As we enter the final stretch of the 2023 series, Pitcher List is ranking the top 10 at every position in baseball.
Shockwaves were sent through the MLB reliever market even before the season started as last year’s top reliever, Edwin Diaz, went down with an injury in March.
That was bound to create an opportunity for a new name to be added to the list of top 10 relievers in baseball, and per usual, some complete unknown names emerged and made a real impact on baseball’s most volatile position.
Let’s take a look at the top relievers of the 2023 season.
10. Bryan Abreu, HOU
Abreu is one of the few setup men on this list, as Houston has Ryan Pressly firmly installed as their closer, but roles aside, Abreu has been outstanding this season.
He’s produced a nearly perfect carbon copy of his impressive 2022 season as his ERA sits at 1.94 (same as last season) and his WHIP is 1.08 (which is improved from 2022). He also has rung up 90 strikeouts in 65 IP, good for a SO/9 rate of 12.5. Last season he had 88 strikeouts in 60.1 innings.
9. Tanner Scott, MIA
Tanner Scott has served as both a setup man and a closer this season for the Marlins, and he has produced results in both roles. He has 24 holds and nine saves, and has a WAR on the season of 4.9, second in the majors for pitchers behind Alexis Díaz. Scott’s record sits at 8-4 with an ERA of 2.13 and a 1.01 WHIP. He’s also struck out 94 hitters in 71.2 IP.
Scott has picked up steam as the season has progressed. In the second half, he has a 0.95 ERA and seven saves with six holds. In addition, batters are averaging a measly .182 against the lefty since the All-Star game. He relies on a four-seamer and baffles hitters with his slider, which averages 89.3 MPH.
8. Emmanuel Clase, CLE
Clase has not been as dominant in 2023 as he was in 2022. First the bad news, he’s blown 11 saves – which is the most in the league. But then on the other hand, he’s converted 41 saves, which also leads all of baseball and is the reason for his inclusion on this list.
Overall, Clase has a 3.01 ERA and 1.14 WHIP with a 2-9 record, but he’s been better in the second half with a 2.42 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP. His velocity is down a tick on his signature cutter, which he uses a whopping 68% of the time.
MLB’s new rules that were introduced this season appeared to throw Clase off-rhythm, especially early in the season, as detailed in this Pitcher List article from May. When he’s at the top of his game, he’s arguably the best closer in baseball and easily in the top three-to-five in the league. I would expect him to return there next season.
7. Jordan Romano, TOR
After snagging a career-high 36 saves last year, Jordan Romano is one behind that mark currently and should set a new career high this season. Romano is 35-38 in save opportunities and has 68 strikeouts in 55 innings pitched. He’s tied for fifth in the league in saves and has compiled a 5-5 record with a 2.45 ERA and 1.16 WHIP.
The two-time American League All-Star has been excellent in the bullpen for the Blue Jays during his first five seasons, with a 19-13 record, a sub 3.00 ERA (2.55), and 96 saves. Romano leads a strong Toronto bullpen that also includes solid setup arms Erik Swanson and Tim Mayza.
6. Yennier Cano, BAL
Cano is the highest primary setup man on this list and for good reason. This season, Cano joined Félix Bautista to form the best reliever duo in the league for the surprising Baltimore Orioles. Cano is a 29-year-old native of Cuba who first appeared in the majors with the Twins last season and emerged from anonymity to become an All-Star in 2023.
He began the 2023 season in the minors before being called up in mid-April and retiring the first 24 batters he faced, tying the Orioles franchise record. For the season, he’s racked up 29 holds, which leads all of baseball, and six saves as he has stepped into the closer role in Bautista’s recent absence.
Cano is 1-3 with a 2.00 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP and ranks sixth in the American League in Win Probability Added (WPA) with 3.0. Cano’s 2.47 also leads the league in Pitch Level Average (PLA), which is the value of all pitches (ERA scale), using IP and the total predicted run value of pitches thrown.
5. David Bednar, PIT
Bednar was the subject of trade rumors around the deadline but ended up staying in Pittsburgh where he has been a reliable, consistent arm since taking over as the full-time closer at the end of the 2021 season. Bednar has 35 saves against only two blown saves and a career-best 1.89 ERA in 62 IP. He’s struck out 69 batters on the season.
One of the factors to Bednar’s success this season is he has lowered the number of home runs allowed. In 2022, his HR/9 rate was 0.70 and he has cut that down to 0.29 this year. Another improvement in his season is the use of his four-seamer. In 2022, hitters hit .243 against his fastball and that’s dipped to .181 in 2023.
He’s also getting hitters to chase a higher percentage of the four-seamers thrown outside the zone. In 2023, his O-Sw% has climbed from 34.4% last season to 41.2%, which puts him in the 99th percentile in the game.
4. Alexis Díaz, CIN
When Edwin Diaz was injured during the World Baseball Classic it was hard for any baseball fan. He was one of the best stories of last season and the buzz around his entrance music truly transcended the baseball world. But imagine if he was your brother and you thought it may be your fault he got hurt.
Edwin has confirmed that wasn’t the case, and he should be happy with what his brother has done this season. Alexis Díaz has served as a lockdown closer for the upstart Cincinnati Reds, who are currently tied for the last NL Wild Card spot. In his sophomore season, he is tied for second in the major leagues with 37 saves and has a record of 9-4 with a 2.10 ERA.
3. Josh Hader, SD
Josh Hader had a tough 2022 season as he dealt with personal issues and was traded from the Brewers to the Padres. Hader had spent his entire career playing for Milwaukee as he developed into one of baseball’s top closers, making four All-Star games in the process.
This season he’s bounced back to his typical elite status and has been one of the bright spots in a disappointing season for San Diego.
Hader has lowered his ERA to a microscopic 1.27 after it had ballooned to 5.22 last season. He’s also cut his WHIP from 1.28 to 1.08, much closer to his career average of 0.94. In 49 IP, Hader has allowed only two home runs and seven earned runs. He’s added 29 saves and is still striking out hitters at a high rate, registering a 14.3 SO/9 rate.
Hader enters the offseason as a free agent and will be one of the most coveted pitchers available.
2. Devin Williams, MIL
When Josh Hader did leave the Brewers, it left the closer role to Williams, the 2020 NL Rookie of the Year, who had excelled in setup duty during his time in Milwaukee. In 2022, Williams was named an All-Star for the first time and ended up with 15 saves and a 6-4 record with a 1.93 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP.
He’s been even better this season and has locked down 35 saves while lowering his ERA and WHIP to marks of 1.62 and 0.90. Williams’ arsenal includes a four-seamer, a cutter, and his signature pitch, “The Airbender“.
Williams relies on the pitch 57% of the time, and while it averages only 84 MPH, the modified changeup mystifies hitters with its high spin rate.
At age 28, Williams is in the prime of his career and appears locked in for the long term as one of the top closers in baseball.
1. Félix Bautista, BAL
Bautista has been shelved for the past few weeks with a small tear in the right elbow UCL. However, it looks like he will be able to avoid Tommy John surgery and is working his way back to the field.
Before the injury slowed him down, “The Mountain” was having a Mount Everest-sized season. The 6’8” 285 lb Bautista has an 8-2 record, 33 saves, and 110 strikeouts in 61 innings pitched, equaling an astounding 16.2 SO/9.
He was the American League Reliever of the Month three times this season (April, June, and July) and he is still third in the AL with 33 saves, despite missing time with the aforementioned elbow injury.
The advanced statistics also demonstrate his dominance this season as he is in the top 10 percentile of all MLB relievers in many major categories, including his SwStr% rate of 19.7 and his CSW% of 35.7.
Bautista will be providing the Baltimore bullpen with a lockdown option if he can return for the playoffs.