Today we conclude this series of the overhyped by covering the three most overrated relief pitchers in baseball. There are definitely some fantasy baseball darlings among the ranks of relievers, but there are also many names that get much more credit than they deserve. As per the past two months, we aim to bring those guys back down to earth.
Just like when we have covered catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, shortstops, left fielders, center fielders, right fielders, and starting pitchers, the qualifications for this list are as follows: national recognition, contract, injury history, and being held to a standard set previously when that level of production no longer exists or it was for one season thus making it an outlier. With housekeeping out of the way, let’s get started.
Disclaimer: Closers are recognized as relievers in this list
3 Most Overrated Relief Pitchers
3. Ian Kennedy
As has many relievers, Ian Kennedy has made his way around the league having spent parts of 16 seasons with six different clubs, the most recent of which is the Arizona Diamondbacks. The starter-turned-reliever is now in his fourth year as strictly a reliever and it has been a roller coaster ride for the veteran.
He has fared slightly worse as a reliever than as a starter so far, as his career ERA as a starter sits at 4.11 while as a reliever it is currently 4.24. It is only as low as it is, however, due to 32.1 innings in the new Globe Life Field, a pitcher’s haven, in 2021 with a 2.51 ERA. His FIP while there was drastically higher as it sat at 3.66. That did not stop a playoff contender (more on them shortly) from trading one of their top prospects for him in hopes of shoring up their porous bullpen.
Since the massive trade, Kennedy has pitched to a 4.71 ERA and a FIP that’s even higher than that. Kennedy was the beneficiary of pitching in a pitcher’s park and was considered to be turning the corner and becoming a top-tier reliever when in reality, he’s nothing more than the mediocre-to-bad pitcher that he has been for the entirety of his career. And that makes him one of the most overrated relief pitchers in the game today. Props to him for his longevity though!
2. Corey Knebel
We now move on to career reliever Corey Knebel. Knebel burst onto the scene during his 6-year stint with the Milwaukee Brewers in which he carried a 3.20 ERA across 227.2 innings and 57 saves in 71 opportunities. The best season of his career came in 2017, his lone All-Star appearance, in which he pitched 76 innings in 76 games carrying an ERA of 1.78 and racked up 39 saves.
After an abysmal 2020 that saw his ERA balloon to 6.08, the Brewers traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a PTBNL. Injuries limited his time on the field for the Dodgers in 2021, as they have for the majority of his career, but he posted the second-best season of his career with a 2.45 ERA across 25.2 innings. A free agent after the season, he was rewarded for his efforts by being given a one-year contract worth $10 million to be the Opening Day closer for the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Phillies have been accosted for their defensive inefficiencies since the off-season, which would lead one to believe that if a pitcher pitching in front of that defense has an ERA of 3.43, his FIP would be lower than that, right? His FIP is actually much higher than that as it sits at 4.45, so he has actually been helped by the Phillies’ defense. He has blown four saves this season, and consequently lost his job as the primary closer on a team whose bullpen, though improved, is still mostly a question mark.
He’s not the pitcher he was in 2017 or even the pitcher he was just last year. He’s no more than a middle reliever or setup man, but only under extreme circumstances. Knebel being paid as a top-tier closer is what makes him one of the most overrated relief pitchers in baseball.
1. Aroldis Chapman
— New York Post (@nypost) September 17, 2022
We now move on from one of the most overrated relief pitchers in baseball to the most overrated relief pitcher in baseball in New York Yankee Aroldis Chapman. Chapman made his debut in 2010 for the Cincinnati Reds and set the world on fire, literally, with his blazing fastball. He was able to easily reach 105 mph with the pitch and did it so frequently that the leaderboards for the fastest pitch of the season had to include a “Chapman filter” so that he would not be listed in every spot.
The Reds traded the then four-time All-Star Chapman to the Yankees after the 2015 season during the last year of team control. The Yankees flipped him to the Chicago Cubs at the trade deadline of 2016 and he helped lead them to their first World Series victory in over 100 years. He entered free agency for the first time in his career after that season, and he signed a three-year, $51.6 million contract to return to the Yankees. He re-signed with them again at the end of that deal for another three years and $48 million, a contract which will end at the conclusion of the 2022 season.
It is no question that Aroldis Chapman was once a top-tier closer, and that is why the Yankees continuously paid him as one. However, now at the age of 34, he no longer has the velocity on his fastball that he once did, and he is no longer as dangerous on the mound as he once was. This season, he has pitched to a 4.41 ERA, the worst of his career, across 38 games and only 32.2 innings. He also lost his job as the primary closer earlier in the season and only has nine saves to show for it.
Chapman may very well end up in the Hall of Fame when all is said and done. He changed the sport completely by helping pitchers discover that they could throw 100+ MPH regularly. But he is now in the twilight of his career and the age is starting to show. There will still be a bidding war for his services in the off-season, and he will most likely continue to be paid as a top-tier relief pitcher when, much like Knebel above, he is no more than a middle reliever for low-leverage situations. And that bidding war that is to come is what makes him one of the most overrated relief pitchers in baseball.