The bullpen has become an essential part of the game over the past few years and this list is compromised of my top 5 bullpen guys. The relief pitchers may not get all the attention and praise as the starters, but they are every bit as important, if not more. In terms of ERA, the top six bullpens all belonged to playoff teams. The bullpen guys are becoming so stacked that if Wade Davis isn’t on this list, you know it’s a good one. So lets get this thing going with a guy that many of you have probably never heard of.
5. Felipe Rivero – PIT Pirates
Felipe Rivero. Awesome name, awesome pitcher. Rivero broke out in 2017 with the Pirates. He came over to the squad in 2016 as part of the Mark Melancon deal with Washington. Through his first two seasons, Rivero had a 3.59 ERA with 135 strikeouts and 44 walks in 125.1 innings pitched. Last season, he finished with a 1.67 ERA with 88 strikeouts and 20 walks in 75.1 innings pitched. This flamethrower has turned into an absolute stud. Over the last 5 seasons, only one lefty has thrown more pitches over 100 mph than Rivero’s 112, with that being Aroldis Chapman. I expect this 26 year old to make a strong run for NL Reliever of the Year.
4. Aroldis Chapman – NY Yankees
Coming in at number 4 is one of the hardest pitchers in MLB history. Aroldis Chapman has topped out at just over 106 mph, as he was behind two of the top five fastest pitches ever recorded. The King of Flamethrowers was a crucial part to the Cubs World Series victory back in 2016, before signing back with the Yankees in the off season. Chapman had a rough start to last season but was able to finish strong in September with 12 scoreless innings, 17 strikeouts, and a .077 BAA. He was able to ride that momentum into the playoffs as he threw very well in the first two rounds and did not allow an earned run until the ALCS. I see the 30 year old putting together a complete season and being a huge contributor to the Bronx Bombers.
3. Craig Kimbrel – BOS Red Sox
Craig Kimbrel, one of the most consistent closers in the league since he entered, comes in at number 3 on this list. The Junior College product has been an underdog his whole life as he was lightly recruited out of high school. He decided to go to Wallace State Community College where he was drafted in the 33rd round by the Atlanta Braves before deciding to return to school. He was then drafted again the following year by the Braves again in the 3rd round. Kimbrel has played for 3 different teams in his 8 seasons, comprising a 1.88 ERA throughout those seasons. This former ROY is looking towards another strong season as he enters his third year in Boston.
2. Kenley Jansen – LA Dodgers
One of the toughest decisions on this list was putting this guy at number two. Kenley Jansen has been one of the most underrated players in the league throughout his entire career. Throughout his eight seasons in the big leagues, he has converted 230 of 256 save opportunities, coming out to just under 90%. Jansen has not had a single season with an ERA above 2.85 and has been one of the most important parts of the Dodgers team forming a deadly Starter-Closer duo with Kershaw. He finished fifth in the Cy Young voting last season and his looking for back to back top five finishes.
1. Andrew Miller – CLE Indians
It’s weird to say that the top guy on this list is not a closer, but boy has he deserved it. Andrew Miller has had an interesting career to say the least. When he was first brought up in 2006, he was used as a reliever. From 2007-2011, Miller was used as a primary starter with appearances out of the bullpen. It was not until 2012 that he became a full time reliever and developed his infamous slide step. Since then, he has been an absolute stud. He also is the true definition of a team first guy. As a member of the Yankees in 2015, he had 36 saves with a 2.04 ERA. When Chapman joined the squad in 2016, Miller willingly gave up his closer roll by saying “whatever’s best for the team.” He has had sub 1.50 ERA’s in each of the last two seasons and has helped lead the Indians to strong playoff runs in each of those seasons. Do not be surprised if Miller makes a tough run for the AL Cy Young award alongside his teammate Corey Kluber.
Well there you have it. My top five relief pitchers entering the 2018 MLB season. Only 21 more days until opening day!!