Every team in the Majors wants relievers that can be trusted with a slim lead in the late innings. There are a number of talented relievers across MLB, but some excel more than the rest. With 2023 just around the corner, let’s take a look at our picks for the top five relievers in the game right now.
5. Josh Hader
If this list was based upon Josh Hader‘s 2022 performance, the star left-hander would not be here. Hader was arguably the best late-inning reliever from 2019-2021, before a brutal 2022 season. Hader recorded career lows in ERA (5.22), WHIP (1.28), opponent’s batting average (.270), and K% (28.2%). The 28-year-old flailed early in his tenure for the Padres, but did rebound in time for the MLB Playoffs. The left-hander struck out 10 across 5.1 scoreless innings in the postseason.
The fact that Hader returned to his elite form late in 2022 bodes well for next season. When clicking, the left-hander possesses a hard fastball and a near-unhittable slider. And despite Hader’s struggles last season, the lefty’s 83 saves from 2020-2022 is the third-highest total over that span. The Padres reliever is set to be a free agent after the 2023 season.
4. Ryan Pressly
Since the start of 2020, just three relievers have more saves (71) than Ryan Pressly. Acquired by the Astros in 2018, Pressly has turned into one of the game’s most dangerous late-inning relievers. The 34-year-old recorded 34 saves for the World Series champion Astros in 2022, thanks to a terrific, three-pitch arsenal. The right-hander boasts a mid-90’s heater with high spin, to along with a plus slider and effective curveball.
Pressly has developed into one of the game’s best closers, and will be a key piece of a Houston team looking to back-to-back in 2023.
3. Devin Williams
It’s hard to fathom that both Josh Hader and Devin Williams were on the same team. Yet, that was the case. Williams’ first full season in the Majors was electric; in 2020, Williams struck out 53 over 27 innings with the Brewers, and recorded an astonishing 0.33 ERA. The dominant run by the righty earned Williams the 2020 NL Rookie of the Year. Since then, Williams has remained one of the game’s feared relievers, thanks largely to a filthy changeup with incredible movement.
After the trade that sent Josh Hader to the Padres, Williams assumed the closer’s position for Milwaukee. The righty accrued 15 saves in 2022, and there’s a very good chance that Williams could be at or near the top of the statistic next season.
2. Emmanuel Clase
The league-leader in saves last season, it’s not hard to figure out why Guardians closer Emmanuel Clase is on this list. The 2022 AL Reliever of the Year racked up 42 saves last season, as hitters hit just .167/.200/.225 off the righty. Clase’s two primary pitches are a cutter that routinely hits triple digits, and a plus slider that can be played right off of the reliever’s cutter.
The right-hander has incredible stuff, as well as elite control of his pitches. Last season, Clase recorded a 3.7% BB% rate, a figure good enough to be in the top two percent of all MLB pitchers. With all of those numbers taken into consideration, it’s easy to see why Cleveland gave Clase a five-year extension in August 2022.
1. Edwin Diaz
Edwin Diaz‘s first season with the Mets in 2019 did not go as planned. Since then, Diaz has recorded 70 saves for the Mets, good for fifth among all relievers since the start of 2020. After solid seasons in both 2020 & 2021, the right-hander adjusted his approach on the mound. Diaz used his slider more than 50% of the time last season, a stark change from 2021. The results? Diaz struck out a staggering 118 batters over 62 inning, en route to 32 saves and a NL Reliever of the Year award.
Diaz cashed in on his dominant season, as the 28-year-old signed a massive, $102 million deal in Novemebr that will keep the right-hander in Queens over the next five seasons. As things stand right now, Edwin Diaz stands on top among the game’s closers.