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Ranking Relievers by Their Skills Alone: 31-60

In this post, I unveil a purely mathematical listing of the best relievers in baseball in 2015, with no regard to their position in the bullpen, number of innings, or number of saves and holds. This ranking focuses solely on several key stats known to be good predictors of future success. A previous post covered the top 30, here are 31-60.

No, that's not a bear, that is Jumbo Diaz and he's actually the best reliever in Cincinnati this year. He's #36 on my list.
No, that's not a bear, that is Jumbo Diaz and he's actually the best reliever in Cincinnati this year. He's #36 on my list.
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

This is a post about relievers. Unlike most such posts, there will be little mention of saves or holds. This is about ranking relievers only on their "stuff". I used some basic statistical analysis to rank all the relievers in baseball in 2015, regardless of innings pitched (I set the cutoff at 10 innings minimum to eliminate extreme cases). The six stats I chose to include in my rankings are ones that I feel (based on other research) are the best predictors of successful pitchers.

I covered the top 30 in these rankings in a previous post. That post also details my methodology and calculations. This post covers the next 30 in the rankings. Don't worry, I won't be covering anyone below 60 because they start to get pretty weak.

Here are the league averages and standard deviations for each of the stats I used:

xFIP GB% SwStr% K%-BB% Hard % FBv
Avg 4.03 44.7% 10.8% 12.9% 28.3% 92.47
Std Dev 0.85 9.9% 2.8% 7.2% 5.5% 2.73

I'm going to pick out a few interesting names to discuss, but I'll mainly let the table speak for itself. The table is sorted by total z-score, which is simply the sum of all six other z-scores.

Here it is:

Rank Name zxFIP zGB% zSwStr% zK%-BB% zHard% zFBv Total z score
31 Trevor Rosenthal 0.99 0.11 0.30 1.02 0.34 1.88 4.63
32 Hunter Strickland 0.80 -0.49 1.19 1.13 0.34 1.62 4.58
33 Trevor May 0.93 -0.25 0.97 1.25 0.65 1.00 4.55
34 Ryan Madson 0.84 1.04 0.83 0.67 0.54 0.63 4.55
35 Jake Diekman 0.47 1.18 0.33 0.24 0.85 1.48 4.54
36 Jumbo Diaz 0.98 -0.10 1.29 1.04 -0.51 1.77 4.47
37 Arquimedes Caminero 0.30 0.29 0.65 0.14 1.07 1.99 4.44
38 Samuel Tuivailala 0.92 0.39 0.19 0.78 0.72 1.44 4.44
39 Xavier Cedeno 1.03 0.86 1.29 0.64 1.66 -1.05 4.43
40 Jeremy Jeffress 1.21 1.36 0.22 0.41 0.14 1.07 4.42
41 Cody Allen 1.42 -1.19 0.90 1.81 0.60 0.89 4.42
42 Pedro Baez 1.01 -0.72 1.51 1.49 -0.60 1.69 4.39
43 Luis Avilan 0.62 0.33 1.08 0.36 1.61 0.38 4.38
44 Drew Pomeranz 0.92 0.29 0.79 0.86 1.50 -0.03 4.34
45 Aaron Barrett 1.18 -0.13 1.01 1.38 0.25 0.60 4.28
46 Jake McGee 1.32 -0.58 0.55 2.00 0.09 0.74 4.11
47 Liam Hendriks 1.45 0.16 0.19 1.40 0.00 0.89 4.09
48 Chad Qualls 1.23 1.53 0.33 0.75 0.63 -0.39 4.08
49 Roberto Osuna 0.68 -1.05 1.40 1.24 0.58 1.15 3.99
50 Justin Grimm 1.16 0.03 1.04 0.99 -0.31 1.00 3.91
51 Aaron Loup 1.34 1.06 -0.35 1.11 0.41 0.27 3.85
52 Kelvin Herrera 0.25 0.00 0.79 0.06 0.65 2.06 3.81
53 David Robertson 2.08 -0.92 1.19 2.26 -0.71 -0.10 3.80
54 Justin Wilson 1.07 -0.09 0.47 0.84 0.49 0.96 3.74
55 Will Smith 1.51 0.11 1.58 1.74 -1.61 0.27 3.59
56 Tommy Kahnle -0.10 1.02 0.97 -0.80 1.21 1.26 3.56
57 Joaquin Benoit 0.40 0.16 2.04 0.39 -0.11 0.63 3.52
58 Shawn Kelley 1.32 -0.20 1.40 1.46 -0.29 -0.21 3.48
59 Darren O'Day 1.16 -0.97 1.44 1.87 2.08 -2.11 3.46
60 Mark Melancon 1.13 1.29 0.37 0.49 0.49 -0.36 3.41

This list is basically a who's-who of tier 2 closers and middle relievers. No one on this list is below average or even average overall. I would use almost everyone on this list in leagues with holds, very deep leagues, or leagues where owning 5-6 relievers is common. That is, except for the injured guys like Aaron Barrett or Aaron Loup. Don't use them. That would be silly. Also, apparently watch out for relievers named Aaron.

There are a ton of great bullpen sleepers here. Let's start at the top and work our way down. Hunter Strickland is a popular pick to be the closer of the future in San Fran. He's got the skills, he just needs to get past the aging Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla. It is certainly possible.

Trevor May excelled out of the bullpen last year after struggling in the rotation. With Glen Perkins' health still a concern and Kevin Jepsen being the only other challenger, May could sneak into the closer role at some point this season.

The newly rejuvenated Ryan Madson is a pretty good bet to get some saves this year in Oakland. Sean Doolittle struggled with health issues all of 2015 and Madson had a great year in Kansas City. I like his skills and it will be interesting to see what happens in this 'pen.

Jumbo Diaz is the best reliever Cincy has and I believe he will end up closing games, maybe even by May after J.J. Hoover once again proves he shouldn't be a closer. Diekman and Caminero are excellent pitchers that are stuck behind two (or more) good-to-great relievers. They should both be good for ratios, but it would take two injuries or epic failures to get them some saves. Diekman is already the third Rangers reliever on this list after Sam Dyson and Keone Kela. That doesn't even include closer Shawn Tolleson. I will continue to say that bullpen is not getting enough love.

In the great Milwaukee bullpen committee, you can see that Jeffress is actually ahead of Will Smith on this list. This shows why many are picking him to win the closer job. I think it could go either way, but Jeffress is certainly ownable and could run with the job, leaving Smith in a setup role or for lefty-heavy lineups.

Pedro Baez might be the Dodger's second best reliever. They will put Chris Hatcher in the 8th, but don't be surprised if Baez ends up there by the end of the season, with Hatcher coming off a significant injury. Joaquin Benoit is right there behind the shaky Steve Cishek in Seattle, so he has a very real chance at some saves this year.

Roberto Osuna is 14 spots ahead of presumptive Toronto closer, Drew Storen (he's at #63), but both of them trail Brett Cecil at #22. What does this mean? I'm not sure, but I think Storen will get the job and keep it all year because he's no Steve Cishek or Fernando Rodney.

Sam Tuivailala (I had to check it three times!) is too far down the Cardinals depth chart to have much relevance, but he does have great skills (especially velocity and strikeouts). Liam Hendriks and Drew Pomeranz are both failed starters that excel in the bullpen. Hendriks is probably third in line for saves in Oaktown behind Doolittle and Madson, but it could happen. Pomeranz may be joining the Padres rotation, so it might be tough for him to get close to saves, even with Fernando Rodney as the current closer.

Chad Qualls is stuck behind the even (very slightly) better Jake McGee in Colorado, so he will just be a setup option, barring injury. There won't be many holds to claim in Denver, either. The Rockies have quietly built a decent bullpen, especially when Adam Ottavino gets back. Too bad the rest of the team is pretty bad...

Where was I? Oh yeah, Justin Wilson is third in Detroit's 'pen right now, but his skills trail only Mark Lowe, so there's a very outside shot that he could end up closing. But, yeah, it's probably not likely given that K-Rod is above average and Lowe is there. Finally, Shawn Kelley is my favorite to take over Papelbon's job in Washington if he gets hurt or falters. I love his skill set and think he could be a top-10 closer if given the opportunity.

It is interesting to see David Robertson down at #53, while Nate Jones, his setup guy, is at #16. Mark Melancon is at #60, which reinforces why I put him as my closer to avoid in our staff post last week.

Whelp, that's the end of this list for now. I will do some mid-season updates of this list to see who is emerging, who is declining, and who some good mid-season pickups might be. So check back in May or so for the first update. Tschus!