A loaded bullpen is the key to a World Series title. With the game on the line, it's a relief (pun intended) to have a group of reliable arms to lean on in the late innings.
That's because nowadays, the league is filled with relievers who can twist even the best hitters in the game into a pretzel. MLB bullpens are more stacked with filthy relief pitchers now than ever before. Throwing 100+ mph was a rarity not too long ago, but almost every club has a reliever who can light up the radar gun today.
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So who are MLB's elite relief pitchers heading into the 2023 season? Here's a look at the top 10.
10. Evan Phillips, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
2022 stats: 1.14 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 15 BB, 77 SO, 63 IP (64 appearances)
The Dodgers found a diamond in the rough with Phillips. The 28-year-old struggled with the Baltimore Orioles and was released. He was picked up by the Tampa Bay Rays designated for assignment shortly afterward. Sometihng changed when L.A. signed him in 2021, because he went on to post a ridiculous 1.14 ERA in 63 innings pitched last season. The rich get richer.
9. Liam Hendriks, RHP, Chicago White Sox
2022 stats: 37 saves, 2.81 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 16 BB, 85 SO, 57.2 IP (58 appearances)
Hendriks may be forced to miss all of the 2023 season after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. When he returns to the mound, he'll undoubtedly give the baseball world a reminder that he's still among baseball's elite relievers. The four-time All-Star has been arguably the most consistent closer since his 2019 season in Oakland.
8. Jhoan Duran, RHP, Minnesota Twins
2022 stats: 1.86 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 16 BB, 89 SO, 67.2 IP (57 appearances)
After an electrifying rookie season, Duran is one of the most exciting relievers in baseball heading into 2023. The 25-year-old has a devastating pitch mix with a 100+ mph fastball, a high-90s curveball, and a "splinker" (split-fingered sinker) that hovers in the mid-90s. He could fly up these rankings by the next of the 2023 season.
7. Andres Munoz, RHP, Seattle Mariners
2022 stats: 2.49 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 15 BB, 96 SO, 65 IP (64 appearances)
Munoz put himself on the map with an 2022 season. After recovering from Tommy John surgery, the 24-year-old dominated out of Seattle's bullpen with a fastball that consistently reaches 100+ mph and a virtually unhittable slider that opponents posted a .126 batting average against. He'll be a key part of the Mariners' success in 2023.
6. Ryan Pressly, RHP, Houston Astros
2022 stats: 33 saves, 2.98 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 13 BB, 65 SO, 48.1 IP (50 appearances)
Pressly has been as consistent as it gets since joining the Astros bullpen in 2018. The 34-year-old has posted an ERA under 3.00 and a WHIP under 1.00 in each season with Houston other than the abbreviated 2020 campaign. There are relievers with better stuff, but Pressly has proven himself as one of the more reliable closers in the league.
5. Josh Hader, LHP, San Diego Padres
2022 stats: 36 saves, 5.22 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 9 BB, 81 SO, 50 IP (56 appearances with Milwaukee Brewers and Padres)
It was a rough regular season for Hader, whose 5.22 ERA was far above any previous mark in his otherwise stellar career. The four-time All-Star''s struggles got even worse after he was traded by the Brewers to the Padres before the deadline. But in the postseason, he was nails with 10 strikeouts and only one hit allowed in 5.1 innings. With 14.6 SO/9 during his off year, he's an obvious candidate for a bounce-back campaign.
4. Ryan Helsley, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
2022 stats: 19 saves, 1.25 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, 20 BB, 94 SO, 64.2 IP (54 appearances)
Helsley broke out for the Cardinals in a big way last year. After three subpar seasons with St. Louis, the 28-year-old made his first All-Star team while posting a 1.25 ERA and 13.1 SO/9. He accomplished that feat with help from his fastball, which sometimes touches 102 and even 103 mph. His dominance out of the Cardinals 'pen earned him some Cy Young votes.
3. Devin Williams, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
2022 stats: 15 saves, 1.93 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 30 BB, 96 SO, 60.2 IP (65 appearances)
Williams was the 2020 NL Rookie of the Year and he's been one of baseball's best relievers since. The 28-year-old, who earned his first All-Star nod last season, makes hitters look foolish with his fastball/changeup combo. With Hader on to San Diego, Williams took over in the second half of 2022 as the anchor of the Brewers bullpen.
2. Emmanuel Clase, RHP, Cleveland Guardians
2022 stats: 42 saves, 1.36 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 10 BB, 77 SO, 72.2 IP (77 appearances)
Clase's 100 mph cutter and low-90s slider are two of the filthiest pitches in the game. The 25-year-old has used them to overmatch hitters since debuting in 2019 and has established himself as the best closer in the American League -- arguably in the entire sport.
1. Edwin Diaz, RHP, New York Mets
2022 stats: 32 saves, 1.31 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 18 BB, 118 SO, 62 IP (61 appearances)
It's a shame we won't see Diaz take the mound in 2023. The game's most dominant closer suffered a torn patella tendon celebrating Puerto Rico's win over the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. Still, it wouldn't have been a "top relievers" list without Diaz's name at the top. We look forward to the trumpets blaring at Citi Field in 2024.