Last week, when I published my starting pitcher power rankings, I promised reliever rankings were to follow. Here they are. I must say, unlike with the starters, it was extremely hard to predict who would rate highly here. My personal favorite didn’t even make the top 10. That’s enough from me though, onto the (formulaic) rankings.
Note: All stats are entering play on 26 July
#1 Craig Kimbrel (Score: 64.8)
The Hall of Famer is back. After some time away from his throne, Kimbrel is once again on top, leading all pitchers with 30 innings in ERA-, FIP-, and K%. He’s also second in xFIP-, xERA, and SIERA, behind only the top ranked starter. In Kimbrel’s best years of his career, he’s been lightyears ahead of every other reliever. This year is simply a return to form.
#2 Ryan Pressly (62.2)
Pressly is the first surprise of this list, though with his ERA and FIP both comfortably under 2, he really shouldn’t be. Always a high-strikeout arm, Pressly has stopped walking batters entirely. His 4.5 BB% is ninth best among relievers, and his 29.9 K-BB% is 11th. Add in an elite home run prevention skill, and Pressly is easily one of the game’s best.
#3 Matt Barnes (58.0)
From 2017-19, Barnes was firmly well above average as a reliever, with a 3.77 ERA and 3.12 FIP over 195.2 IP. He took a major step back in the shortened 2020, when his xERA was over 5. Barnes has always struck out more than his share of batters (11.69 K/9 career entering 2021) but always walked a boatload too (4.24 BB/9 pre-2021). This season has changed that, as Barnes has kept the Ks and only walked 2.36 per 9, turning him into an elite arm.
#4 Josh Hader (57.9)
In 2019, Hader struggled mightily with home run prevention, with a cartoonish 1.78 HR/9. He reined in those issues a bit in 2020, but his command lapsed, as he walked 4.74 per 9. These rates are back under control (0.48 HR/9, 3.38 BB/9) in 2021, and the results are back to what we expect from Hader. He’s now second (min. 30 IP) in K%, third in K-BB%, and 6th in xFIP. It’s another Fireman Award-type campaign from Hader.
#5 Liam Hendriks (57.2)
Coming into 2021, Hendriks was widely considered baseball’s best reliever. His numbers this year have done nothing to dissuade that notion. The MLB leader in K-BB% even in a slight down year for Hendriks, he’s simply astonishing. And having to say a 1.98 xERA is a down year is outright absurd.
#6 Garrett Whitlock (57.1)
Here’s a great example of why predicting relievers is one of the hardest parts of MLB evaluation. Whitlock had never pitched in the majors prior to 2021, and hadn’t been used in relief since 2018. Now he’s a monster. Whitlock combines length (just under 1.2 IP per appearance) with elite performance (29 ERA-, 68 FIP-). He and the previously discussed Barnes have joined forces to propel what was supposed to be a weak bullpen into a team strength.
#7 Jonathan Loaisiga (54.8)
Of all the reasons the Yankees were supposed to have a great bullpen this year, Loaisiga wasn’t atop that list. Yet he’s been their best so far in 2021. A flamethrower, Johnny Lasagna hasn’t actually gotten better at using his stuff to blow hitters away; his CSW% has actually dropped. He has harnessed his power, however, now walking under 2 per 9, and he’s allowing much less hard contact, en route to a flaming 2.20 xERA.
#8 Giovanny Gallegos (50.6)
Gallegos is always one of the best relievers in baseball, and he always ends up overlooked. Over 141 IP in the past three seasons, Gallegos has accumulated a 2.55 ERA, 2.87 FIP, and 3.4 fWAR. He’s an elite reliever. This season is no different, as over an astounding 52 IP, he has a 2.60 ERA, 2.85 FIP, and 2.66 xERA. Gallegos is also throwing harder in 2021, averaging a career best 94.5 mph on his fastball. Don’t overlook him any longer.
#9 Collin McHugh (50.5)
It wouldn’t be a reliever list without a Rays cameo now would it? A long-time spin master, McHugh’s numbers have been mind boggling. Over 41.2 IP, he’s posted a 1.51 ERA, 2.00 xERA, 1.35 FIP, and 2.63 xFIP. Those numbers can speak for themselves. Are we surprised though? It’s the Rays after all.
#10 Andrew Kittredge (50.4)
Oh hey, another random Ray with an ERA well under 2. The peripherals for Kittredge aren’t quite as good, but that’s just a nitpick on him. It’s hard to say anything bad about someone who has a 1.49 ERA and averages over 1.1 IP per appearance. The Rays find a second hidden gem on this list.