The Top 10 Relief Pitchers In Baseball, Today

Posted: February 7, 2014 by The Cheap Seat Fan in MLB
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MLB: Atlanta Braves at Pittsburgh Pirates

There is no job in the game with a more concise, to the point job description than being a relief pitcher: get out there and get the job done, quickly. While this happens in far more than just the ninth inning, more often than not, eventually the most prevailing non-starters will find their way to the game’s final frame to deploy their craft.

Some are built for it, some aren’t, but while the save stat can often be misleading on a pitcher’s effectiveness; it does in many cases show who has the confidence of their club to weigh the team’s day-to-day success squarely on their shoulders.

It is a new day for the race for the head of the table in the world of elite relievers, as the unapproachable greatest closer of all-time, Mariano Rivera, has finished his final game. Yet while the standard setter is gone, the cupboard is far from bare, as there are an impressive and menacing group of late game arms vying for elite status either in or around the game’s most important inning.

Because to reach the upper rungs of this group, simply means you are among the most indispensable players in the game today—here are the top guns setting the new standard today.

10. Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals: Only a few blow the eye test out of the water quicker than the new closer in St. Louis does. He had 29 holds and ran up 103 strikeouts as a rookie, before assuming the ninth inning in the postseason—and establishing a strangle hold on the role going ahead. In two career scoreless postseasons, over 20 innings he has surrendered only six hits against 33 strikeouts.

9. Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies: Steady and effective, the fiery and sometimes boastful Papelbon has the attitude that seals the deal—and is bred from his type of results. He has only finished one of his eight full seasons south of 30 saves, but is coming off a career-high seven blown save effort. But his track record indicates that’s an exception over a rule.

8. David Robertson, Yankees: It is no small task replacing the greatest closer of all-time, but Robertson has performed up to the task. As a setup man, he had a 1.91 ERA over the past three seasons and since 2010, is 325 strikeouts are nearly 30 more than any American League reliever.

Balfour_Rays

7. Grant Balfour, Rays: If he continues at the level he has been at over the past three years, the Orioles may have made the error of the offseason backing out of their pact with him. Since leaving Tampa in 2011, he has run up 64 saves and 41 holds, and has failed to convert only 5 of his last 83 save situations.

6. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers: An important part of the Dodger ship righting itself was giving Jansen the ball back to in the ninth, and he took the role in an impressive fashion. He struck out 111 in 78 innings, in route to 28 saves and a 1.88 ERA.

5. Greg Holland, Royals: The overpowering Holland made the most of his chance to anchor the superb Royals bullpen, leading all AL relievers with 103 strikeouts, amid a miniscule 1.21 ERA. He closed out 47 games, while only failing on three save attempts, settling a Royals record high in the process.

4. Joe Nathan, Tigers: He re-affirmed his slightly hidden status as one of the great closers of all-time with a vintage effort in Arlington. Two years removed from elbow surgery, he turned in 43 saves on a 1.38 ERA, including closing out a memorable All-Star Game. With his next save, he will break a tie with Rollie Fingers for tenth all-time.

3. Koji Uehara, Red Sox: A long-dominant setup man, Uehara moved to the ninth halfway through the year and began to author one of the greatest relief seasons in MLB history. After June 1, he surrendered one earned run for the remainder of the season, finishing with a 1.09 ERA and 101 strikeouts. At one point, he retired 37 straight batters—good for 12.1 perfect innings.

Cincinnati Reds v Arizona Diamondbacks

2. Aroldis Chapman, Reds: When he is on his game, he is the most intimidating and unhittable pitcher in the game. Armed with a fastball that lives over 100 mph on most days, and a slider that appears as if it is going to run straight through the batter, before dying at the last second, batters have survived to a .154 average against him to start his career. Over the last two years, he has struck out 50 more batters than innings pitched.

1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves: He has been the game’s premier closer since day one of assuming the role. Over his three year career, he has led the NL in saves each season, and done so in an undeniably dominant fashion. For his career, he has averaged 15.1 strikeouts per nine innings (381 K’s in 227 innings) and has converted 139 out of 154 career chances. He’s a two pitch pitcher that can choose which one he wants to win with on any given day. And at only age 25, he’s set a curve that should be his for a long while.

Just A Bit Outside: Sergio Romo, Glen Perkins, Jim Johnson

Thanks for following this year’s ‘Top 10, Today’ countdown. Head over to I-70 Baseball to recap the rundown over the next few days, via a slideshow format and recap. For in the moment analysis, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

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