In 2013, the National League All-Star team had just six relief pitchers. Considering most of the pitchers only go about one inning, and the game means so much the pitching staff should be comprised entirely of relief pitchers. Why force a square pitching peg into a round hole?
Because they will be facing a potent American League lineup, this squad will have to be full of the absolute best relief pitchers in the league. So here is the list of the top relievers vying for a spot on the National League All Star squad.
1. Francisco Rodriguez, Closer Milwaukee Brewers, 4x All-Star
His 331 career saves puts him 12th on the all time saves list, but this selection is a bit of a surprise. Since being traded to Milwaukee in 2011, Rodriguez lost the closer role, was traded to Baltimore, and then re-signed again at the start of the season. With Jim Henderson going up in smoke last season, K-Rod had a chance to close out games again.
Rodriguez went his first 19 appearances without allowing an earned run. Since then, Rodriguez has a 4.24 ERA with 3 blown saves. When you put it all together he still has one of the best stat lines for a closer in 2014, a 2.34 ERA in 42.1 innings pitched and 27 saves in 30 chances.
2. Jonathan Papelbon, Closer Philadelphia Phillies, 5x All-Star
The Phillies went with an aging roster in 2014 hoping they could regain some of their old magic. For the most part it hasn’t worked, but Papelbon has been able to regain some of his former glory. Despite having a little run in with manager Ryne Sandberg about availability on three straight days, Papelbon has earned his managers trust with his performance.
Papelbon has fewer save opportunities than K-Rod, but he has been more effective. In 20 chances, Papelbon has 18 saves and a microscopic 1.39 ERA. He has allowed one earned run in his last 15 appearances, making a run at his sixth all-star appearance.
3. Craig Kimbrel, Closer Atlanta Braves, 3x All-Star
Even though Kimbrel is putting up the worst numbers of his career he should still be a lock for his fourth straight All Star Game this month. The worst numbers of his career should not be taken as an insult, but rather a compliment to how dominant he has been his whole career.
In his first three-plus seasons, Kimbrel has been incredible. He had 139 saves, 381 strikeouts and a 1.39 ERA. Kimbrel hasn’t been able to match those insane numbers this season, but he’s been close. In 29 save opportunities Kimbrel has 25 saves. A 15.1 SO/9 ratio is among the highest in the league. His 2.16 ERA is the highest of his career, but is fourth among national league closers.
4. Huston Street, Closer San Diego Padres, 1x All-Star
When the Padres gave Joaquin Benoit a two-year $14 million contract, many people thought he would be the closer, but Street kept his job, and through the first half of the season he has proven why.
In just 22 save opportunities Street has been perfect. Has a WHIP of 0.77 and has allowed fewer hits than saves recorded. His dominance has been impressive, and shows why he is closing for the Padres and deserving of his second career all-star selection.
5. Rafael Soriano, Closer Washington Nationals, 1x All-Star
The Nationals have an impressive bullpen, and no one has been more impressive than Soriano. His unquenchable thirst to un-tuck his shirt has motivated him to mow down hitter after hitter en-route to one of the best first halves in baseball.
His 1.09 ERA and 0.82 WHIP are just behind Street’s, but Soriano has blown two saves in 21 opportunities. Despite blowing two saves, Soriano is yet to be stuck with a loss. He has just 10 walks in 33 innings and has surrendered just 1 home run. He will be looking to make his second all-star appearance in mid July.
6. Will Smith, LHP Milwaukee Brewers, 0x All-Star
Every bullpen needs a lefty, and there has been no one better than Will Smith this year. Smith came to Milwaukee for Norichika Aoki. He was acquired as a starting pitching prospect, but the Brewers have gotten a lot of production from him as a reliever.
In 39 2/3 innings, Smith has a 1.36 ERA and leads the league in appearances with 44. He has shown the ability to get right-handers out, but is much better against lefties. In 54 at-bats lefties are hitting just .148 with no extra base hits. Smith could be an important weapon against Robinson Cano or Chris Davis.
7. Joaquin Benoit, RHP San Diego Padres, 0x All-Star
The Padres lone All Star will likely come from their bullpen and I think they deserve two. Benoit has been proving that he is worth his contract all season long. After having a spin on the Tigers closer carousel he got off in the friendly pitching confines of Petco Park.
The perfect nights of San Diego have suited Benoit just fine. In his 19 home appearances Benoit has a 0.92 ERA, an 0.56 WHIP and an opponent’s batting average of .127. His overall numbers are impressive as well, but Target field plays similarly to Target Field, so it should translate well.
8. Pat Neshek, RHP St. Louis Cardinals, 0x All-Star
As for the best value reliever, Pat Neshek has little competition. After wondering if he would even have a job this season, Neshek joined one of the youngest and most talented bullpens in the league. In the first half of the season, all Neshek has done is dethrone Carlos Martinez as the set up man, terrorize the National League and set personal bests in nearly every rate stat.
Neshek has an 0.83 ERA, a 0.55 WHIP and 8 to 1 SO/BB ratio while allowing just two extra base hits all season. His side-winding right handed style profiles better against righties, but Neshek has been better against lefties this season. In 34 plate appearances lefties have just three hits against Neshek while striking out nine times.
This year should bring Neshek his first career all-star appearance.