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Closer Rankings: How many relievers need to be All-Stars?

It's the easiest of baseball's hard, hard jobs, so why do so many relievers get the reward each year?

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

It's just about time to pick the All-Stars. And if you'll let me gripe for a minute, the way we pick All-Star teams has in recent years become really, really stupid.

You think I'm going to say something about the fan vote, or the players, or the extra vote. I'm not. Those are all fine. In fact, with the possible exception of the player vote, I would argue those facets of the roster selection are more or less perfect.

(Yes, including the fan vote. It's designed for fans to show up big. Royals fans are doing that. I guarantee the Royals fans aren't better hackers than the other teams; they're working the system just like fans of every team could be doing. If they want it more, reward them more. OMAR INFANTE AND ALEX RIOS SHOULD START. Or something.)

No, my complaint with the All-Star roster creation in recent years is our insistence on loading the rosters up with relievers. The last five seasons, there have been (by my quick-and-dirty count) 45 All-Star relievers out of 289 total All-Stars, meaning almost 16 percent of our All-Stars are relievers.

Think about that for a minute. Most of our best relievers (though this is becoming less true by the year) are failed starters. Wade Davis is the prime example here; he was modern-era Joe Kelly as a starting pitcher, and current looks like the baseball version of Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson as a reliever. He doesn't have new pitches now; he can just better use his repertoire, letting it all out for an inning or so at a time rather than having to save it for 100 pitchers, three times through the order, etc., etc.

(The most egregious, of course, is the 2013 extra-man vote in which all five candidates were middle relievers. That is the nadir of my baseball fandom, I tell you that.)

Do we reward that? I mean, sure, someone pitching as well as Davis this year almost has to be an All-Star (unless all those Royals position players squeeze him out), but there has to be a threshold. And that threshold needs to climb.

Last year, I looked for closers who had struck out at least a guy an inning with a WHIP better than 1.00 and at least an 80-percent save rate. Two out of those three thresholds, I figured, were enough to make a guy an All-Star candidate, so long as the third wasn't crazy out of whack. There were 22 such guys as of mid-June in 2014; there are 29 so far this year. Adjust those thresholds (say, 10 K/9, WHIP better than 0.95, 85-percent save rate), and there are still 22 qualifiers (through Saturday's numbers):

Closers with at least two of three (10+ K/9, 85% Save Rate, WHIP <0.95)
Pitcher Save % K/9 WHIP
Cody Allen Y Y
Dellin Betances Y Y Y
Brad Boxberger Y Y
Zach Britton Y Y
Aroldis Chapman Y Y
Wade Davis Y Y Y
Jeurys Familia Y Y
Jason Grilli Y Y
Kenley Jansen Y Y Y
Craig Kimbrel Y Y
Andrew Miller Y Y Y
Jonathan Papelbon Y Y
A.J. Ramos Y Y
David Robertson Y
Francisco Rodriguez Y Y Y
Trevor Rosenthal Y Y
Carson Smith Y Y
Joakim Soria Y Y
Drew Storen Y Y
Huston Street Y Y
Koji Uehara Y Y
Brad Ziegler Y Y

You can start parsing that list down, sure. Allen and Grilli have high WHIPs. Miller is hurt. Soria has fallen off a lot of late. Ziegler doesn't strike people out — though in his case, it's not really what he tries to do, so I have a hard time dinging him for it. On the other hand, those numbers don't include non-save-getters who could make an All-Star argument like Kelvin Herrera, Tony Watson, Steve Delabar and Darren O'Day.

The point is, all of baseball is hard. Very hard. But in that realm of "very hard" things, there are parts that plainly aren't as hard as others. In this era of reliever specialization and increased strikeouts, pitching in relief is maybe the easiest of the super-hard things.

People want relievers as All-Stars because almost all the pitchers go one inning at most in the game. Great. But I'd much rather see a second-tier starter like, to name a name, Carlos Martinez in the All-Star game than another reliever who does what all the other relievers do.

If every reliever is great, how great is any one reliever, really? On to the rankings:

Right-Now Rankings

Rank Player Team Last Week Thoughts
1 Kenley Jansen LAD 1 Still no walks; still No. 1.
2 Dellin Betances NYY 2 Everyone gets one bad outing; Betances rebounded well from his.
3 Aroldis Chapman CIN 3 Congrats on his new baby, and now he's back from paternity leave.
4 Drew Storen WAS 4
5 Craig Kimbrel SDP 6 His numbers have really leveled off of late.
6 Trevor Rosenthal SLC 8
7 David Robertson CWS 5 Between his recent underwhelming performance and the White Sox being the only team with five games next week, he drops a bit.
8 Greg Holland KAN 15 Thinking outside the box, but shouldn't Kansas City look to trade him?
9 Mark Melancon PIT 11 He's getting it done without strikeouts, which is weird, but whatever, it's effective.
10 Glen Perkins MIN 10
11 Zach Britton BAL 9
12 Huston Street LAA 7 Had his third blown save Sunday, giving up a homer to Kyle Seager.
13 Koji Uehara BOS 14
14 Joakim Soria DET 16 He settled down a little last week after a really rough stretch.
15 Francisco Rodriguez MIL 12 Nice part about being a successful player on an awful team -- decent shot Rodriguez is an All-Star by default.
16 Jonathan Papelbon PHI 13
17 Wade Davis KAN 21 His performance has been other-worldly for two seasons now.
18 Cody Allen CLE 17
19 Tyler Clippard OAK 20 As the team's performance improves, his trade stock falls, because they'll keep him if they're in the running.
20 Luke Gregerson HOU 18
21 Jeurys Familia NYM 30 Looks fine coming back from a short-term injury.
22 A.J. Ramos MIA 22
23 Shawn Tolleson TEX 19 The Rangers were playing over their head for a bit; his chances might go down now.
24 Santiago Casilla SFG 24
25 Brad Ziegler ARI 28 His lack of strikeouts don't worry me nearly as much as Melancon's; strikeouts just aren't his game.
26 Brad Boxberger TAM NR It certainly looks like he's the guy over Jake McGee and the rest.
27 Roberto Osuna TOR NR He still hasn't officially been named the closer, but come on.
28 Carson Smith SEA 29
29 John Axford COL 23 The other shoe has started to drop on Axford; he just wasn't as good as he looked early.
30 Jason Grilli ATL 25

Rest-Of-Season Rankings

Rank Player Team Last Week
1 Kenley Jansen LAD 1
2 Aroldis Chapman CIN 2
3 Drew Storen WAS 3
4 Dellin Betances NYY 5
5 Trevor Rosenthal SLC 8
6 Craig Kimbrel SDP 6
7 David Robertson CWS 4
8 Greg Holland KAN 12
9 Mark Melancon PIT 10
10 Huston Street LAA 7
11 Glen Perkins MIN 11
12 Zach Britton BAL 9
13 Koji Uehara BOS 14
14 Joakim Soria DET 13
15 Andrew Miller NYY 17
16 Cody Allen CLE 18
17 Francisco Rodriguez MIL 15
18 Jeurys Familia NYM 22
19 Jonathan Papelbon PHI 16
20 Wade Davis KAN 21
21 Luke Gregerson HOU 19
22 Tyler Clippard OAK 23
23 A.J. Ramos MIA 24
24 Santiago Casilla SFG 26
25 Brad Ziegler ARI 28
26 Shawn Tolleson TEX 20
27 Brad Boxberger TAM NR
28 Roberto Osuna TOR 30
29 John Axford COL 25
30 Jason Grilli ATL 29