Best Relief Pitchers
He Has The Track Record
Heading into free agency this winter, it was clear that Craig Kimbrel was the most accomplished relief pitcher available. If there was any question, his current place on top of this particular leaderboard helps solidify it. That doesn’t mean he’s going to sniff anything close to the six years and $100-plus million he’s been reportedly seeking, though. Especially now that he’s still unsigned so close to Spring Training.
Kimbrel began his career with the Atlanta Braves in 2010, and quickly became one of the game’s most dominant closers. That included a three-year stretch from 2012-14 where he accumulated at least 40 saves while never posting an ERA worse than 1.61 or being worth fewer than 2.3 fWAR. He’s remained effective on the bump, but not to that extent. Since 2015, he’s posted a sub-2.00 ERA with at least 2.0 fWAR just once, and has also struggled with his control of the strike zone.
At this point, it seems inevitable that the Boston Red Sox will wait his market out and bring back their closer. His status as being baseball’s best reliever this decade appears to be somewhat safe, unless something drastic happens with him, or with Kenley Jansen or Aroldis Chapman.
Who Needs Saves?
Most of the above relievers have gotten to where they are during this decade thanks to extensive experience as a closer. Dellin Betances immediately sticks out because he not only has the fewest saves among this group, but also has never saved more than 12 games in a single season.
Although he has struggled with walks in recent years, the strikeouts have always piled up at an above-average rate. Since becoming a full-time reliever with the New York Yankees in 2014, he hasn’t posted a single-season strikeout rate lower than 38.3%. That includes two seasons with at least 40.0%, both of which have happened in the last three years.