Reliever Roundup and Bullpen Bonanza — Week 21 (Aug 28 to Sep 3) Team Rankings

A pitch being thrown by Justin Topa, whose Mariners are second in Week 21's bullpen/reliever/relief corps rankings
(Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Reliever Roundup and Bullpen Bonanza — 8/28–9/3 Team Rankings

We are beginning the 21st week of the season. After missing Week 20 due to computer problems, the team bullpen/reliever/relief corps rankings have returned. The leader has remained the same since these rankings first ran. A crucial injury caused the #2 team to fall 18 spots. One of the NL Wild Card contenders is in the bottom five. A member of the top five is nowhere near a playoff spot. And another member of the top five surged 17 spots in a week and a half to get there.

Statistics are through the end of play Sunday, August 27 and only include each reliever’s stats with his current team. In addition, the team stats only include pitchers on the active roster and exclude position pitchers.

These rankings are not interested in what some guy in the minors did back in April before he was sent down. We want to see whose current relief roster is the toughest. That will be most useful when watching and analyzing games.

Brief Rankings Explanation

Rankings are split into the following categories. These categories encompass what a relief pitcher’s jobs are and are weighted according to importance. We don’t want to get bogged down, so we’ll keep it brief. (Author’s Note: For full details, leave a comment and I’ll be glad to get back to you.)

Clutch (45% of score) — How well they perform in late innings either while the game is tied or while holding a narrow lead.

Run Prevention (35%) — How well they keep runs off the board, including inherited runners.

Baserunner Prevention (13%) — Who has the lowest WHIP and lowest home run percentage (HR%). WHIP is 85% of the Baserunner Prevention score, and HR% is 15%.

Command (7%) — Who has the best strikeout percentage minus walk percentage (K–BB%).

The total score in each category is based on the league average. Zero points equals the league average. Positive scores are better than league average; negative scores are worse. The farther their score is from zero — either positive or negative — the farther they are from the league average.

(Note: Due to weighting each score, adding the four categories together won’t equal the total score.)

For a full breakdown of each category’s score formula, click here.

Team Reliever / Bullpen / Relief Corps Rankings, Week 21, Aug 28 to Sep 3. Stats through end of play Aug 27 and are based on active rosters as of the morning of Aug 28.
Team Reliever / Bullpen / Relief Corps Rankings, Week 21, Aug 28 to Sep 3. Stats through end of play Aug 27 and are based on active rosters as of the morning of Aug 28.

Week 21 (Aug 28 to Sep 3) Team Reliever and Bullpen Rankings

The Outlier

  1. Milwaukee Brewers (41.5, First in NL), No Change from Week 19 (Midweek)

79.9 Clutch, 8.7 Run Prevention, 10.2 Baserunners, 16.5 Command

The Brewers are still the class of the majors. Now that they’re hitting the baseball, they’re on fire. Setup man Joel Payamps and closer Devin Williams are also tops in the NL in their respective roles, Williams by a large margin.

Better Take an Early Lead…

  1. Seattle Mariners (16.748, rounded to 16.7, First in AL), +6 from Week 19 (Midweek)

24.8 Clutch, 7.9 Run Prevention, 7.3 Baserunners, 27.1 Command

How many teams can trade their closer and still be the best relief corps in their league? That’s exactly what the Mariners have done, and their recent hot streak has vaulted them past the Rangers and Astros into first place. Three of their relievers are in the AL top ten for their role: middle man Gabe Speier (#4) and two setup men, Justin Topa (#6) and Matt Brash (#9).

  1. San Francisco Giants (16.685, rounded to 16.7, Second in NL), +1 from Week 19 (Midweek)

35.8 Clutch, -2.3 Run Prevention, 6.7 Baserunners, 7.0 Command

The Giants’ recent skid has hurt their playoff chances, but their relievers are still among the class of the NL. They have someone in the top ten in all three roles: middle man Taylor Rogers (#8), setup man Tyler Rogers (#2), and closer Camilo Doval (#9).

The Very Good

  1. Detroit Tigers (10.5, Second in AL), ▼ -2 from Week 19 (Midweek)

24.8 Clutch, -0.3 Run Prevention, 3.3 Baserunners, -13.5 Command

Every week, the Tigers are toward the top of the rankings. And every week, we get comments of surprise. “The Tigers?!?? Really?” Our response is always the same — they aren’t ahead late in games often. But when they are, they rarely blow it. Middle man Tyler Holton was #5 in the AL in Friday’s rankings. Setup man Jason Foley (#4) and closer Alex Lange (#2) also were in the top five.

The Good

  1. Chicago Cubs (8.1, Third in NL), +17 from Week 19 (Midweek)

12.2 Clutch, 5.6 Run Prevention, 2.6 Baserunners, 5.1 Command

The Cubs have surged toward the top of the NL Central with a 16–8 August (so far). Their ‘pen has played a large part in the success. Setup man Mark Leiter Jr. is in the top five. Closer Adbert Alzolay is 12th, having climbed two spots in August, but his score has increased by over 30 points in that span.

  1. Boston Red Sox (7.8, Third in AL), +4 from Week 19 (Midweek)

14.8 Clutch, 1.2 Run Prevention, 1.0 Baserunners, 8.4 Command

The Red Sox are another team with appearances on all three individual leaderboards. Middle reliever Nick Pivetta is seventh, while setup man Chris Martin is fifth and closer Kenley Jansen is ninth.

  1. Tampa Bay Rays (7.6, Fourth in AL), +9 from Week 19 (Midweek)

16.5 Clutch, 1.0 Run Prevention, 0.0 Baserunners, -2.7 Command

The Rays’ relief corps is surging at the right time. They have been stuck in the high teens or low 20s for weeks but are now locking into form. Perfect timing, given the devastating injury news the Orioles received Friday. They have two middle relievers in the top ten: Shawn Armstrong (#1) and midseason pick-up Robert Stephenson (#9).

  1. Atlanta Braves (6.8, Fourth in NL), +3 from Week 19 (Midweek)

14.2 Clutch, -1.3 Run Prevention, -0.9 Baserunners, 14.0 Command

The Braves have the #3 closer in the National League, Raisel Iglesias. They also have the #3 middle reliever, Jesse Chavez, but he has been out for over two months. He is expected to return some time next month, and it will be a welcome addition for the Braves. Pierce Johnson, acquired in a trade with the Rockies, has been sharp in a middle relief role for the Braves. Eleven of his thirteen appearances have been scoreless.

  1. Los Angeles Angels (6.6, Fifth in AL), No Change from Week 19 (Midweek)

24.8 Clutch, -6.6 Run Prevention, -12.0 Baserunners, -9.8 Command

If the Angels are ahead at the end of the seventh, they rarely lose. Setup man Matt Moore is tops in the AL, while closer Carlos Estevez is fourth. Like the Tigers, they simply need to be ahead more often. (We know…we’re saying it like it’s simple to fix, akin to flipping a switch. Yet we digress…)

  1. Toronto Blue Jays (5.6, Sixth in AL), ▼ -4 from Week 19 (Midweek)

-3.2 Clutch, 13.9 Run Prevention, 4.1 Baserunners, 23.3 Command

The Blue Jays relievers don’t give up runs often. But when they do, it’s at a critical point. That is why their clutch score is below average. But their run prevention and command scores are off the charts, keeping them in the top ten. Two middle relievers — Tim Mayza (#3) and Trevor Richards (#10) — are in the top ten. So are setup man Erik Swanson (#2) and closer Jordan Romano (#10).

Slightly Above Average

  1. Cleveland Guardians (4.8, Seventh in AL), +3 from Week 19 (Midweek)

5.8 Clutch, 6.0 Run Prevention, 2.1 Baserunners, -1.7 Command

Guardians setup man Trevor Stephan (#8) is in the top ten, as is closer Emmanuel Clase (#5).

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers (4.6, Fifth in NL), No Change from Week 19 (Midweek)

3.7 Clutch, 7.1 Run Prevention, 3.8 Baserunners, -0.5 Command

The Dodgers have made a lot of personnel changes in the ‘pen but still have four players in the top ten. Ryan Brasier is the #1 middle reliever in the NL. Setup men Caleb Ferguson and Brusdar Graterol are sixth and tenth, respectively. Closer Evan Phillips is tenth. This is good news for the NL West leaders as they head into the stretch run.

  1. New York Yankees (4.4, Eighth in AL), ▼ -6 from Week 19 (Midweek)

8.4 Clutch, -0.6 Run Prevention, 5.5 Baserunners, 1.2 Command

The Yankees relief corps is in a free-fall like the rest of their team. Closer Clay Holmes (#7) has not converted a goose egg in three weeks. A bright spot has been middle reliever Ian Hamilton, who is #8 in the AL.

The Average

  1. Pittsburgh Pirates (2.8, Sixth in NL), ▼ -9 from Week 19 (Midweek)

15.5 Clutch, -8.1 Run Prevention, -9.4 Baserunners, -2.0 Command

The Pirates have someone on all three individual top ten boards. They are middle reliever Angel Perdomo (#4), setup man Colin Holderman (#7), and closer David Bednar (#4). However, the rest of their ‘pen has struggled mightily, leading both to their hard fall and their negative scores in three of the four categories.

  1. Cincinnati Reds (2.4, Seventh in NL), +2 from Week 19 (Midweek)

3.4 Clutch, 2.9 Run Prevention, 1.0 Baserunners, -4.7 Command

Reds setup man Lucas Sims (#4) and closer Alexis Diaz (#2) are each in the top five. But the performance of the rest of their relief unit has pulled them down to the middle of the pack in team rankings. Not good for a team fighting for a wild card spot.

  1. Houston Astros (1.2, Ninth in AL), ▼ -1 from Week 19 (Midweek)

0.3 Clutch, 0.3 Run Prevention, 1.5 Baserunners, 10.6 Command

The defending-champion Astros rode strong relief pitching to the title in 2022. This unit has become pedestrian in 2023, despite the performance of setup man Hector Neris (#7). Closer Ryan Pressly struggled out of the gate but has improved to eighth in the AL.

  1. Miami Marlins (0.9, Eighth in NL), +1 from Week 19 (Midweek)

-5.1 Clutch, 3.5 Run Prevention, 4.0 Baserunners, 20.4 Command

Marlins middle relievers Andrew Nardi and Steven Okert are in the top ten, ranking second and sixth, respectively. Setup man Tanner Scott is third. They traded for closer David Robertson, given his valiant performance with the Mets after the Edwin Diaz injury. But Robertson has been a liability since joining the Marlins and has lost his closer job. The Marlins have lost seven of their last ten and have fallen to one game over .500. In addition, they are three games out of the third wild card spot and have two teams ahead of them.

  1. San Diego Padres (-0.2, Ninth in NL), +1 from Week 19 (Midweek)

-2.4 Clutch, 2.3 Run Prevention, 3.4 Baserunners, -5.4 Command

Padres closer Josh Hader is in the top ten (#7). The rest of the relief unit is nowhere close, pulling the disappointing Padres into the high teens in the rankings.

  1. Minnesota Twins (-0.5, 10th in AL), +5 from Week 19 (Midweek)

-1.8 Clutch, -0.8 Run Prevention, 2.8 Baserunners, 4.3 Command

If the Twins want to break their playoff losing streak — 18 consecutive games, dating back to 2004 — their ‘pen needs to pitch up to its potential. Setup man Griffin Jax (#10) and closer Jhoan Duran (#6) are both in the top ten, so that is a good sign. Injured middle reliever Brock Stewart is #2 in the AL, so the Twins should get a nice boost when he returns. He told reporters Saturday that “best-case scenario” is September 10.

Below Average

  1. Philadelphia Phillies (-1.1, 10th in NL), +3 from Week 19 (Midweek)

-9.0 Clutch, 2.8 Run Prevention, 5.0 Baserunners, 19.1 Command

The Phillies hold the #1 wild card spot despite their late-inning struggles. On the positive side, middle reliever Jeff Hoffman is #7 and closer Gregory Soto is #9 in the NL.

  1. Baltimore Orioles (-1.4, 11th in AL), ▼ -18 from Week 19 (Midweek)

-4.0 Clutch, 1.2 Run Prevention, 1.1 Baserunners, -1.2 Command

The Orioles still have not announced how long closer Felix Bautista — by far the highest ranked in the AL — will be out with his UCL injury. His absence has devastated this relief corps and is single-handedly responsible for its nosedive in the rankings.

  1. Texas Rangers (-4.2, 12th in AL), ▼ -1 from Week 19 (Midweek)

-17.1 Clutch, 2.7 Run Prevention, 10.7 Baserunners, 15.9 Command

The sputtering Rangers have lost nine of their last ten, losing their three-and-a-half-game lead in the AL West in a span of 12 days. Their relief unit has played a major role in the skid. Neither setup man Aroldis Chapman nor closer Will Smith, both third in the AL, have had a good weekend. Expect to see them fall on the leaderboard unless they bounce back in the next few days.

  1. Washington Nationals (-4.3, 11th in NL), ▼ -3 from Week 19 (Midweek)

-5.2 Clutch, -1.8 Run Prevention, -6.8 Baserunners, -5.8 Command

Nationals middle reliever Jordan Weems (#5), setup man Hunter Harvey (#8), and closer Kyle Finnegan (#6) have pitched themselves into the top ten. The relief corps is still ranked in the 20s, but it is steadily improving week by week. The performance of these three has played a large role in the improvement.

Stock Up on Tums

  1. Colorado Rockies (-10.3, 12th in NL), ▼ -11 from Week 19 (Midweek)

-6.5 Clutch, -9.0 Run Prevention, -9.3 Baserunners, -42.5 Command

At one point in the past week, the Rockies became the first team in the modern era to hold a lead in the sixth inning or later in six straight games but lose every single one of them. (Info via Patrick Saunders/Denver Post on X, formerly Twitter.)

  1. Chicago White Sox (-13.4, 13th in AL), No Change from Week 19 (Midweek)

-16.8 Clutch, -12.1 Run Prevention, -5.3 Baserunners, -12.5 Command

The White Sox are the highest-ranked team without anyone in the individual top ten for his role. Tends to happen when trading away everyone having any semblance of a good season.

  1. Arizona Diamondbacks (-14.5, 13th in NL), No Change from Week 19 (Midweek)

-30.6 Clutch, -3.5 Run Prevention, 0.5 Baserunners, 6.1 Command

The Diamondbacks, who started the season with such promise, have asked a lot of their relievers throughout the season. It seems to have caught up with them. Closer Paul Sewald (#5 in the NL) has done well since arriving from the Mariners July 31, but their setup men have been hit or miss. In the case of Miguel Castro, his misses have been so catastrophic recently that even the most level-headed observers are forgetting that roughly four of his five appearances are scoreless. New setup man Kevin Ginkel, while dependable over the course of the season, has given up at least one earned run in four of his last eight appearances. However, 23 of his past 28 appearances — dating all the way back to June 1 — have been scoreless (earned runs only).

Outside of Ginkel and Sewald, the ‘pen, especially in late innings, is the Diamondbacks’ Achilles heel and could keep them from earning a wild card spot.

  1. New York Mets (-15.8, 14th in NL), No Change from Week 19 (Midweek)

-29.9 Clutch, -1.9 Run Prevention, -7.6 Baserunners, -8.9 Command

We aren’t going to pile on here. Mets fans have been through enough. So all we’ll say is they don’t have anyone in the top ten, either.

Pray for a Blowout Win

  1. Oakland Athletics (-17.0, 14th in AL), +1 from Week 19 (Midweek)

-7.9 Clutch, -21.4 Run Prevention, -20.6 Baserunners, -46.7 Command

Despite still being 14th in the AL, the Athletics relief corps continues to improve.

  1. St Louis Cardinals (-18.9, 15th in NL), ▼ -1 from Week 19 (Midweek)

-22.6 Clutch, -13.5 Run Prevention, -15.4 Baserunners, -29.7 Command

Imagine how much worse off the Cardinals relief unit would be if they didn’t have Giovanny Gallegos, the #8 closer in the NL.

An Outlier for the Wrong Reason

  1. Kansas City Royals (-35.6, 15th in AL), No Change from Week 19 (Midweek)

-57.1 Clutch, -20.0 Run Prevention, -12.9 Baserunners, -18.2 Command

Bragging rights to anyone outside of the die-hard Royals fanbase who can name four of their active relievers.

Full Score Explanation

For clutch, we will use both the Goose Egg total (33%) and the ratio of Goose Eggs to Broken Eggs (67%) due to the major flaws in Saves and Holds. Full details about Goose Eggs are here. Otherwise, here’s the elevator speech.

A Goose Egg is like a save, except more restrictive. Here are the main points…

  • It’s done inning by inning, starting in the seventh.
  • Maximum of a two-run lead, not three, but it also includes tie games. Like the save, exceptions are made if the tying run is on base or at bat. (Not on deck, however.)
  • Run Breakdown:
    • No run of any kind — earned, unearned, or inherited — scores, it’s a goose egg (GE).
    • Earned run charged to the pitcher, it’s a broken egg (BE).
    • Any other run scores, it’s neither.
    • Earned run scores in an inning where he closes out the victory, it’s also neither.
    • Starts the inning and gives up no runs, but doesn’t finish the inning, it’s also neither.
  • He must finish the inning while recording the following number of outs:
    • No one on when he starts the inning — all three;
    • One on — at least two;
    • Two or three on — at least one.
  • Any time it’s “neither,” it’s called a “Meh,” as in “nothing special.” They’re like a stalemate in chess and count as nothing, so we don’t really talk about them.
  • Most important is the ratio of GE to BE (GE/BE). The historical average, dating to 1921, is 3.0, or 3-to-1.

Click here for the full database of these stats.

For run prevention, we will use a mixture of the Scoreless Outing Percentage (Earned Runs only), Inherited Runners Scored Percentage (IS%), and ERA-minus. ScOtg% is 75% of the score, IS% is 15%, and ERA-minus is 10%.

Back to the rankings.

Also See:

Week 19 Rankings, Week 18 Rankings, Week 16 Rankings, Week 15/All-Star Break Rankings, Week 14 Rankings, Week 13 Rankings.

Week 20 Individual Rankings.

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Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan is the owner and sole contributor of Thompson Talks, a website discussing the Big Four North American Pro Sports as well as soccer. He also is a credentialed member of the Colorado Rockies press corps. His first and biggest love is baseball.

Evan lives in Gilbert, Arizona and loves history, especially of sports. He is the treasurer for the Hemond Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and also is a USSF and AIA soccer referee. He released his first book, Volume I of A Complete History of the Major League Baseball Playoffs, in October of 2021.

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