PL Best in Baseball: Bullpens

Who has the best relief arms in baseball?

The importance of a good bullpen looms larger than ever as several significant pitching injuries have thrown many teams into flux (Paul Sewald, Jordan Romano, Jhoan Duran, etc.) as the regular season gets underway. In the final article of our 2024 Best in Baseball series, we will look at the top five bullpens in baseball.

If you missed the previous installments of the Best in Baseball series for the 2024 season, you can find them here:

(All depth chart information for this article is taken from Roster Resource.  Asterisk (*) indicates offseason addition).


1) Houston Astros


Josh Hader*

Ryan Pressly
Bryan Abreu

Middle Relief:
Rafael Montero
Bennett Sousa
Seth Martinez

Long Relief:
Brandon Bielak

The Astros already had a formidable bullpen, and this was before the offseason addition of Josh Hader.

After an inconsistent 2022 season, Hader returned to form in 2023 with a terrific season for the Padres. He locked down 33 saves and finished the year with a 1.28 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. He also struck out 85 hitters in 56.1 innings pitched, good for a 13.6 SO/9.

Hader ranked among the best relievers in baseball in many statistical categories, finishing in the top 10% of relievers in ERA, xERA, and K%.

Josh Hader – 2023

The acquisition of Hader pushes Houston to the top of this list and by adding him to the bullpen the Astros now have two proven closers to trot out in the 9th inning. Astros manager Joe Espada has already said that Hader is the primary closer, which means that Ryan Pressly will move to set up duty. Pressly racked up 90 saves over the past three seasons but will now pile up the holds with some occasional save opportunities mixed in. If Hader does falter, Pressly can step back into the familiar closer role.

The other primary setup arm is right-hander Bryan Abreu, who finished with a 3-2 record with a 1.75 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP over 72.0 IP in 2023. Abreu primarily relies on a nasty slider, which had a PLV of 5.27, one of the highest-rated pitches among relievers last season.


2) Atlanta Braves


Raisel Iglesias

A.J. Minter
Joe Jiménez

Middle Relief:
Pierce Johnson
Tyler Matzek
Aaron Bummer*

Long Relief:
Jesse Chavez*

A.J. Minter is one of the best setup relievers in all of baseball as evidenced by his 2022 season when he went 5-4 with a 2.06 ERA 34 holds, and five saves.

However, in 2023, when Raisel Iglesias missed time due to injury, Minter was thrust into the closer role and struggled. Minter had a 6.66 ERA and a 2-5 record during the first two months of the 2023 season before shifting back into his familiar role. Over the rest of the season, Minter pitched to the tune of a 1.85 ERA and 20 holds.

Braves fans hope that Iglesias remains healthy in 2024 so Minter can stay in that lockdown setup role. Last season, Iglesias piled up 33 saves and a 2.75 ERA in 55.2 innings pitched. Iglesias’ most commonly used pitch last season was a changeup, which he threw 35% of the time, followed by his four-seamer which he used 32% of the time. His changeup averaged 89.4 MPH and had a SwStr% of 25.4%, which put him in the 96th percentile of relievers. Hitters managed only a .180 average against the pitch.

Veteran journeyman Jesse Chavez is back to serve in a multi-inning role, having been signed after the White Sox released him. It’s Chavez’ fifth stop with the franchise. The 40-year-old righthander has said this will be his final MLB season.


3) Los Angeles Dodgers


Evan Phillips

Joe Kelly
Ryan Brasier

Middle Relief:
Alex Vesia
Daniel Hudson
Kyle Hurt
Ryan Yarbrough

Long Relief:
Michael Grove

Brusdar Graterol
Blake Treinen

The Dodgers may have the deepest roster of relievers in the majors, but it seems they can never get all of their bullpen healthy at the same time. If they can ever put it all together, they could move up even higher on this list. Evan Phillips returns as the primary closer after saving a career-high 24 saves in 2023. He should again challenge the 25-30 save mark this season.

Brusdar Graterol was second on the team in saves with seven last season and had a minuscule 1.20 ERA. Armed with a sinker that averages 98.6 MPH, he has the pure stuff to be a closer but is currently on the injured list with shoulder fatigue.

Joining him on the injured list is Blake Treinen. Treinen missed the 2023 season as he recovered from shoulder surgery and was expected to return healthy for 2024. He then unfortunately suffered a bruised lung in spring training. He has a career ERA of 2.86 ERA and 79 career saves. If Treinen can remain healthy, that would give the Dodgers three legitimate closing options.

Joe Kelly will serve as the main setup man after returning to LA via trade last summer, after a season and a half away from the franchise with the White Sox.


4) St. Louis Cardinals 


Ryan Helsley

Giovanny Gallegos
Andrew Kittredge*

Middle Relief:
JoJo Romero
Andre Pallante

Riley O’Brien
Ryan Fernandez

Long Relief:
Matthew Liberatore

Keynan Middleton*

The Cardinals enter the 2024 season with Ryan Helsley entrenched as the every day closer. Helsley has yet to serve as the closer for a full season, as he first emerged during the 2022 season and then was injured parts of last season. In an excellent 2022 season, Helsley finished 9-1 with a 1.25 ERA and 19 saves. He followed that up with a record of 3-4, an ERA of 2.45, and 14 saves in 36.2 innings pitched.

If Helsley can play a full season, he could quietly lockdown around 30 saves and become one of the best closers in baseball. Jordan Hicks and Giovanny Gallegos stepped into closer duties in 2023 when Helsley was injured and finished with eight and 10 saves, respectively. Hicks left in free agency, so Gallegos remains the top option for an occasional save opportunity. He will be the main setup arm in the bullpen.

St. Louis also signed Andrew Kittredge in the offseason, and he will also serve in setup relief. Kittredge has battled injuries but was an All-Star in 2021 with the Rays when he had a 1.88 ERA. He could be another name to watch for saves.

Matthew Liberatore was tested in a starting pitching role at the beginning of last season and, after a demotion, fared much better in relief toward the end of the season. He’ll be the primary multi-inning option for Oliver Marmol.


5) Cleveland Guardians


Emmanuel Clase

Scott Barlow*
Nick Sandlin

Middle Relief:
Eli Morgan
Hunter Gaddis
Tim Herrin
Cade Smith

Long Relief:
Tyler Beede

Sam Hentges
James Karinchak
Trevor Stephan

Emmanuel Clase pitched the exact same number of innings in 2022 and 2023 (72.2), but the results were not the same as his ERA jumped from 1.36 to 3.22 and his WHIP rose from 0.73 to 1.16.

One reason for the inflated numbers was hitters’ success against Clase’s primary pitch, a cutter. They had much better outcomes on the pitch last season, with a .267 average and .310 BABIP, compared to a .186 average and .234 BABIP in 2022. Even with this change, Clase still led the league in saves for the second consecutive year, with 44.

Expect him to figure things out as at only 26 years old, he is already one of the best closers in the league. The Guardians also added a new arm with closer experience as they traded for Scott Barlow during the offseason. Barlow had 53 saves for the Royals in 2021 – 2023 and will occupy a setup role in Cleveland, along with Nick Sandlin. Sandlin pitched 60 innings in 2023 and went 5-5 with a 3.75 ERA.

The Guardians currently have three arms on the injured list: Sam Hentges, James Karinchak, and Trevor Stephan.


Just Missed the Cut:


New York Mets
Tampa Bay Rays
Baltimore Orioles

As Edwin Diaz returns after missing the 2023 season, he will look to reclaim the crown as the best closer in baseball. A healthy Diaz could return the Mets bullpen to elite status. Let’s not forget – he had a historically great season in 2022, finishing with a 1.31 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP over 62 innings pitched. He also had 118 strikeouts, equaling an insane 17.1 SO/9. Even if Diaz doesn’t reach those heights again, he will likely still be one of the best closers in the league.

The Rays always seem to know what to do to maximize pitching success, even if at times it seems unconventional. They boast a number of great arms, including Pete Fairbanks, Jason Adam, and Colin Poche – each of whom had a sub-3.00 ERA in 2023.

The Orioles would be higher on this list if Felix Bautista was playing this season. He was the best closer in baseball last season but will miss the year as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

Nate Kosher

Nate Kosher is based in the Twin Cities and is a staff writer for Pitcher List. He grew up watching low-budget Twins teams at the Metrodome before eventually converting to the Arizona Diamondbacks (the power of teal and purple in the 1990s). His goal is to someday visit all 30 MLB ballparks and he believes Barry Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame. You can read more of Nate's writing in his newsletter, The Relief Pickle.

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