Written by Wendell Quan Fun (Twitter: @Wendell_QF)
It’s always cool when middle relievers are named to the MLB All-Star Game. They are usually not household names, and some of them don’t even throw that hard. They typically lead MLB in holds, but the average baseball fan doesn’t even know what a hold is.
New York Yankees' Michael King (Image: Cory Sipkin)
Since 2016, ten middle relievers were named to the All-Star Game:
2016 – Dellin Betances (Yankees), Kelvin Herrera (Royals), Brad Brach (Orioles)
2017 – Pat Neshek (Phillies), Chris Devenski (Astros), Andrew Miller (then Indians)
2018 – Joe Jimenez (Tigers), Josh Hader (Brewers)
2019 – Ryan Pressly (Astros)
2021 – Andrew Kittredge (Rays)
It just doesn’t happen that often. There was only one middle reliever in each of the last three All-Star Games.
Looking at the (ridiculous) stats of these pitchers heading into the All-Star break, I found that 8 out of 10 had the following:
A WHIP under 1.05
An ERA under 2.70
A K/9 higher than 10.0
Fast forward to 2022. This season alone, there are eight middle relievers who have all these stats, plus a K/9 higher than 11.0! Based on this analysis, these are the middle relievers who could be All-Stars this year:
Devin Williams, Milwaukee Brewers
Devin Williams really should be an All-Star this year. As the MLB leader in holds, he’s played a huge role in making his teammate, Josh Hader, the MLB leader in saves. Aside from that, Williams has 46 strikeouts in only 28.1 innings. That is an otherworldly K/9 of 14.6!
Jhoan Duran, Minnesota Twins
Jhoan Duran actually shares the closer role with Emilio Pagan in Minnesota, but he has more holds (9) than saves (5). It’s no surprise that he’s struck out 46 batters in only 33 innings. He currently leads MLB in average fastball velocity, at 100.6 mph.
Brooks Raley, Tampa Bay Rays
Brooks Raley is one of five relievers on this list with a K/9 over 12.0! What’s more impressive is he has done this with an average fastball velocity of only 91 mph. He is one of the few relievers in today’s game that relies on four different pitches, not just one or two.
Michael King, New York Yankees
Michael King is one of a kind. He might be the only long reliever in baseball that typically enters a game with the lead, and not behind an opener. King has managed a K/9 of 12.1 despite a heavier workload than most relievers. He’s had nine appearances of two innings or longer. Three of these were three innings long. He hasn’t had the benefit of putting maximum effort into only one inning per game, like other relievers have.
A.J. Minter, Atlanta Braves
Like Michael King, A.J. Minter has also had a heavy workload, but in a different way. He leads MLB with 34 appearances, nine of them with zero days of rest. Despite this, he has an ERA of 1.69 and a WHIP of 0.81. His K/9 is 12.1, but he's also struck out 35.8% of the batters he’s faced, which puts him in the top 3% of MLB.
Ryan Helsley, St. Louis Cardinals
Ryan Helsley shares the closer role with Giovanny Gallegos, but has fewer saves (6) and more holds (5) than Gallegos. While these numbers don’t jump off the paper, the following numbers do. He’s thrown the single hardest fastball of 2022 at 103.1 mph. His ERA is a microscopic 0.88, and his WHIP is 0.65. He's struck out 40% of the batters he’s faced, which puts him in the top 1% of MLB.
Eli Morgan, Cleveland Guardians
Eli Morgan only has 6 holds this season, but he has a ridiculously low WHIP of 0.66 and BAA of .144 in 35.2 innings of work. I’ve never seen Eli Morgan pitch, but I think his success has a lot to do with the huge gap in velocity between his two primary pitches. His changeup is 17 mph slower than his fastball.
Seranthony Dominguez, Philadelphia Phillies
Seranthony Dominguez actually has more strikeouts (35), in fewer innings (27.2), than Phillies’ closer Corey Knebel. While his K/9 of 11.3 is narrowly second-best in the Phillies’ bullpen, he’s their only reliever with a WHIP under 1.00 and ERA under 2.00. With 11 holds, he is still the setup man for Knebel at the moment, but fans are already calling for him to close games.
Just like in any All-Star Game, there will be snubs. Most of these great relievers won’t be there, but I think these three will. My money is on Devin Williams because the Brewers have played a lot of close games, and have needed him all season. I think MLB managers will love the idea of an All-Star long reliever, so Michael King should make it as well. And finally, I think Ryan Helsley will be there. MLB managers can't just ignore a pitcher with an ERA and WHIP both under 1.00, in just under 31 innings of work.
Which middle reliever do you think will be an All-Star this year? Drop his name in the Comments!