B/R MLB 300: Ranking the Top 30 Relief Pitchers of 2016
It's only appropriate that the Bleacher Report MLB 300 nears its finish with a look at the guys who finish games. It's time for the top relief pitchers of the 2016 Major League Baseball season.
Many relief pitchers are good at what they do in some way, shape or form, but we're focusing on the 30 most dominant arms of them all. Since even they're used sparingly, we're disregarding the "Workload" section we used for starting pitchers and limiting relief pitchers to 80 possible points:
- Control: 25 points
- Whiffability: 30 points
- Hittability: 25 points
Before we move on, here's a reminder that this year's B/R MLB 300 is different from past versions in a key way. Rather than use the events of 2016 to project for 2017, the focus is strictly on 2016. Think of these rankings as year-end report cards.
For more on how the scoring and ranking work, read ahead.
How They're Ranked
In order to qualify for this list, a relief pitcher needs to have made at least 40 appearances in 2016.
The scoring is based mostly on statistics and data from Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Savant. The numbers, plots and graphs at these sites leave few blind spots when looking at each player's performance, allowing for analytical scouting reports that cover the following:
Control: We know the average reliever walked 3.5 batters per nine innings and found the strike zone with 44.5 percent of his pitches. However, we also know these are the bare-minimum guidelines for determining what kind of control a reliever has. We're also interested in how well each reliever executes his pitches, basically meaning we'll be considering command as well as control.
Whiffability: This is where we're interested in how well each reliever misses bats. The reliever average of 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings is a guiding star, but we'll also look at swinging-strike percentages (SwStr%) in relation to the 11.1 MLB average for relievers. This is a gateway into looking more into the quality of each pitcher's stuff and how he uses it.
Hittability: Missing barrels is arguably as important as missing bats. This is where we look at how each reliever manages contact. Ground balls (45.3 average GB%) and pop-ups (9.9 IFFB%) are preferred in addition to low exit velocities (89.1 mph average). Keeping the ball in the yard (1.0 HR/9) is also a plus.
The individual scores are meant to mimic the 20-80 scouting scale while also taking sample sizes into account. Perfect scores are reserved for players who have excelled throughout the entire season. Anything else is a judgment call.
Last but not least: If any two (or more) players end up with the same score, we'll make another judgment call on the player (or players) we'd rather have.
30. Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians
G: 67 IP: 68.0 K/9: 11.5 BB/9: 3.6 HR/9: 1.1 ERA: 2.51
To an extent, it's odd that Cody Allen's walk rate went backward in 2016. He's made himself prone to walks in the past by only flirting with the zone using a pattern of high fastballs and low curveballs. He eased up on that pattern this year, working more down with the former and more up with the latter. And with a 46.3 Zone%, he found the zone more. He didn't getting hitters to chase as many of his pitches, posting just a 29.9 O-Swing%, but he deserved better than the walk rate he finished with.
Allen's 11.5 K/9 didn't match last year's 12.9, but both his strikeout rate and his 14.0 SwStr% are still very good. His curveball suffered from his altered location pattern, drawing whiffs at a lower rate. But it was still one of the best swing-and-miss curveballs thrown by any reliever, and putting it in hitters' minds as a possible strike pitch opened the door for him to blow them away with his 94-95 mph heat.
Since it didn't result in fewer walks, Allen might want to rethink throwing more pitches in the strike zone. He was killed to the tune of a 94.1 mph exit velocity on pitches in the zone. His fastball bore the brunt of the damage. Moving lower with it killed the pop-up habit (15.4 IFFB%) he had in 2015. As such, his new ground-ball rate (45.6 GB%) just wasn't worth it.
Allen served up too much hard contact in 2016, a reality of him changing his approach with his fastball and curveball. But both pitches still missed plenty of bats, allowing him to limit the damage.
29. Tyler Thornburg, Milwaukee Brewers
G: 67 IP: 67.0 K/9: 12.1 BB/9: 3.4 HR/9: 0.8 ERA: 2.15
Doug Thorburn of Baseball Prospectus has raised concerns over Tyler Thornburg's posture, a product of