MLB Position Power Rankings 2018: B/R's Top 30 Relief Pitchers
As pitching staffs continue to evolve around Major League Baseball, having a lights-out bullpen has gone from a luxury to a necessity in the pursuit of a World Series title.
With that in mind, we have set out to identify the top 30 relief pitchers in the league heading into the 2018 season.
For fantasy baseball fans, think of this as a big board of the position if the entire league were doing a redraft for one all-or-nothing season in 2018.
Someone like Archie Bradley has more upside than Wade Davis going forward, but is he going to be better this coming year?
Let's find out.
30. Alex Claudio, Texas Rangers
2017 Standard: 70 G, 11/15 SV, 7 HLD, 2.50 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 6.1 K/9
Alex Claudio doesn't have the same gaudy strikeout numbers as the other guys on this list.
However, the left-hander was lights-out in his first season pitching in a high-leverage role, taking over the closer's role at midseason and converting 10 of 12 save chances with a 2.19 ERA after the All-Star break.
He's by no means a lefty specialist, but he was particularly lethal against same-sided hitters, holding them to a .147 average and .368 OPS over 102 plate appearances.
Regardless of whether he ends up closing games against in 2018, Claudio has the stuff to be an elite reliever in any role.
Honorable Mentions: Scott Alexander (LAD), Matt Barnes (BOS), Kyle Barraclough (MIA), Cam Bedrosian (LAA), Jerry Blevins (NYM), Brad Boxberger (ARI), Brad Brach (BAL), Zach Britton (BAL), Steve Cishek (CHC), Jake Diekman (TEX), Carl Edwards Jr. (CHC), Jeurys Familia (NYM), Nick Goody (CLE), Shane Greene (DET), Luke Gregerson (STL), Will Harris (HOU), Kelvin Herrera (KC), Trevor Hildenberger (MIN), Yoshihisa Hirano (ARI), Tommy Hunter (PHI), Keone Kela (TEX), Joe Kelly (BOS), Brandon Kintzler (WAS), Dominic Leone (STL), Tyler Lyons (STL), Jake McGee (COL), Mark Melancon (SF), Pat Neshek (PHI), Juan Nicasio (SEA), Blake Parker (LAA), AJ Ramos (NYM), Fernando Rodney (MIN), Chris Rusin (COL), Bryan Shaw (COL), Carson Smith (BOS), Joe Smith (HOU), Pedro Strop (CHC), Anthony Swarzak (NYM), Nick Vincent (SEA), Arodys Vizcaino (ATL), Tony Watson (SF), Kirby Yates (SD), Brad Ziegler (MIA)
29. Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics
2017 Standard: 72 G, 16/21 SV, 10 HLD, 3.93 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 8.8 K/9
2017 Advanced: 22.8 K%, 7.7 BB%, 73.8 LOB%, .271 BAA
Few players benefited more from a change of scenery last season than Blake Treinen.
Originally in the mix to close games for the Washington Nationals when the season began, he instead wound up traded to the Oakland Athletics in the deal that sent Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle to the Nats.
- WAS: 37 G, 3/5 SV, 5.73 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 7.6 K.9, .320 BAA
- OAK: 35 G, 13/16 SV, 2.13 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 9.9 K/9, .225 BAA
With his bowling ball sinker, Treinen will always be more of a ground-ball-reliant pitcher than a true strikeout artist.
That said, he's more than capable of a punchout an inning, and he has a clear path to the closer's role for an Oakland team that could surprise some people.
28. Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
2017 Standard: 35 G, 0/1 SV, 12 HLD, 2.08 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 12.8 K/9
2017 Advanced: 36.2 K%, 11.7 BB%, 88.1 LOB%, .154 BAA
A climbing walk rate in the minors effectively doomed Josh Hader's future as a starting pitcher:
- 2015: 104.0 IP, 3.0 BB/9
- 2016: 126.0 IP, 3.9 BB/9
- 2017: 52.0 IP, 5.4 BB/9
Instead, his electric stuff has landed him a key role at the back of the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen.
Hader relied heavily on his mid-90s fastball in his first taste of MLB action, though he backs it with a terrific slider and a passable changeup.
His 36.2 percent strikeout rate ranked 11th among relievers who worked at least 40 innings, and he was able to work to a reasonable 4.2 BB/9 rate in the process.
27. Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
2017 Standard: 74 G, 26/29 SV, 4 HLD, 3.01 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 10.4 K/9
Hector Neris has one of the best splitters in the game, and he threw the pitch a whopping 50.2 percent of the time last season.
That pitch will continue to be the key to his success as he embarks on his second full season as the Philadelphia Phillies closer.
Neris converted his final 20 save chances last season and should have even more opportunities this season on an improving team.
26. Mychal Givens, Baltimore Orioles
2017 Standard: 69 G, 0/6 SV, 21 HLD, 2.75 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 10.1 K/9
2017 Advanced: 27.9 K%, 7.9 BB%, 86.3 LOB%, .200 BAA
With Zach Britton and Brad Brach both headed for free agency next offseason and Darren O'Day better served in a setup role, all signs point to Mychal Givens as the closer-in-waiting for the Baltimore Orioles.
The former second-round pick had a strong rookie season in 2016, posting a 3.13 ERA with 13 holds in 66 appearances serving in a middle-relief role.
An improved walk rate (4.3 to 2.9 BB/9) took his game to the next level last season, and he was entrusted with more high-leverage situations as a result.
He hit a bit of a bump in the road with a 4.44 ERA in 23 appearances over the final two months last season, but all the pieces are there for him to be an elite late-inning option.
25. Tommy Kahnle, New York Yankees
2017 Standard: 69 G, 0/6 SV, 15 HLD, 2.59 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 13.8 K/9
Tommy Kahnle posted a solid 2.63 ERA in 29 games with the Chicago White Sox in 2016 after coming over in a trade with the Colorado Rockies.
However, that came with a 4.46 FIP and a 25/20 K/BB ratio, and he was by no means a lock to break camp with a roster spot last spring.
Instead, he quickly emerged as one of the game's most overpowering relievers, racking up a whopping 96 strikeouts in 62.2 innings and turning into a valuable trade chip in the process—eventually going to the Yankees in a seven-player blockbuster.
So what caused his breakout?
His already plus fastball velocity ticked up (97.0 to 98.1 mph) and his command improved drastically, with his walk rate dropping from 6.6 to 2.4 BB/9.
Add in his team control through 2020, and he's a very valuable asset.
24. Brad Peacock, Houston Astros
2017 Standard: 34 G (21 GS), 13-2, 3.00 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 11.0 K/9
Brad Peacock finds himself on the outside looking in for a spot in the Houston Astros rotation after the August addition of Justin Verlander and the offseason deal to acquire Gerrit Cole.
The 30-year-old spent most of the 2017 season as a starter, though he did make a significant impact out of the bullpen in the postseason, including a 2.45 ERA and one save in 7.1 innings of relief work in the World Series.
With Collin McHugh also relegated to the bullpen, Peacock might not even be the next man up for a spot in the rotation, given the fact that his stuff plays better out of the pen.
That could mean he settles into an invaluable multi-inning role or even finds himself closing games if incumbent Ken Giles falters again.
He has a starter's repertoire with a heavy mid-90s fastball that he backs with a changeup/slider/curveball assortment.
23. Addison Reed, Minnesota Twins
2017 Standard: 77 G, 19/21 SV, 15 HLD, 2.84 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 9.0 K/9
2017 Advanced: 24.8 K%, 4.9 BB%, 86.9 LOB%, .224 BAA
Addison Reed was arguably the most effective setup man in baseball during the 2016 season, posting a 1.97 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and a 91-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 77.2 innings with an MLB-high 40 holds.
A suspension and subsequent injury to Jeurys Familia opened the door for him to close games on a regular basis last season for the first time since 2014, and he converted 19 of 21 saves before he was traded to the Boston Red Sox at the deadline.
A free agent for the first time in his career, he ended up landing with the Minnesota Twins on a two-year, $16.75 million deal that looks like a steal relative to some of the other contracts handed to relievers this winter.
Fernando Rodney will break camp in the closer's role for the Twins, but if his tightrope act falters, Reed will be waiting in the wings.
22. Brandon Morrow, Chicago Cubs
2017 Standard: 45 G, 2/3 SV, 10 HLD, 2.06 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 10.3 K/9
2017 Advanced: 29.4 K%, 5.3 BB%, 75.6 LOB%, .194 BAA
Few players did more to boost their free-agent stock last season than Brandon Morrow.
After four injury-plagued seasons in which he threw a combined 136.2 innings, the former starter landed with the Los Angeles Dodgers on a minor league deal last offseason.
He began the season in Triple-A and eventually joined the MLB bullpen with his first appearance on May 29.
From there, he quickly became the team's most reliable setup bridge to closer Kenley Jansen, and he ended up pitching in all 14 of the team's postseason games.
The Chicago Cubs made a two-year, $21 million bet that he can handle the job, though Steve Cishek was also signed as an insurance policy.
21. Alex Colome, Tampa Bay Rays
2017 Standard: 65 G, 47/53 SV, 1 HLD, 3.24 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 7.8 K/9
After saving 37 games and making his first All-Star appearance in 2016, Alex Colome led the AL with 47 saves last season.
However, his peripheral numbers took a major step backward.
His ERA (1.91 to 3.24), WHIP (1.02 to 1.20) and walk rate (2.4 to 3.1 BB/9) all moved in the wrong direction, and his strikeout rate (11.3 to 7.8 K/9) went from excellent to mediocre.
The 29-year-old has become increasingly reliant on his cutter—upping its usage from 47.7 to 66.6 percent last season.
20. Chris Devenski, Houston Astros
2017 Standard: 62 G, 4/10 SV, 25 HLD, 2.68 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 11.2 K/9
Chris Devenski was acquired by the Houston Astros all the way back in 2012 in the deal that sent Brett Myers to the Chicago White Sox.
It wasn't until the 2016 season that he finally reached the majors, posting a 2.16 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 104 strikeouts in 108.1 innings, serving in a variety of roles from spot starter to eighth-inning setup man.
While he was used exclusively as a reliever last season, his ability to work multiple innings was once again invaluable as he recorded more than three outs in 24 of his 62 appearances.
Unlike most guys on this list, Devenski relies on an excellent changeup as his strikeout pitch, racking up 64 of his 100 punchouts with it this past season.
19. Ryan Madson, Washington Nationals
2017 Standard: 60 G, 2/5 SV, 25 HLD, 1.83 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 10.2 K/9
2017 Advanced: 30.6 K%, 4.1 BB%, 80.9 LOB%, .184 BAA
That's how long it was between appearances at the MLB level for Ryan Madson, as his road back to big league relevance was a long one:
- 2011 (PHI): 62 G, 32/34 SV, 2.37 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 9.2 K/9
- Jan. 13, 2012: Signed one-year, $8.5 million deal with CIN
- 2012 (CIN): Did not pitch (Tommy John surgery)
- Nov. 28, 2012: Signed one-year, $3.5 million deal with LAA
- 2013 (LAA): Did not pitch (recovery from Tommy John surgery)
- Jan. 4, 2015: Signed minor league deal with KC
- 2015 (KC): 68 G, 20 HLD, 2.13 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 8.2 K/9
That performance with the Royals earned him a three-year, $22 million deal from the Oakland Athletics, and he landed with the Washington Nationals last summer along with fellow reliever Sean Doolittle.
The 37-year-old pitched to a brilliant 1.37 ERA with 11 holds in 20 appearances following the trade, and he'll again serve as the primary setup man to Doolittle in 2018.
18. Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners
2017 Standard: 66 G, 34/39 SV, 2 HLD, 3.27 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 12.1 K/9
2017 Advanced: 32.0 K%, 11.5 BB%, 78.5 LOB%, .181 BAA
The 2017 season did not bring the breakout performance that many were expecting from Edwin Diaz.
His walk rate climbed (2.6 to 4.4 BB/9), his strikeout rate dropped (15.3 to 12.1 K/9) and he was far more susceptible to the home run ball (0.9 to 1.4 HR/9).
He was still overpowering, though, and he nailed down 34 of 39 save chances.
A starter during his time in the minors, Diaz moved to the bullpen when he reached the majors and ditched his changeup to become a two-pitch guy.
17. Ken Giles, Houston Astros
2017 Standard: 63 G, 34/38 SV, 2 HLD, 2.30 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 11.9 K/9
Ken Giles was mostly excellent last season closing games for the World Series champion Houston Astros.
Unfortunately, he ran out of steam during the playoffs:
- 7 G, 2 L, 1 BS, 7.2 IP, 12 H, 5 BB, 10 ER, 3 HR
How will he respond?
Giles has elite strikeout stuff with a mid-90s fastball and a wipeout slider that has helped him rack up an average of 12.4 K/9 for his four-year career.
He did a better job generating soft contact (19.1 to 24.6 percent), and his opponents' batting average also improved greatly (.232 to .196), so there is reason for optimism if he can put his October woes in the rearview.
16. David Robertson, New York Yankees
2017 Standard: 61 G, 14/16 SV, 8 HLD, 1.84 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 12.9 K/9
2017 Advanced: 37.1 K%, 8.7 BB%, 89.4 LOB%, .148 BAA
A 17th-round pick in 2006, David Robertson spent the first six seasons of his career as a standout setup man for the New York Yankees before replacing Mariano Rivera as the team's closer and racking up 39 saves in his walk year.
The Chicago White Sox gave him a four-year, $46 million deal. Two-and-a-half years later, he found himself back in pinstripes after a trade deadline blockbuster.
Robertson was brilliant in his return to the Yankees, posting a 1.03 ERA and 13.1 K/9 with eight holds in 30 appearances following the trade.
He's an expensive setup man at $13 million, but the Yankees can afford it, and he's just one more weapon in baseball's best bullpen.
15. Dellin Betances, New York Yankees
2017 Standard: 66 G, 10/13 SV, 19 HLD, 2.87 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 15.1 K/9
2017 Advanced: 38.3 K%, 16.9 BB%, 80.2 LOB%, .141 BAA
Among pitchers with at least 50 innings of work last season, Dellin Betances ranked among the MLB leaders in a number of categories:
- BAA: .141 (third)
- K%: 38.3 (sixth)
- K/9: 15.1 (second)
However, it wasn't all good categories where his name popped up on the leaderboard:
- BB%: 16.9 (first)
- BB/9: 6.6 (first)
The big 6'8" right-hander has an elite fastball (98.4 mph) and a hammer curveball (.114 BAA, .036 ISO, 76 K) that make him one of baseball's most unhittable relievers. His walk rate just makes him more volatile than the other top-tier relievers on this list.
14. Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals
2017 Standard: 53 G, 24/26 SV, 9 HLD, 2.81 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 10.9 K/9
Sean Doolittle emerged as an elite closer option during the 2014 season when he converted 22 of 26 save chances while posting a 2.73 ERA and 0.73 WHIP—thanks to a stellar 89/8 K/BB ratio.
However, a nagging left shoulder strain limited him to just 52.2 innings during the 2015 and 2016 seasons, and he entered last year just looking to get things back on track.
A strong start to the season in a setup role effectively boosted his stock, and he was eventually traded to the Washington Nationals along with Ryan Madson in July.
The left-hander moved into the closer's role following the trade and converted 21 of 22 save opportunities with a 2.40 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 9.3 K/9 in 30 appearances.
Doolittle doesn't have overpowering stuff, but his pinpoint control (1.7 BB/9 career) and ability to keep hitters off balance gives him the potential to be a lockdown ninth-inning option for a contender.
13. Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds
2017 Standard: 63 G, 28/30 SV, 2.49 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 10.9 K/9
2017 Advanced: 30.1 K%, 8.8 BB%, 80.8 LOB%, .205 BAA
Raisel Iglesias took over the closer's role for the Cincinnati Reds in the second half of the 2016 season. He was brilliant in his first full season handling the job, despite save opportunities being limited.
The seven-year, $27 million deal he signed prior to the 2014 season is now one of the best contracts in baseball.
The Cuban defector has the prototypical late-inning repertoire with a mid-90s fastball and plus slider he uses as his strikeout pitch, and the move from starting to relieving should help with his durability going forward.
With three years and $16.6 million left on his contract, he's an incredibly valuable trade chip.
Will the rebuilding Reds pull the trigger?
12. Brad Hand, San Diego Padres
2017 Standard: 72 G, 21/26 SV, 16 HLD, 2.16 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 11.8 K/9
The San Diego Padres' decision to claim Brad Hand off waivers from the Miami Marlins at the start of the 2016 season was met with little fanfare at the time.
Two years later, he's a cornerstone piece for a rebuilding team.
In five seasons with the Marlins used primarily as a starter, Hand posted a 4.71 ERA and 1.42 WHIP while failing to carve out a regular role.
He immediately moved to the bullpen upon joining the Padres and responded by posting a 2.92 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 11.2 K/9 over an NL-high 82 appearances.
The left-hander was even better last season, earning his first All-Star appearance in the process, and the Padres rewarded him with a three-year, $19.75 million extension that includes a $10 million option for 2021.
Now he's set to begin his first season as the team's full-time closer.
11. Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians
2017 Standard: 69 G, 30/34 SV, 4 HLD, 2.94 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 12.3 K/9
Cody Allen sometimes gets lost in the shadow of teammate Andrew Miller when it comes to the Cleveland Indians bullpen.
However, the 29-year-old has been one of the league's most reliable closers since stepping into the role four years ago.
Here's a look where he ranks among players with at least 50 saves during that span:
- Saves: 120 (ninth)
- SV%: 88.9 (10th)
- ERA: 2.62 (11th)
- K/9: 12.1 (eighth)
- WAR: 7.1 (eighth)
With Allen and Miller both headed for free agency at the end of the season, it will be interesting to see how the Indians handle the bullpen situation going forward.
10. Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays
2017 Standard: 66 G, 39/49 SV, 3.38 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 11.7 K/9
2017 Advanced: 33.3 K%, 3.6 BB%, 59.5 LOB%, .194 BAA
On the surface, Roberto Osuna led the majors with 10 blown saves last season.
Below the surface, he had arguably the best season of his career.
- 2015: 27.7 K%, 5.9 BB%, 9.7 K/9, 3.02 FIP
- 2016: 28.5 K%, 4.9 BB%, 10.0 K/9, 3.20 FIP
- 2017: 33.3 K%, 3.6 BB%, 11.7 K/9, 1.74 FIP
It's his brutal 59.5 percent left-on-base rate—second-worst among all qualified relievers—that really did him in and played a major role in the blown saves.
Osuna added a cutter to his repertoire last season in support of his mid-90s fastball and wipeout slider. The continued development of that pitch and some positive regression should again put him among the top closers in the game.
9. Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies
2017 Standard: 59 G, 32/33 SV, 2.30 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 12.1 K/9
Few relievers have been better than Wade Davis since he made the full-time move to the bullpen during the 2014 season.
During that four-year span, he has pitched to a 1.45 ERA and 0.95 WHIP with 79 saves and 51 holds in 244 appearances.
In his lone season with the Chicago Cubs, he converted 32 of 33 save chances. That earned him a three-year, $52 million deal from the Colorado Rockies in his first foray into free agency.
A career-high 4.3 BB/9 last year does give some reason for pause, but it didn't make him any less effective closing out games.
The 32-year-old has also racked up a 1.40 ERA in 38.2 postseason innings over the course of his career, including four saves in five appearances last October.
8. Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers
2017 Standard: 76 G, 39/45 SV, 11 HLD, 1.78 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 14.9 K/9
A first-round pick by the Detroit Tigers in 2013, Corey Knebel was traded twice before he finally caught on with the Milwaukee Brewers. He first joined the Texas Rangers in exchange for Joakim Soria, then came to Milwaukee in the deal that sent Yovani Gallardo to Texas.
After showing flashes in his first two seasons with the Brewers, he seized a wide-open closer job last spring and never looked back.
His 14.9 K/9 trailed only Craig Kimbrel (16.4) and Dellin Betances (15.1) among all pitchers with at least 50 innings of work last year.
The numbers would have looked even better if not for a 4.38 ERA in September, and that could simply be a matter of him running out of steam down the stretch.
7. Chad Green, New York Yankees
2017 Standard: 40 G, 0/1 SV, 9 HLD, 1.83 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, 13.4 K/9
2017 Advanced: 40.7 K%, 6.7 BB%, 82.3 LOB%, .145 BAA
The Yankees struck gold with the trade that sent Justin Wilson to the Detroit Tigers.
Chad Green was a mid-level prospect as a former 11th-round pick when he first came to New York, and at the time, it looked like his future was at the back of the big league rotation.
However, when he struggled to a 5.94 ERA and 1.51 WHIP in eight starts during the 2016 season, his career path shifted, and he was moved to the bullpen.
His stuff has played up in a big way since the move, and he's ditched his changeup to employ a fastball/slider/cutter that can be absolutely overpowering.
His strikeout rate trailed only Craig Kimbrel (49.6) and Kenley Jansen (42.3), and his ability to work multiple innings made him incredibly valuable—he recorded more than three outs in 30 of his 40 appearances.
6. Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks
2017 Standard: 63 G, 1/7 SV, 25 HLD, 1.73 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 9.7 K/9
The Arizona Diamondbacks envisioned Archie Bradley as a future staff ace when he was selected with the No. 7 pick in the 2011 draft. He had the big fastball, quality off-speed stuff and a durable 6'4", 225-pound frame to be a rotation anchor.
His MLB career got off to a less-than-stellar start, though, as he posted a 5.18 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in 34 starts over his first two seasons in the big leagues.
A move to the bullpen last season changed everything.
He ditched a mediocre changeup (.237 BAA, .211 ISO) and became a fastball/curveball guy who sprinkles in the occasional cutter.
In the process, his fastball velocity jumped considerably (93.4 to 96.6 mph), and he quickly settled into the eighth-inning job.
Now, with Fernando Rodney moving on in free agency, he's ready to show what he can do in the closer role.
5. Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
2017 Standard: 52 G, 22/26 SV, 1 HLD, 3.22 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 12.3 K/9
Aroldis Chapman looked human for the first time in his career last season, briefly losing the closer's role during a disastrous month:
- August: 8 G, 2 L, 1 BS, 8.0 IP, 8 H, 6 BB, 3 HR, 8 ER
He bounced back with 12 scoreless innings in September, converting all six of his save chances while posting a brilliant 17/2 K/BB rate.
So, at this point, there's no reason to think that was anything but a brief hiccup.
The Yankees gave Chapman a record-setting five-year, $86 million deal last offseason. As long as he stays healthy, he'll remain one of the game's most dominant arms.
After all, not many pitchers average 100.2 mph with a fastball they throw 76.7 percent of the time.
4. Felipe Rivero, Pittsburgh Pirates
2017 Standard: 73 G, 21/23 SV, 14 HLD, 1.67 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 10.5 K/9
2017 Advanced: 29.3 K%, 6.7 BB%, 79.5 LOB%, .170 BAA
The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired two high-octane lefties—Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn—from the Washington Nationals in exchange for Mark Melancon at the 2016 trade deadline.
Rivero immediately stepped into a spot in the Pittsburgh bullpen, posting a 3.29 ERA with 12.8 K/9 in 27.1 innings, albeit with a 1.50 WHIP and 5.9 BB/9.
Tony Watson, Juan Nicasio and Daniel Hudson were all ahead of him on the closer totem pole entering the 2017 season, but he eventually took over the ninth-inning job when he recorded his first save on June 10.
From that point on, he converted 21 of 23 save chances while absolutely dominating opposing hitters.
He was virtually unhittable against lefties (93 PA, .082 BA, .255 OPS), had elite fastball velocity (98.9 mph) and gave up just one hit all season with his slider—a pitch he threw 9.2 percent of the time in support of his fastball/changeup pairing.
The Pirates saw enough to give him a four-year, $22.5 million extension that includes a pair of team options, even as they began retooling with the trades of Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole.
3. Andrew Miller, Cleveland Indians
2017 Standard: 57 G, 2/4 SV, 27 HLD, 1.44 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 13.6 K/9
To say Andrew Miller has been dominant over the past four seasons would be a massive understatement.
Here's a look at where he ranks among all relievers with at least 100 appearances during that span:
- G: 260 (t-18th)
- ERA: 1.72 (third)
- WHIP: 0.79 (first)
- K/9: 14.5 (second)
- BAA: .153 (second)
- WAR: 11.1 (first)
The Indians continue to deploy him in the fireman role.
He pitched more than one inning 18 times and tallied four wins, two saves and 27 holds along the way, earning his second All-Star appearance in the process.
His four-year, $36 million deal last time he hit free agency forever changed the way non-closer relievers are paid, and he'll top that in a big way next winter when he's again available.
2. Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
2017 Standard: 65 G, 41/42 SV, 1.32 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 14.4 K/9
The Los Angeles Dodgers gave Kenley Jansen a five-year, $80 million extension last offseason.
He rewarded them with the best season of his career.
His 1.32 ERA was a personal best, and he converted 41 of 42 save chances to finish fifth in NL Cy Young voting and 15th in NL MVP balloting.
Jansen dominates with one stellar pitch, throwing his cutter 85 percent of the time and holding opposing hitters to a .189 average and .113 ISO in the process.
With a 2.08 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 14.0 K/9 and 230 saves over the course of his eight-year career, Jansen is well on his way to going down as one of the most dominant relievers in MLB history.
1. Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox
2017 Standard: 67 G, 35/39 SV, 1 HLD, 1.43 ERA, 0.68 WHIP, 16.4 K/9
2017 Advanced: 49.6 K%, 5.5 BB%, 93.9 LOB%, .140 BAA
After posting a career-high 3.40 ERA in his first season with the Boston Red Sox in 2016, Craig Kimbrel bounced back with arguably the best season of his career last year.
His 1.8 BB/9 was a career high, and he was virtually unhittable against right-handed hitters.
- RHH: 136 PA, .109/.156/.180, 14 H, 5 XBH (2 HR), 66/6 K/BB
Kimbrel is a six-time All-Star, and he has finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting five times.
He's a two-pitch guy with an electric fastball and a curveball that's one of the most unhittable pitches in the game.
- FB: 68.5%, 98.7 MPH, .134 BAA, .112 ISO, 97 K
- CB: 31.5%, 87.8 MPH, .197 BAA, .066 ISO, 34 K
He'll earn $13 million this season before hitting free agency next winter in a crowded free-agent market that also includes Andrew Miller, Zach Britton, Cody Allen, David Robertson, Ryan Madson, Brad Brach, Jeurys Familia, Kelvin Herrera, AJ Ramos and Justin Wilson.
It's a coin flip between Kimbrel and Jansen for the No. 1 spot. We'll go with Kimbrel.