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Skill and Leverage Reliever Rankings

I revisit my reliever rankings based on skills alone after the first month of the season. Who has emerged? As a bonus, I've added leverage index into the mix to factor in manager trust and see who is being used in the most crucial situations.

Zach Britton
This nasty Oriole lefty closer has routinely topped my reliever rankings and he does it again. Who else makes the top 50 this time?
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Since we are now over a month into the season, I thought it would be a good time to updated my relief pitcher rankings based on skills alone. However, in my last version of the rankings, a commenter (fothead) recommended incorporating leverage index into the rankings to improve them. The higher the leverage score (gmLI on Fangraphs), the more critical the situation (game is close or tied and every batter could change the result of the game).

So, in addition to providing a list of the top 50 relievers by their skills (xFIP, K%-BB%, GB%, Hard%, and FB velocity), I am adding leverage index to their total score. If you want to know more about my methodology for calculating the scores, I encourage you to check out the link above to my first set of rankings. Now, in addition to identifying the most skilled relief pitchers regardless of role, there will now be a factor that shows how much their managers trust them in the most important situations. Relievers that pitch well in tight situations have a high likelihood of ending up as a setup man or closer. We're looking for the future holds and saves category leaders with the skills to hold down the job long term.

Let's get to the list.

Rank Name zxFIP zGB% zSwStr% zK%-BB% zHard% zFBv zgmLI Total z score
1 Zach Britton 2.28 2.35 2.93 1.69 1.34 1.30 0.57 12.48
2 Pedro Strop 2.02 3.04 1.93 1.70 1.73 0.87 -0.19 11.10
3 Andrew Miller 2.59 0.27 1.34 3.12 1.59 0.59 1.16 10.67
4 Dellin Betances 2.49 -0.52 1.20 3.04 0.01 1.54 1.05 8.80
5 Craig Kimbrel 0.83 -1.23 1.52 1.72 0.58 1.90 2.02 7.34
6 Hector Rondon 2.44 0.46 -0.27 3.36 -1.14 1.14 0.08 6.07
7 David Hernandez 1.19 -0.93 1.11 1.40 1.86 0.35 1.03 6.00
8 Santiago Casilla 0.77 0.18 -0.33 1.15 1.21 0.27 2.45 5.69
9 Justin Wilson 1.57 0.71 0.70 1.02 0.92 0.71 -0.17 5.46
10 Alex Colome 1.29 0.46 0.96 1.09 0.46 0.94 0.24 5.44
11 Hector Neris 1.12 -0.71 2.55 1.66 -0.04 0.03 0.80 5.40
12 Nick Vincent 1.68 1.20 -0.16 1.78 0.36 -0.93 1.34 5.27
13 Kyle Barraclough 0.93 0.64 0.49 1.09 0.34 1.02 0.69 5.20
14 Jeurys Familia 0.46 1.67 0.90 -0.48 1.50 1.14 -0.06 5.14
15 Arodys Vizcaino 0.80 1.59 1.64 0.35 -1.06 1.82 -0.35 4.79
16 Gavin Floyd 0.18 0.34 1.76 0.52 0.37 -0.13 1.54 4.57
17 Pedro Baez 0.62 0.05 1.55 0.61 -0.08 1.46 0.28 4.50
18 Kelvin Herrera 1.20 -0.93 1.34 1.53 -0.64 1.78 0.08 4.37
19 David Robertson 1.05 0.76 0.40 0.91 0.25 -0.33 1.05 4.10
20 Boone Logan 0.76 0.16 0.99 0.49 0.36 0.07 1.03 3.86
21 Jesse Chavez 1.42 -0.40 1.14 1.61 -0.12 0.51 -0.37 3.78
22 Jake Diekman 0.83 0.31 -0.13 1.09 -0.03 1.06 0.55 3.69
23 Will Harris 1.20 2.35 -0.51 0.59 0.58 -0.49 -0.03 3.68
24 John Axford 0.53 1.90 -1.27 -0.29 0.34 1.02 1.43 3.67
25 Felipe Rivero 0.36 0.57 2.26 0.56 -0.70 0.98 -0.40 3.64
26 Josh Osich -0.16 2.32 0.02 -0.84 1.34 0.94 -0.01 3.61
27 Shawn Kelley 1.21 -0.33 1.73 1.34 -0.16 -0.73 0.42 3.48
28 Roberto Osuna 0.76 -0.86 0.90 0.92 0.21 1.22 0.30 3.46
29 Kevin Siegrist 1.41 -0.86 0.87 1.79 -0.18 0.07 0.30 3.40
30 A.J. Ramos 0.36 0.13 1.58 0.44 0.46 -0.49 0.91 3.39
31 Andrew Chafin 0.65 1.33 0.67 0.01 0.99 0.07 -0.49 3.22
32 Luke Gregerson 0.68 2.22 1.90 -0.26 -1.02 -1.37 1.00 3.16
33 Matthew Bowman 0.53 2.09 0.43 -0.15 2.18 -0.49 -1.46 3.13
34 Zach Duke 1.03 1.56 -0.24 0.15 1.68 -1.33 0.28 3.13
35 Kenley Jansen 1.09 -0.45 0.55 1.35 -0.30 -0.01 0.89 3.13
36 Junichi Tazawa 0.72 -0.05 2.34 0.72 -1.32 0.27 0.39 3.08
37 Marc Rzepczynski 1.03 2.58 0.52 -0.25 0.64 -0.57 -0.96 2.99
38 Nate Jones -0.32 -0.52 -0.04 0.30 0.78 1.54 1.23 2.97
39 Erasmo Ramirez 0.40 1.25 -1.01 -0.07 0.67 -0.45 2.09 2.87
40 Ryan Madson 0.15 -0.58 1.02 -0.31 1.20 0.35 1.03 2.85
41 Sam Dyson 0.07 1.56 -1.04 -0.72 -0.04 1.18 1.82 2.83
42 David Phelps 0.04 -0.19 -0.51 0.52 1.99 0.11 0.82 2.78
43 Fernando Rodney -0.07 0.61 0.52 -0.11 0.75 0.63 0.42 2.76
44 Daniel Hudson -0.14 0.04 -0.33 -0.49 1.43 1.06 1.09 2.67
45 John Barbato 0.83 0.46 0.81 0.65 -0.43 0.79 -0.55 2.56
46 Addison Reed 1.43 0.04 0.61 1.13 -0.43 -0.13 -0.15 2.51
47 Tony Zych 0.40 0.82 -0.24 0.65 1.18 1.06 -1.43 2.43
48 Mark Lowe 0.11 1.25 -0.51 -0.32 1.34 -0.13 0.67 2.41
49 Shawn Tolleson 0.38 0.79 -0.98 -0.23 -0.25 0.27 2.29 2.27
50 Steve Cishek 0.37 -0.52 0.20 0.58 -0.34 -0.61 2.54 2.21

Thoughts/Discussion

No surprises at the top of the first update for 2016. Zach Britton topped the list after 2015 and he is still on top. He is as nasty as ever and shows no signs of stopping. Strop, Betances, Kimbrel, Miller, and Rondon aren't big surprises either. Santiago Casilla's skills don't belong in the top 10, but look at that leverage index z-Score! He has been heavily used in important situations. That boosts his total. I'm still worried that he doesn't have the stuff to hold the closer job long term, but he certainly has Bochy's trust for now.

The Phillies bullpen looks pretty good right now. You don't see their closer, Jeanmar Gomez, on this list, but you do see David Hernandez and Hector Neris here. I like both of them, but Neris is the 8th inning guy right now and I am stashing him for saves. I think he will be the closer this year sometime.

Nick Vincent looks pretty good in these rankings, but his low swinging strikes and velocity give him a very small margin for error. Plus, he's at least behind Cishek and probably Peralta in the Mariners bullpen. Cishek has pitched well enough to sneak onto the bottom of this list. I think he is giving himself some leash with his performance so far and previous track record as a closer.

Kyle "Bear Claw" Barraclaugh has looked dominant so far. Too bad he is stuck behind two guys on this list: A.J. Ramos and David Phelps in a surprisingly good Marlins bullpen. And that's without Carter Capps, who was #2 on the 2015 version of this list.

I still like Pedro Baez to hold down the setup job in Los Angeles. I think he will be a good source of holds the rest of the season. "Uncle" Jesse Chavez has made a name for himself in the Jays 'pen and is already in the 8th inning mix there. Fernando Rodney is on this list, but his xFIP is 3.82 and his K%-BB% is only 14.9%, which is bad for this group. He's not in danger of losing his job yet, especially with no one breathing down his neck, but don't expect the good times to last all year.

Tolleson is also a shaky closer on this list. I've been a fan, but he isn't getting swinging strikes anymore and his K%-BB% is worse than Rodney's. Unlike Rodney, he does have both Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson on this list lurking. Just a couple more bad outings and he could easily lose his job, probably to Dyson first.

Ryan Madson is in no danger of losing his job. He's pitching well despite his poor K%-BB%. I can say that because his swinging strike rate is excellent and I expect his strikeout rate to increase as the season goes on. Down in Arizona, both Daniel Hudson and Andrew Chafin are on this list. Hudson looks shaky to me, while Chafin looks to be elite, with the exception of some control issues. His ground ball rate, strikeout rate, and swinging strike rates are all excellent. If you want to speculate on a long shot in that bullpen with a shaky closer and setup man, he's your guy.

I think Boxberger will get his job back when he's healthy, but Alex Colome is making it difficult. He looks really good so far. I had to look up who Matthew Bowman was, but apparently he's in the Mets bullpen. He's stuck behind Familia (#14 on this list, so no need to worry everyone), Addison Reed (#46), Hansel Robles, and maybe Jim Henderson on that team, but like Chafin, he's got excellent skills and room for improvement as the year goes on. He is too far back in a decent bullpen to get decent holds, but you never know.

The White Sox have quietly built a strong bullpen of their own with Robertson, Jones, and Duke all on this list. I like to stash Jones because I worry about Robertson's health. Tony Zych of the Mariners is not doing as well as we all hoped and he's now stuck behind Cishek, Peralta, and Vincent, who are all doing well enough to keep their jobs.

The Nationals bullpen is interesting. Papelbon isn't on this list, but Kelley and Rivero both are. Treinen is strangely absent also. I figured his elite ground ball rate and velocity would get him on this list. Kelley could certainly end up the closer if Papelbon struggles for a while.

Oh, and Josh Osich looks really good outside of his strangely low 5.4 K/9. I expect that to jump up based on his velocity and swinging strike rate (95 mph, 11.6%). With Casilla somewhat shaky, Osich could be the default closer with Sergio Romo out with an injury.

Well, that was lots of discussion for one table. I think I covered about everyone relevant or interesting on the list, but if you have any further questions about the list, I'll check the comment section and try to answer what I can. Tschus!