Top-5 relief pitchers of the 2010’s

Craig Kimbrel
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We’ve covered the five best defenders, the five best base runners, the five best power hitters, the five best overall hitters, and the five best starting pitchers of the 2010s. Now let’s jump into the five best relief pitchers of the 2010’s.

5. Andrew Miller, Marlins/Red Sox/Orioles/Yankees/Indians/Cardinals

Miller fell back to Earth over the last two seasons, but from 2012 (when he became a full-time reliever) to ’17, the lefty posted a 2.01 ERA with 520 strikeouts over 332 innings. In that span of time, only three relievers had a better ERA, two of whom appear later on this list. Miller peaked in 2016 when he helped pitch the Indians progress through the postseason, earning ALCS MVP honors for his work against the Blue Jays. He tossed 7 2/3 scoreless innings with 14 strikeouts and no walks. For the better part of this decade, Miller mostly worked as a set-up man, so he doesn’t have the save totals (only 59) that the closers have, but there is no question he was among the most dominant relievers of the decade.

4. Zack Britton, Orioles/Yankees

Britton rose to prominence in 2014, recording 37 saves with a 1.65 ERA. He would keep that level of dominance going for several more years. In ’15, he led the league with 58 games finished while recording 36 saves, a 1.92 ERA, and 79 strikeouts across 65 2/3 innings. In ’16, he posted a microscopic 0.54 ERA while leading the American League with 63 games finished and 47 saves. He fanned 74 over 64 frames. Now in his early 30’s, Britton hasn’t slowed down. This past season, the lefty worked a 1.91 ERA for the Yankees. Across the entire decade, Britton’s 1.81 ERA is the No. 1 mark for qualified relievers. Mariano Rivera, who pitched only 193 2/3 innings this decade compared to Britton’s 353, is second with a 1.95 ERA. Britton’s 145 saves is the 14th-highest total which is impressive as he didn’t become a full-time closer until 2014 and he hasn’t been a full-time closer since his injury-shortened 2017 season.

3. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers

Jansen and Craig Kimbrel are the only relievers to cross the 300-save threshold for the past decade. Kimbrel finished with 346 while Jansen came in at 301. Jansen already ranks 28th on the all-time list. Now 32 and having been battling a heart condition for the better part of the past two seasons, it remains to be seen if Jansen will be able to remain health and effective enough to become the seventh reliever to reach 400 career saves. Also over the 2010-19 span of time, Jansen recorded 903 strikeouts and a 2.35 ERA. That ERA is seventh-best among qualified relievers while the total of strikeouts is No. 1, narrowly ahead of Kimbrel.

2. Aroldis Chapman, Reds/Cubs/Yankees

Though his off-the-field behavior left much to be desired, Chapman was consistently among the best relievers year-in and year-out. The lefty, who became a full-time closer in 2012, authored a 2.23 ERA (5th-best) with 883 strikeouts (third) and 273 saves (third) over 535 2/3 innings for the decade. He helped the Cubs win the 2016 World Series over Miller’s Indians. He also made the All-Star team six times and won the Reliever of the Year award for the 2019 season. Chapman’s more recent seasons haven’t been quite as dominant as he was from 2012-16, but he still appears to have plenty left in the tank.

1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves/Padres/Red Sox/Cubs

As incredible as the aforementioned four pitchers were in the 2010’s, Kimbrel was a slam dunk for No. 1 on this list. The future first-ballot Hall of Famer led the league in saves four years in a row from 2011-14. He won the 2011 NL Rookie of the Year Award, made seven All-Star teams, had two top-five finishes in NL Cy Young balloting, won the 2018 World Series with the Red Sox, and has won three Reliever of the Year Awards. Since debuting in 2010, Kimbrel posted a 2.08 ERA with 898 strikeouts and 346 saves over 553 1/3 innings. He is already 13th on the all-time saves leaderboard and figures to move into the top-ten next season if he can be healthy and effective. 2019 was a nightmare season for him as he got a late start due to a stagnated free agent market, making his season debut for the Cubs in June. He proceeded to finish with a 6.53 ERA over 20 2/3 innings, missing time down the stretch due to knee and elbow issues. Kimbrel turns 32 years old in late May, so he still has plenty of time to make an impact in the 2020’s as well.