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The All-Time MLB Team, relief pitchers: nominations and ballot

Who better to close out the series than the closers?

Rollie Fingers... Photo by Jeff Goode/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The final poll, with the cutoff for nominations being at about the two rec mark. Definitely less discussion here than in the other categories, but I think that’s partly because of this being posted on the eve of Opening Day [I did originally want this to be all done and dusted before the regular season started, but the need to add a DH category pushed the end point back by a week!] Still, a decent collection of candidates to go over, so let’s learn a bit more about each of them!

Rollie Fingers

Fingers was an old-school reliever typically capable of going multiple innings. He had seven seasons in a row where he threw more than a hundred innings in relief and made over 500 bullpen appearances where he recorded more than three outs. He was part of three World Series champions, was a seven-time All-Star, a four-time Rolaids Relief Man of the Year, and led the majors in saves on three occasions. His career peak came in 1981, when he had an ERA of just 1.04 over 78 innings, winning not just the Cy Young in the American League, but also its Most Valuable Player Award - he was the first reliever to pull off that double, and the only one of the nominees here to have won MVP. Best facial hair ever, too!

Trevor Hoffman

The only Hall of Fame pitcher ever to come from the University of Arizona, Hoffman was actually drafted originally as a shortstop, but converted to pitching after two years in the minors. He made his debut with the Marlins after being picked in their expansion draft, but went to San Diego in their 1993 fire sale. He started poorly there, and was booed by Padres fans, but went on to become the first pitcher to record 600 saves. Over a 12-year period from 1996 to 2007, he had fewer than 37 saves once, a season he all but missed due to injury. Hoffman reached 53 saves with a 1.48 ERA in 1998, coming second in the NL Cy Young voting. He almost ended his career with the D-backs, but Kevin Towers signed J.J. Putz instead.

Mariano Rivera

The all-time leader in saves with 652 and also the best ever ERA+ of a pitcher with a thousand or more innings, at 205. Rivera was a failed starter, sent to the Yankees bullpen after a 5.40 ERA in eight starts. He became their full-time closer in 1997, and didn’t miss a beat, notching 43 saves that year with a 1.88 ERA. It was one of eleven seasons Hwhere Rivera would throw 60+ innings and post a sub-two ERA. He had nine years in which he saved forty or more games, and reached fifty in 2001 and 2004, winning five World Series rings and being named an All-Star thirteen times. He became the first player elected unanimously to the Hall of Fame in 2019. But he pretty much sucked in the post-season, as far as I recall... :)

Francisco Rodriguez

After just 5.2 MLB innings, K-Rod tied Randy Johnson for the most wins ever by a pitcher in a single post-season, winning five games as he helped the Angels to the 2002 World Series. He had a 1.93 ERA in the playoffs and struck out 28 in 18.2 innings. Between 2005 and 2008, he totaled 194 saves, including a record of 62 in 2008 which still stands as the most ever. He was a dominant force who racked up strikeouts, most notably in 2003 when he fanned 123 batters in just 84 innings, a K-rate of 13.2. At the time, that was the highest ever for a reliever in the American League (min. 50 IP). For his career, he had a 10.5 strikeout rate, and across 26 post-season appearances against the best hitters in baseball, he fanned 12 per nine innings.

Bruce Sutter

There’s a sense of “what if?” with regard to Sutter’s career, which effectively lasted less than a decade, before shoulder issues brought an untimely end. But in his brief time, he still led the National League in saves five times, a feat still unmatched. In his sophomore campaign of 1977, he had a staggering 328 ERA+ across 107.1 innings, and from 1976-84 the figure was 152. A large part of his success was due to his mastery of the splitter. To quote ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian, “Sutter didn’t invent the split-fingered fastball, but he perfected it,” and by so doing, perhaps saved his career, as the Cubs were thinking of releasing him. 260 saves and a 2.54 career ERA showed that would have been a foolish decision.


Who was the best relief pitcher ever?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Rollie Fingers
    (7 votes)
  • 8%
    Trevor Hoffman
    (4 votes)
  • 57%
    Mariano Rivera
    (26 votes)
  • 0%
    Francisco Rodriguez
    (0 votes)
  • 17%
    Bruce Sutter
    (8 votes)
45 votes total Vote Now