Bridging the Gap: MLB Top 10 Middle Relievers (2011 Edition)

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Bridging the Gap: MLB Top 10 Middle Relievers (2011 Edition)
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Recent long-term signings of Joaquin Benoit by the Detroit Tigers and Rafael Soriano by the New York Yankees are just two examples that reflect the philosophy which MLB teams have adapted.

You need set-up men to succeed in today's game.

No longer are starters expected to pitch into the eighth inning.

No longer are closers expected to pitch more than one inning.

The consensus philosophy is that games are won between the sixth and eighth inning as much as the ninth. Therefore, it is only right that we celebrate and acknowledge these important pitchers. 

This article will rank the top ten middle relievers. Which is not easy to do. Middle relievers are as volatile as Carlos Zambrano and the stock market. Many relievers have one excellent year, which is followed up by a lousy one.

The below list are pitchers who have maintained success over two years. Before starting with the list I wanted to acknowledge the pitchers who were ranked in 2010 but are no longer on the list due to injuries and/or poor performance.


Brandon Lyon - Ranked 10th

Joel Zumaya - Ranked ninth

Hideki Okajima - Ranked fifth

Pedro Feliciano - Ranked fourth

Dennys Reyes - Ranked third


Now onto to this year's list...


10 - Arthur Rhodes (since '08)

Looking over Rhodes' career you will notice two things which makes him the prototypical middle reliever. The first is his volatility throughout his career, and second is that he has played on various teams. The latter is something I noticed with many of the top relievers reviewed.

Though Rhodes has been volatile throughout his career, since 2008 he has become more than just a top lefty specialist. He has sported a 2.52 earned run average and was selected to the All-Star team in 2010.

Over this time, Arthur has played with Seattle, Florida, Cincinnati, and Texas.


9 - Daniel Bard (since '09)

Bard is currently the future closer in Boston due to his strikeout ability (9.8 K/9) and success (2.46 ERA) as Jonathan Papelbon's set-up man.

We predict that he will break the top five next season.


8 - Scott Downs (since '07)

Downs is another case of a middle reliever receiving a long-term, lucrative deal. The Los Angeles Angels signed Scott to a three-year, $15 million contract prior to this season. It actually was the second three-year contract in Down's career, as he finished a three-year $10 million contract in 2010 with the Toronto Blue Jays.

The two contracts reflects the success Downs has endured since exclusively joining the bullpen in 2007. Downs has fashioned a 2.27 ERA in over 266 innings. 

Downs is currently the primary set-up man for the Angels and has been mentioned as the temporary closer every time Jordan Walden struggles.


7 - Peter Moylan (since '07)

Moylan was ranked sixth in last year's ranking and returns after sporting a 2.97 ERA in 2010. For his career Moylan has 18 wins and an ERA of 2.61 over 252 innings.


6 - Hong-Chih Kuo (since '08)

Despite four elbow surgeries, Kuo's fastball clocks in, in the mid-90s and has maintained a K/9 ratio of 10.75 and a K/BB ratio of 4.05.

The velocity and control is the reason he is on this list this year after just missing out last season.

He is currently dealing with elbow and "anxiety" issues in 2011, which may knock him out of the rankings next season.


5 - Matt Thornton (since '08)

Like Kuo, Thornton is a powerful lefty who hits the mid-90s but doesn't have the control. Matt's K/9 ratio over this span is 10.55. 

He was ranked eight in last year's ranking but moved up three spots due to being selected to the All-Star team last season.

Matt has won 16 games, with an ERA of 2.79 in over 232 innings.

This season the closer role was for Matt to lose, which he did after struggling early in the season. Recent success has brought down his ERA to 3.34 and the future looks bright for him as one of the top set-up men.


4 - Darren Oliver (since '06)

Oliver moved up three spots from last season's ranking due to his continued success and the consistency he has shown since 2006.

During this time, Darren has pitched for the Mets, Angels and currently the Rangers. Oliver is the type of reliever who not only provided quality innings but also provide multiple innings. Now at the age of 40, he is becoming more of an efficient lefty specialist similar to Arthur Rhodes.

Oliver is currently having another successful season with an ERA less than 2.50 in over 33 innings.


3 - Tyler Clippard (since '09)

Clippard is the right-handed version of Kuo. He provides an awkward delivery which complements his high velocity (11.0 K/9 ratio).

Washington struck gold when they traded minor league player Jonathan Albaladejo to the New York Yankees for this 2011 All-Star reliever. It's just a matter time before Clippard is closing the door in the ninth inning.


2 - Takashi Saito (since '06)

Saito was ranked No. 1 in last year's ranking but drops out due to his current injuries, which has led to the Brewers trading for Francisco Rodriquez.

At the age of 41, Saito may be heading to the sunset.

Boy has he been successful since joining the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006, as evident by his 2.22 career ERA and 84 saves. He also has been a powerful pitcher who has compiled a 11.0 K/9 ratio which has hit 11.5 as recently as last season.


1 - Mike Adams (since '04)

Since joining the Milwaukee Brewers in 2004, Adams was labeled the "closer-of-the-future." But due to injuries, Adams missed most of 2006 (appearing in two MLB games) and all of 2007. 

During his injury seasons, Adams was traded to the New York Mets and then claimed by the Cleveland Indians. Finally he was dealt to the San Diego Padres, who he currently is pitching the eighth inning for.

During his three-plus seasons in San Diego, Adams finished with ERAs of 2.48, 0.73 and 1.76, and currently he has an ERA of 1.32.

Most of the experts expect the Padres to trade Heath Bell before the deadline, which will open the door for Adams to close.


Honorable Mention

  • Sergio Romo
  • Ramon Ramirez
  • Jon Rauch
  • Dan Wheeler
  • Jim Johnson
  • Darren O' Day
  • Ryan Madson
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