In this 10th and final installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB Season, we will cover the bullpen. Just a year or two ago, the distinction between relief pitcher and closer was an easy one to identify. But now not so much. With the construction of super bullpens and the line between relief pitcher and closer blurring, let’s take a look at the top five overall relief pitchers in the game.
5. Mark Melancon- San Francisco Giants
Mark Melancon was a late bloomer, being called up by the New York Yankees at 24 years old and not pitching a full amount of innings until he was 26 with Houston. But he has certainly turned it on in the past few years.
Between Pittsburgh and Washington, Melancon posted one of his best years statistically. He put up a 1.64 ERA as well as a 0.897 WHIP in 2016. He also struck out 64 batters over 71.1 innings pitched, and waled only 12 batters all season.
Melancon has also been a solid fielder when given the chance, with only three errors in eight major league seasons. Melancon will solidify the back end of the bullpen in San Francisco, and just entering his prime, is set to continue is string of dominant late inning performances.
4. Kenley Jansen- Los Angeles Dodgers
Kenley Jansen was often overlooked when discussing the top relief pitchers in the game, but not anymore. The Dodgers paid a hefty price to keep the 29 year old in their pen, and for good reason.
Jansen struck out 104 batters while only walking 11 over 68.2 innings. His ability to strike out guys at an impressive rate gives Jansen the ability to lower his WHIP. For the 2016 season, Jansen had a 0.670 WHIP. That is far lower than his career 0.893 WHIP, and helped to ensure Jansen would be paid handsomely in the off-season. With a return to the Dodgers, Jansen is poised to have another great season.
3. Aroldis Chapman- New York Yankees
For Aroldis Chapman, 2016 was a roller coaster season. After being suspended by the Commissioner’s Office for his domestic violence case in last year’s off-season, Chapman was celebrating the Chicago Cubs first World Series Championship in over 100 years.
In between he was able to put up a 1.55 ERA as well as striking out 90 batters over 58 innings pitched. His 0.862 WHIP was one of the best of his career, and he was a shutdown reliever all season long. Chapman returned to the Yankees after being traded at the deadline to the Cubs, and it seems like that trade was a win-win all around. Chapman will be a dominate pitcher in the Bronx for years to come.
2. Andrew Miller- Cleveland Indians
Another Yankee arm that was traded at the deadline to an eventual World Series team, Andrew Miller turned in a remarkable 2016 season. Miller really helped transform the way we see relievers, both closing and pitching like a traditional relief pitcher.
He had a 1.45 ERA between New York and Cleveland. Miller also punched out 123 batters over 74.1 innings. That tied his career high of 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Miller also walked only 9 batters on his way to a 0.686 WHIP. With another World Series appearance in reach for the Cleveland Indians, Miller will be as clutch as ever in 2017.
1. Zach Britton- Baltimore Orioles
When you are in the discussion for the AL Cy Young award as a reliever, you know you’ve had a special season. Britton started his career as a starter. But after three years of poor outings as a starter, he was shifted to the bullpen and flourished.
In 2016 Britton had a 0.54 ERA, an astounding number for a pitcher, even a reliever. He also struck out 74 batters over 67 innings pitched and walked 18 men. With a 0.836 WHIP Britton was able to limit the number of men on base, thus lowering his ERA to a minuscule amount.
After a fourth place finish in the AL Cy Young voting, Britton will be hard pressed to repeat his historic 2016. But if anyone can do it, Britton is the man.
Relief pitchers are usually the last ones to enter the game. And it’s fitting they will wrap up our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB Season. With a new movement coming over baseball, relief pitchers are starting to be viewed differently. As contracts grow and ERA’s shrink, relief pitchers are becoming some of the most valued players in the game.
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