall

    61/85

    Surprised to see Walden so high? Don’t be. He’s a new man with the Braves, one with three awesome pitches and improved command. After a brief hiatus, he’s a stopper again.

15. Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins

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    Stuff

    17/25

    Cishek conducts his business via a sinker-slider combination that qualifies as a good one. His sinker sits 93-94 and has some wicked lateral movement. His slider also has wicked movement, but it’s more of a slow cutter than a slider given its lack of the two-plane break you see in truly elite sliders. Given his arm action, one supposes it’s not a shocker that Cishek can only get his slider to move in one direction.

    Command

    9/15

    Cishek’s command has improved from where it was a year ago. He’s throwing more pitches in the strike zone, and the payoff has been a significant drop in his walk rate. After walking over 10 percent of the batters he faced in 2012, his walk rate is now in the 7.5-8.0 percent range. The catch is that he can be inconsistent with his sinker location, occasionally leaving it in the happy areas against righty batters.

    Hittability

    13/20

    Cishek can go to his slider for whiffs, and his ability to throw occasional four-seamers by hitters shouldn’t be underestimated. And while he doesn't get more whiffs than the average reliever, he does own a strikeout percentage in the mid 20s. What Cishek is best at, however, is keeping the ball on the ground. As you would expect from a sinkerballer, over half the batted balls off him are grounders.

    Reliability

    13/15

    Cishek doesn’t get that many chances to close games pitching for a woeful Marlins team, but he’s done quite well with the chances he’s gotten over the last two seasons. He’s committed his share of meltdowns, but he's had far more shutdowns. As things stand now, he has over 50 shutdowns in the last two seasons to under 15 meltdowns. That's terrific.

    Health

    10/10

    One worries about the long-term health of Cishek’s arm in light of his funky delivery, but he hasn’t had any injury problems yet.

    Overall

    62/85

    Cishek doesn’t have as many saves as some of the top closers in the league, but he’s a better pitcher than some of them. His sinker-slider combination has proven to be a good match for the ninth inning, and his reliability over the last two seasons is absolutely commendable.

14. Edward Mujica, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Stuff

    16/25

    Mujica is a splitter-fastball guy, and that's not a misprint: He throws the former more often than he throws the latter. His heat is nothing special for a reliever, as it sits 92-93 without much electric life. His splitter doesn’t look electric at first glance, but watch enough of them and you’ll come to appreciate how late the downward action on it occurs. It’s one of the better splitters out there.

    Command

    15/15

    Want to know how Mujica has a WHIP well under 1.00 despite good-but-not-great stuff? Walking less than 2 percent of the batters he faces has a lot to do with it. Free passes have been extraordinarily rare, and he owes that to two things: his ability to locate his heat in the strike zone and his ability to locate his splitter just below the zone. The rate at which he’s been able to use it to get hitters to expand the zone in 2013 is nothing short of astounding.

    Hittability

    9/20

    A good whiff/swing rate on a secondary pitch for a reliever is between 50 and 60 percent. Because Mujica only gets whiffs on about 30 percent of the hacks taken at his splitter, it’s no surprise that his strikeout rate is a tick below average for a reliever. And while he can keep the ball on the ground, it's not exactly something he specializes in.

    Reliability

    13/15

    Between 2011 and 2012, Mujica committed a total of 20 meltdowns, and he had less than 25 shutdowns both years. In reliever-ese, that translates to “meh.” But this year? He’s topped 30 shutdowns for the first time in his career, and you can count the number of meltdowns and blown saves he’s committed on one hand. He’s not a “proven closer,” but he’s taken a heck of a step in that direction.

    Health

    9/10

    Mujica doesn’t have any major injuries in his history, but we have to play it safe with this score because of what’s gone on with his shoulder over the last few years. He’s dealt with inflammation, had a strained lat and general soreness, all since June of 2011. No fire, but certainly smoke.

    Overall

    62/85

    It would be great if Mujica had an overpowering fastball to go with his splitter, but his excellent command and uncanny reliability in 2013 make for a fair trade.

13. Joaquin Benoit, Detroit Tigers

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    Stuff

    20/25

    Benoit is a legit three-pitch reliever with a fastball, splitter and slider that he uses about 25 percent of the time against right-handed batters. His fastball sits 94-95 but isn’t overpowering because it seems to move slower than that and doesn’t have explosive movement. His slider is a better pitch, but his best pitch is undoubtedly his splitter (it can also be called a changeup). It has precisely the kind of sharp downward movement you want in a splitter and also has a bit of screwball action to it.

    Command

    9/15

    Benoit is consistent when it comes to limiting free passes, as his walk rate has a tendency to be in the 7 to 8 percent range. But what’s different this year is that he’s not pounding the zone with his fastball like he usually does and isn’t throwing that many pitches in the strike zone. Some of that’s by design, however, as he’s a pitcher who likes to toy with the strike zone rather than live in it.

    Hittability

    13/20

    Benoit had a ridiculous swinging-strike rate of over 17 percent last year, but he has fallen back down to earth in 2013 with a much more practical swinging-strike rate in the neighborhood of 13 percent. That’s mainly thanks to his splitter, and it’s helped him rack up a strikeout rate in the high 20s. That’s not as good as the one he had in 2012, but the tradeoff is that he’s been getting more ground balls this year. It’s not a coincidence that his gopheritis has gone away.

    Reliability

    13/15

    Benoit was a reliable reliever in 2012 even despite all the home runs, as he had over 25 shutdowns and under 10 meltdowns for a second straight season and was good for Detroit’s win probability. But he’s been even better this year, especially since he took over as the Tigers’ closer. Trouble has come seldom, and you wonder at this point whether Benoit will even get to three meltdowns by the end of the season. 

    Health

    8/10

    Benoit’s shoulder has had it pretty rough over the years. It’s landed him on the DL three times, including once as a result of rotator cuff surgery in 2009. He’s been able to avoid the DL ever since, but his health can’t be counted on with his 36th birthday having just passed.

    Overall

    63/85

    Benoit has a legit repertoire that he commands well and uses to miss bats, but the best thing about his 2013 is how ridiculously reliable he's been while handling a ton of high-leverage situations.

12. Danny Farquhar, Seattle Mariners

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    Stuff

    22/25

    You never know what you’re going to get from Farquhar. He throws a four-seamer, two-seamer and cutter regularly, with the cutter being the most oft-used pitch of the bunch at around 45 percent. His four-seamer and sinker sit in the mid-90s with good life, and his cutter sits 91-92 and also has good life. His one and only offspeed offering is a curveball that’s more loopy than sharp, but the loop on it is big enough to make batters swing at air more often than not. 

    Command

    7/15

    Walks aren’t exactly a problem for Farquhar, but not issuing them isn’t exactly a strength either. His walk rate is hovering above the league average for a reliever, and I wonder if he’ll ever be able to do better. His command is generally fine, but he has a whippy arm action that doesn’t make it easy for him to spot the ball consistently. His command might be destined for a life of averageousness (TM’d).

    Hittability

    18/20

    When over 60 percent of the swings at your curveball hit nothing but air, you’re going to have a good time. That’s the damage that Farquhar’s curve wreaks, and it feeds into a swinging-strike rate that’s well above average at around 14 percent, and he also has a strikeout rate in the high 30s. That's elite territory.

    Reliability

    6/15

    Farquhar had it pretty rough through his first 17 appearances of the season, posting an ERA over 7.00 and allowing 28 hits in only 23.2 innings. He was definitely doing more harm than good. But something clicked for him in mid-July, and he’s shown promise as a closer since taking the reins from Tom Wilhelmsen. What happened to him is obviously a cautionary tale, however, so we’re playing it safe with a modest score here.

    Health

    10/10

    There’s a whole lot of nothing on Farquhar’s injury track record, so our business here is done.

    Overall

    63/85

    Farquhar is still largely an unknown, but his stuff is best described as "beautiful," and he's used it to rack up a ton of strikeouts in 2013. If he can keep that up, there's no question he can be an elite reliever.

11. Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers

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    Stuff

    21/25

    Nathan used to be just a typical fastball-slider closer. Now he’s more diverse, with a four-seamer, sinker, slider and curveball that he uses all at least 10 percent of the time. That may not quite make him a four-pitch reliever, but it certainly makes him a legit three-pitch reliever.His stuff is still good too, as his heat sits 92-93 and his slider is still a hard one that gets plenty of whiffs. His curveball is little more than a show-me pitch, but it’s surprisingly effective.

    Command

    8/15

    Nathan had excellent command in 2012 when he walked 5.1 percent of the batters he faced, but he hasn’t been able to keep it up in 2013. He hasn’t been pounding the zone as frequently, and as a result his walk rate has jumped over nine percent. In fairness to him, however, he does pitch around the zone by design, so it’s not like he’s suddenly clueless on the mound.

    Hittability

    12/20

    Nathan has an opponents' batting average that’s pretty far below the Mendoza line, but it’s not like he’s been busy blowing hitters away in 2013. He got more swings and misses last year, and his strikeout rate has gone from a little over 30 percent to below 30 percent. He also has a curiously low HR/FB rate for a guy who isn’t keeping the ball on the ground well. 

    Reliability

    15/15

    Despite my nitpickery, Nathan has been his usual reliable self this year. He’s only blown a couple of saves and is on track to have his lowest meltdown count since 2009 and one of the lowest of his career, all while killing it in the win probability departments. He’s been at this for a long time, so a true “proven closer” score is warranted.

    Health

    8/10

    It’s been a while since Nathan has dealt with any injuries, but his track record is far from clean. He had Tommy John surgery in 2010 and dealt with some ensuing elbow forearm inflammation when he came back in 2011. At his age, it’s hard to trust that he can continue his run of good health.

    Overall

    64/85

    Nathan is pretty well removed from his most overpowering days, as he can't blow hitters away anymore. But he still features good stuff, and is as reliable as ever when he enters a game in the ninth.

10. David Robertson, New York Yankees

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    Stuff

    20/25

    Brooks Baseball classifies Robertson’s fastball as a cutter, but it’s really a four-seamer with cutting action. Whatever it’s best classified as, it sits 92-93 and obviously has some wicked cutting movement to it. He also throws one of my favorite curveballs. It’s a nasty one that totally vanishes shortly before crossing home plate, easily turning legs into jelly in the process.

    Command

    10/15

    Robertson used to walk about 12 percent of the hitters he faced, but that’s ancient history by now. He’s been better at pounding the zone consistently and has been working with walk rates in the 7 percent range each of the last two seasons. One thing he’s done more often this year is throw his curveball in the zone a bit more often, making it more than just a whiff pitch.

    Hittability

    15/20

    Robertson is not among the league’s best whiff artists, and his strikeout rate is on pace to be down for a second straight season after topping out at 36.8 percent in 2011. But he’s still striking out over 30 percent of the batters he faces, and his ground-ball habit is trending upward. 

    Reliability

    14/15

    Robertson struggled in 2012, committing a career-high nine meltdowns and barely keeping his win probability above par. But in 2013, he’s been close to untouchable. You can count the number of meltdowns he’s committed on one hand, and he’s also gone back to being the shutdown merchant that he was in 2011 with close to 40 shutdowns to his name. He’s been more overpowering, but he’s never been more reliable.

    Health

    9/10

    Robertson has some injuries in his past, with the most serious of the bunch being an oblique strain that put him on the DL for a month last year. More recently, he's come down with a case of shoulder tendinitis.

    Overall

    68/85

    Remember what Mariano Rivera was to John Wetteland all those years back? That’s basically what Robertson is now. He has a terrific cutter of his own, and a good curveball to go with it. And in 2013, he's been lights-out.

9. Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds

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    Stuff

    22/25

    Nobody asks the catcher “So what’s this guy got?” when they go strolling to the plate to face Chapman. He has a four-seamer that sits 98-99 and can get up over 100, and he throws it about 85 percent of the time. That’s actually slightly less often than he threw it in 2012, as he’s chosen to incorporate his slider more often this year. It’s a pitch that can be inconsistent. But when it’s working…well, this.

    Command

    5/15

    Command was a big reason why Chapman was able to be so successful in 2012, as he walked only about 8 percent of the batters he faced. It had the feeling of a fluke, however, and sure enough Chapman has seen his walk rate climb back up above 10 percent this year. That’s worse than average for a reliever, and the fact is that Chapman’s fastball command is still spotty. He’s a classic thrower. Not a pitcher.

    Hittability

    20/20

    Chapman had a swinging-strike rate of 17.9 percent last year. Punch that into your calculator, and it will make a happy face. But he hasn’t been getting hitters to swing at air quite as often in 2013, in part because they’re not swinging through his fastball as much. But here's why it doesn't matter: among relief pitchers, nobody's even close to him in strikeout percentage.

    Reliability

    13/15

    Chapman was unreal in 2012, posting 41 shutdowns to only six meltdowns and blowing only five saves. With more walks, fewer strikeouts and some more home runs in 2013, he’s been much less of a sure thing. He’s committed more meltdowns and isn't likely to match the number of shutdowns he had last season. He still gets the job done, but some of the shakiness he showed in his pre-2012 days has come back.

    Health

    9/10

    The Reds have handled Chapman carefully, and they deserve credit for doing so. But there’s no ignoring his history of shoulder trouble, and it may not be a thing of the past in light of his funky delivery and the insane torque he needs to crank it up to 100.

    Overall

    69/85

    Chapman has been easier to get to than he was in 2012, when he was untouchable virtually all season long. But he can still light up the radar gun, and he still misses bats better than 99.9 percent of relievers.

8. Jason Grilli, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Stuff

    21/25

    Grilli is a fastball-slider guy, throwing his four-seamer about 70 percent of the time and his slider the other 30 percent. He certainly has closer velocity at 94-95, and his fastball has some solid life to boot. His slider, meanwhile, is one of the better ones in the game, and one wonders if he uses different grips since it occasionally looks like a traditional slider and occasionally looks more like a 12-to-6 curve. Either way, it's an outstanding pitch.

    Command

    11/15

    Fewer free passes has been a key to Grilli’s success this season, as he’s cut his walk rate down from 9 percent last year to more like 6 percent this year. That’s a slightly misleading trend, however, as he’s not pounding the zone with fastballs as often as he did in 2012 and has a tendency to live up in the zone. He's not very precise.

    Hittability

    19/20

    Grilli was a good swing-and-miss artist before 2013, but this season he's become an elite swing-and-miss artist. He has a swinging-strike rate in the 15 percent neighborhood, which is mainly thanks to the fact that he gets whiffs on almost half the swings taken on his slider. The result has been a strikeout rate close to 40 percent, with the one catch being a very small ground-ball rate. There have been quite a few liners and flies hit off Grilli.

    Reliability

    13/15

    Grilli saved 30 out of 31 before he landed on the DL with a bad forearm in July, easily making him baseball’s most reliable closer to that point in the season. His success this season isn’t entirely out of the blue either, as he was generally good for increasing Pittsburgh’s win probability when he entered games in 2011 and 2012. We can't get too carried away with this year's relatively small sample, however, especially given how much Grilli has been marginalized since his return from the DL.

    Health

    6/10

    It’s not a huge surprise that Grilli ended up getting hurt this year. He has a history of problems with his right arm, starting with major injuries when he was in the minors in the early 2000s and continuing through Tommy John in 2002 and elbow inflammation in 2009. At his age, these red flags are definitely even more concerning.

    Overall

    70/85

    Grilli looked like closer material in 2012 when he used his fastball-slider combination to become one of the better strikeout artists in baseball. He got a shot in 2013, and turned into one of the most untoucable relievers in the game. But after his elbow betrayed him in July, there are certainly doubts.

7. Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Stuff

    19/25

    Most relievers are fastball-slider, fastball-curveball or fastball-something. Melancon is a little different. He’s cutter-curveball, as his cutter accounts for about 75 percent of his pitches and his curveball accounts for another 15 percent. His cutter has good velocity at 92-93, though it’s not quite as overpowering as Kenley Jansen’s. His curveball is the more impressive pitch, as it has nasty two-plane break with slider velocity at 82-83 miles per hour.

    Command

    15/15

    Melancon seemed to have no idea where the ball was going when he was with Boston last year. It’s been the exact opposite for him in 2013, as he’s been pounding lefties inside and righties away with his cutter like clockwork and has walked under 4 percent of the batters he’s faced. That puts him among the elites.

    Hittability

    14/20

    Melancon isn’t as big of a swing-and-miss merchant as other elite relievers, as those aren’t really what he’s after with his cutter-heavy approach. Yet he does get more whiffs than the average reliever thanks to the fact that he gets his share of whiffs on his curveball. But while he has a solid strikeout rate around 25 percent, the really impressive thing is that nearly 60 percent of batted balls off him have been on the ground. He’s been very difficult to square up.

    Reliability

    13/15

    Melancon could be trusted about as far as he could be thrown in 2012. But in 2013, he’s been among the surest things the relief pitching profession has to offer. He’s been at the top of the shutdown charts all season long and has melted down only a couple times. What’s keeping him from a perfect score here is that this feels like a deal with the devil scenario after what happened in 2012.

    Health

    9/10

    Melancon has barely been hurt in his pro career…except for that one time he needed Tommy John surgery in 2006.

    Overall

    70/85

    Good stuff, excellent command and lots of balls on the ground. That’s been Melancon’s recipe for success in 2013, and it’s helped him turn into a dominant reliever.

6. Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Stuff

    24/25

    Rosenthal relies heavily on his four-seamer, throwing it roughly 75 percent of the time. Rightfully so, as it sits at 98 and can touch triples digits. But that’s not all Rosenthal has. He also has a plus changeup and a plus curveball. The fact that he has three legit plus pitches makes him decidedly unique among his fellow relievers, and he would have a perfect score here if he used his curveball as often as he uses his changeup. But alas, he doesn’t. His hook only makes occasional appearances.

    Command

    13/15

    Rosenthal pounds the strike zone more consistently than most relievers, so it’s not surprising to see him there with a walk rate in the 7 percent range. What’s cool about him is that he doesn’t just try to do the usual reliever thing of throwing his fastball by hitters. He can spot it—one of more than a couple hints that, yes, he could and perhaps should be starting.

    Hittability

    17/20

    Rosenthal gets about as many whiffs as you’d expect for a guy with a high-90s fastball and two plus secondary pitches, and his strikeout rate is just south of elite territory in the mid 30s. That’s obviously still quite good, and it should also be noted that Rosenthal keeps the ball on the ground pretty well. There’s no escaping the notion that his opponents' batting average should be lower than it is.

    Reliability

    8/15

    This is Rosenthal’s first year as a full-time reliever. You’d think he’d be among the most dominant shutdown artists in the game with his stuff and his command, but he actually hasn’t had that many shutdowns and has committed his share of meltdowns. That’s largely a result of him being victimized by BABIP, but there’s a limit to how much we can apologize for Rosenthal given his lack of a track record.

    Health

    10/10

    Rosenthal’s injury history is currently a clean slate. His million-dollar arm is in mint condition.

    Overall

    72/85

    Rosenthal hasn't quite been a "game over" kind of guy in 2013, but he has an overpowering arsenal of pitches, a good idea where to put them and a very strong ability to miss bats. He may not be a closer, but he's certainly one of baseball's elite relievers.

5. Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins

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    Stuff

    21/25

    Perkins is a fastball-slider reliever, but he throws more than just one fastball. He uses his four-seamer close to half the time but works in a two-seamer about 20 percent of the time. His hard stuff sits 94-96 with some real electricity, and his slider is one of the best lefty sliders in the business. He may not quite have the high-90s capacity that some elite relievers have, but there’s no denying Perkins’ stuff is filthy.

    Command

    14/15

    Command is Perkins’ main calling card. He walked less than 6 percent of the batters he faced last year and hasn’t seen his walk rate spike in 2013. He’s not quite among the league’s elite walk suppressors, but he does throw roughly half his pitches in the strike zone and is perfectly capable of spotting his fastball to both lefties and righties.

    Hittability

    14/20

    Perkins’ slider doesn’t get quite enough whiffs to push his swinging-strike rate into elite territory, so it’s no surprise that he’s not quite an elite strikeout artist. He’s also been inducing fewer and fewer ground balls over the last couple seasons, with his ground-ball rate dipping below 40 percent this year. The strikeouts are fine, but that's not the most encouraging trend.

    Reliability

    14/15

    Perkins has become more of a sure thing in each of the last three years. He committed 12 meltdowns in 2011, seven last year and likely won’t even touch that number in 2013. This would be him establishing himself as a legit closer and, to slightly less fanfare, a legit win probability merchant.

    Health

    9/10

    Apart from a minor ribcage issue back in May, Perkins has managed to stay healthy in 2013. But his injury history isn’t the cleanest, as he has past struggles with both shoulder and elbow problems in it. One worries about those cropping up again.

    Overall

    72/85

    Perkins doesn’t get that many save chances pitching for the Twins, but he’s a better closer than most of the guys who get more attention than he does. He has outstanding stuff, terrific command and, as a bonus, he knows what FIP is!

4. Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox

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    Stuff

    17/25

    You’re going to get one or the other when Uehara is on the mound, as he basically splits his four-seamer and splitter usage right down the middle at 45 percent each. His fastball has below-average velocity at 89-90, but it does have some solid tailing action. It may not be a plus pitch, but his splitter sure is. It may only go 81-82, but its killer movement makes it one of the game’s top swing-and-miss offerings.

    Command

    15/15

    Uehara is one of the rare relievers who can put the ball precisely where he wants it almost every single time. He owns a career walk rate that’s a shade under 4 percent, and he’s sticking in that same general neighborhood this year. He may have had an other-worldly 2.3 walk rate last year, but this year he’s actually been throwing more pitches in the strike zone. He may have subpar fastball, but he’s not afraid to go right at hitters with it.

    Hittability

    19/20

    It’s typically the guys with the blistering fastballs and sharp, biting sliders who lead the relieving gentry in swinging-strike percentage. But in 2013, Uehara’s been at the top of the charts. He gets a ton of swings-and-misses on his splitter, and amazingly gets them on his heater too. The result is one of the highest strikeout rates in the league. The catch is that he can be taken for a ride when he makes mistakes.

    Reliability

    15/15

    Uehara has been a godsend for Boston’s bullpen, especially ever since taking over the ninth inning from Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey. It turns out that high-strikeout, low-walk guys in the ninth inning are a good thing, and Uehara has been so dominant that he’s found himself atop the charts in key win probability stays like WPA and WPA/LI. It’s not unprecedented either, as Uehara has been a win probability merchant for some time now. He’s a “proven closer” who just so happens to be late to the whole closing thing.

    Health

    7/10

    Uehara’s medical track record is pretty bumpy. He’s had two lengthy DL stints with elbow injuries and another with a bad shoulder just last year. He’s been fine in 2013, but his track record obviously makes it tough to forecast another healthy season. Especially not at his age.

    Overall

    73/85

    Armed with a killer splitter, excellent control and an ability to miss bats, Uehara has graduated from criminally underrated reliever to dominant closer in 2013.

3. Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Stuff

    18/25

    Jansen comes from the Mariano Rivera school of pitching. It’s all cutters all the time, as his cut fastball accounts for about 90 percent of his pitches. There’s no reason for him to do otherwise, as his cutter has both velocity (92-93) and enough wicked movement to rival Mo’s cutter in its prime. It may be his only real pitch, but it’s up there among the best pitches in baseball.

    Command

    15/15

    When you’re throwing a fastball 90 percent of the time, you better have good control. Jansen does, as he’s throwing easily over half his pitches in the strike zone and is only walking roughly 5 percent of the batters he’s facing. When he’s on the mound, you know that strikes are coming.

    Hittability

    18/20

    Hitters know what’s coming, yet Jansen is still among the league leaders in swinging-strike percentage. His cutter obviously plays a role in that, but Jansen is smart about knowing when to surprise hitters with an occasional four-seamer or slider. And while he’s not quite striking guys out at the rate he did in 2012, his strikeout rate is still in elite territory at close to 40 percent. It’s just a darn shame he doesn’t get as many weak ground balls as Rivera, and he is prone to the home run ball.

    Reliability

    14/15

    Jansen wasn’t quite the most untouchable reliever last year with nine meltdowns to 26 shutdowns and modest showings in the win probability departments. But goodness gracious has he been lights-out ever since taking Brandon League’s job in the ninth inning, a job that, if we’re being honest, should have been Jansen’s all along. It’s safe to say that the Dodgers won’t be making that mistake again.

    Health

    10/10

    Jansen hit the DL with a bad shoulder in 2011, but neither his shoulder nor his arm has had to be surgically repaired at any point. And while he did have a scare with his heart last year, it wouldn’t be fair to hold that against him.

    Overall

    75/85

    There will never be another Mariano Rivera, but Jansen will be the closest thing we have when he's gone. His cutter is a filthy pitch, so it's almost unfair that he also has killer command and a top-tier ability to miss bats.

2. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

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    Stuff

    22/25

    Has Kimbrel’s fastball been as electric this year? Yes, if we’re talking velocity, as it still sits 97-98. No, if we’re talking movement, say the figures at Brooks Baseball. Regardless, it’s still one of the most overpowering heaters in the game. His curvy-slurvy-slider thing is also still a dandy of a pitch, giving him the kind of two-pitch mix that’s hard to find elsewhere.

    Command

    9/15

    Kimbrel has better control than most closers, but he has been issuing more free passes this year. His walk rate was an impressive 6.1 percent in 2012, but it isn't far removed from league-average territory for relievers this year. It’s no accident either, as he hasn’t been pounding the zone as often and has seen his fastball command become slightly more erratic. What he’s done is regress toward his 2011 self, though obviously not quite all the way.

    Hittability

    20/20

    Kimbrel struck out over half the batters he faced last year, which is undeniably one of the great feats in baseball history. He’s seen his strikeout rate fall under 40 percent this year, and he’s also not keeping the ball on the ground as well. I would call him a bum…but his opponents' batting average is still well south of .200, and he’s still among the strikeout elite as far as relievers go.

    Reliability

    15/15

    More walks, fewer strikeouts and fewer ground balls typically isn’t the best recipe for a reliable closer. However, Kimbrel has been as sure a thing as there is in the ninth inning ever since some early struggles. Ever since early May-ish, he’s been about as lights-out as he was in 2012, when he blew only three saves and tied for third in the league in shutdowns. Point being, yes, he’s a “proven closer.”

    Health

    10/10

    Kimbrel had his left foot demolished in a sheetrock accident when he was a teenager, which is always a bad time. But his golden right arm and shoulder are just fine, thank you very much.

    Overall

    76/85

    There's a reliever in baseball who scored better than Kimbrel, but he's still an extraordinary player. His stuff is filthy, he embarrasses hitters, and he rarely ever screws up.

    Yes, there’s a reliever out there better than Kimbrel. But don’t let that obscure the real message here: Kimbrel is still freakin’ amazing.

1. Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals

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    Stuff

    22/25

    Holland has a splitter, but he busts it out so rarely that he’s realistically just your typical fastball-slider reliever. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, as Holland’s fastballs sits 96-97 with some downright ridiculous vertical movement that helps push it from plus territory to plus-plus territory. His slider can be inconsistent at times, but it’s also a nasty offering that does its job: get swings and misses.

    Command

    12/15

    Holland walked about 12 percent of the batters he faced in 2012, which translates to “yeesh.” He’s been a lot better this year, basically cutting his walk rate in half. That’s no fluke either, as he’s been pounding the zone more consistently with his hard stuff and is able to spot it pretty well to boot. He’s shown an ability to consistently work on the outer edge of the plate against both lefties and righties.

    Hittability

    20/20

    Over half of the swings taken at Holland’s slider result in whiffs, and his fastball has more than enough velocity and electricity to miss bats as well. So it’s not surprising that he’s been among the league leaders in swinging-strike percentage all season, and this year he has supplanted Craig Kimbrel as the top strikeout artist among right-handed closers. He's earned his sub-.200 batting average against.

    Reliability

    14/15

    Holland had his share of dominant moments in 2012 with a total of 29 shutdowns, but he also had 11 meltdowns. That’s what a high walk rate can do for you. With fewer runners on base via free passes this year and more strikeouts to boot, it’s no wonder that meltdowns have been few and far between with Holland. He’s been nearly untouchable. But given last year’s somewhat bumpy ride, we’re going to deny him a perfect reliability score.

    Health

    10/10

    Holland had to spend some time on the DL in 2012 with a stress fracture in his ribs, but his arm and shoulder are just fine. You worry how much longer his 5’10” frame can ward off injuries, but not enough to give him a less-than-perfect score here.

    Overall

    78/85

    Holland is armed with a lethal fastball-slider combination and the ability to control it. He's also a premiere strikeout artist. So basically: Yeah, he's a natural fit as a closer.

    Holland is armed with a lethal fastball-slider arsenal and the ability to control it. Such pitchers tend to be outstanding closers. And in 2013, nobody’s been better than him.