Look, it’s hard to be a relief pitcher. You can get called in any time on any day. You may in fact be called in to clean up someone else’s mess — men on based, multiple outs to get. There is no margin for error. If you are a reliever and have one bad day you may well be blamed for blowing the game, your ERA balloons, and fans say your name with derision.
Between injuries, and good or bad luck, few relievers have sustained success, but every once in a while the Rays have had someone who is just lights out and pretty much remains lights out across a season.
So as we countdown to Opening Day, let’s talk about our five favorite reliever seasons or even partial seasons (they do get injured a lot!). Times you’ve gone a full season thinking “oh thank goodness, X is coming in” to preserve this 1 run lead or get the team out of this bases loaded jam.
As was true yesterday, “favorite” doesn’t have to mean “best” — you can trot out your xFIPs or just go with the Tums measure (e.g. how many of them you needed when you saw the reliever coming in).
For my list, I’m starting with three relievers who were all at their best in the same season, which was 2010. This was back in the day when relievers had defined roles, and if the Rays had a lead after six you could be pretty sure the game was over because you then got
- Grant Balfour
- Joaquin Benoit
- Rafael Soriano
Of the three, the highest ERA was Balfour at 2.28, and highest FIP was Soriano at 2.81. Oh, and Benoit had over ten strikeouts per nine innings, and Soriano had 45 saves
I’d next go to Fernando Rodney in 2012. He was also still quite good in 2013, but 2012, wow. A tilted cap, an arrow to the sky, and a .60 ERA.
I’ll end with 2019-2020 Nick Anderson — he was only a Ray for part of 2019 and 2020 was a very short season, but between the two years he put together an outstanding run. I thought I was reading wrong but yes he did strike out 14 batters per nine innings, and in 2020 his ERA was .55.
Which Rays relievers made you feel a lead was safe? Share your answers below.