Brad Hand vs. Will Smith vs. Edwin Díaz: Who’s the best RP in the NL East?

Matt Weyrich
·9 min read
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Hand vs. Smith vs. Díaz: Who’s the best RP in the NL East? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

With the NL East shaping up to be one of baseball’s most competitive division races, NBC Sports Washington’s Matt Weyrich is previewing the 2021 season by ranking each team at every position on and off the diamond. Points will be awarded to teams based on their spot in each ranking with a final tally released just before Opening Day.*

Up next in the series: relief pitcher.

TIER 1

1. Brad Hand (WSH) – 5 points

2019-20 stats: 83 G, 79 1/3 IP, 50 saves (5 BS), 1 hold, 2.95 ERA, 2.40 FIP, 1.109 WHIP, 113 SO (12.8 K/9), 22 BB (2.5 BB/9), 6 HR (0.7 HR/9), .641 opponents’ OPS

2. Will Smith (ATL) – 5 points

2019-20 stats: 81 G, 81 1/3 IP, 34 saves (5 BS), 6 holds, 3.10 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 1.008 WHIP, 114 SO (12.6 K/9), 25 BB (2.8 BB/9), 17 HR (1.9 HR/9), .653 opponents’ OPS

3. Edwin Díaz (NYM) – 5 points

2019-20 stats: 92 G, 83 2/3 IP, 32 saves (11 BS), 2 holds, 4.41 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 1.339 WHIP, 149 SO (16.0 K/9), 36 BB (3.9 BB/9), 17 HR (1.8 HR/9), .764 opponents’ OPS

The Nationals’ biggest offseason addition lands them the No. 1 spot on these rankings with Hand immediately jumping out as the best reliever in the division. He led the majors with 16 saves last season and finished with a sub-3.00 ERA in four of the last five seasons. Though his declining velocity is a concern, he still managed to pitch around it effectively in 2020.

Behind Hand are holdovers from last season. Smith appears primed to take over the Braves’ closer role following the departure of Mark Melancon. He was an All-Star in 2019, recording 34 saves to give him the most ninth-inning experience of anyone in Atlanta’s bullpen. Diaz’s first season in Queens was a doozy (5.59 ERA in 66 games) but he showed signs of progress in 2020 and still racks up strikeouts at an absurd rate. New York will once again begin the year with him at closer.

TIER 2

4. Will Harris (WSH) – 4 points

2019-20 stats: 88 G, 77 2/3 IP, 5 saves (4 BS), 32 holds, 1.85 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 1.107 WHIP, 83 SO (9.6 K/9), 23 BB (2.7 BB/9), 9 HR (1.0 HR/9), .608 opponents’ OPS

5. Chris Martin (ATL) – 4 points

2019-20 stats: 77 G, 73 2/3 IP, 5 saves (2 BS), 24 holds, 2.81 ERA, 3.03 FIP, 0.923 WHIP, 85 SO (10.4 K/9), 8 BB (1.0 BB/9), 10 HR (1.2 HR/9), .606 opponents’ OPS

6. Seth Lugo (NYM) – 4 points

2019-20 stats: 77 G (7 starts), 116 2/3 IP, 9 saves (7 BS), 21 holds, 3.47 ERA, 3.25 FIP, 1.046 WHIP, 151 SO (11.6 K/9), 26 BB (2.0 BB/9), 16 HR (1.2 HR/9), .650 opponents’ OPS

The same three teams that had a player in Tier 1 get one in Tier 2 as well. Harris signed with the Nationals in the 2019-20 offseason after averaging more than 20 holds per year with the Houston Astros from 2015 to 2019. He was hit around in the shortened season but managed to keep his run totals to an acceptable level. Martin closely trails Harris for the title of best set-up man in the division. He limits walks as well as anyone and should be in the mix for saves this year.

Lugo is the wild card here. He underwent elbow surgery in February and won’t return until late-May at the earliest. The right-hander could very well be the best reliever in the NL East but it’s difficult to judge after the Mets shuttled him back and forth between the bullpen and rotation the last few years. Lugo’s career ERA as a starter is 4.35. As a reliever? 2.53.

TIER 3

7. Trevor May (NYM) – 3 points

2019-20 stats: 89 G, 87 2/3 IP, 4 saves (3 BS), 26 holds, 3.18 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 1.095 WHIP, 117 SO (12.0 K/9), 33 BB (3.4 BB/9), 13 HR (1.3 HR/9), .612 opponents’ OPS

8. Archie Bradley (PHI) – 3 points

2019-20 stats: 82 G (1 start), 90 IP, 24 saves (4 BS), 9 holds, 3.40 ERA, 3.24 FIP, 1.367 WHIP, 105 SO (10.5 K/9), 39 BB (3.9 BB/9), 6 HR (0.6 HR/9), .699 opponents’ OPS

9. Anthony Bass (MIA) – 3 points

2019-20 stats: 70 G, 73 2/3 IP, 12 saves (7 BS), 10 holds, 3.54 ERA, 3.80 FIP, 0.991 WHIP, 64 SO (7.8 K/9), 26 BB (3.2 BB/9), 7 HR (0.9 HR/9), .561 opponents’ OPS

May joined the Mets on a two-year, $15.5 million deal after thriving in the back end of the Minnesota Twins’ bullpen for the last three seasons. He’s a strikeout machine with a deep pitch repertoire that includes a fastball capable of hitting 99 mph. May will be the Mets’ primary set-up man while Lugo is on the mend.

Bradley (one year, $6 million) and Bass (two years, $5 million) are both expected to be in the mix for saves with their respective clubs, though neither the Phillies nor the Marlins have indicated who will be their closer just yet. Bradley has the most experience in the role between the two, most notably in 2018 when he recorded 18 saves for the Diamondbacks.

TIER 4

10. Daniel Hudson (WSH) – 2 points

2019-20 stats: 90 G (1 start), 93 2/3 IP, 18 saves (9 BS), 11 holds, 3.27 ERA, 4.48 FIP, 1.164 WHIP, 99 SO (9.5 K/9), 38 BB (3.7 BB/9), 14 HR (1.3 HR/9), .681 opponents’ OPS

11. Dylan Floro (MIA) – 2 points

2019-20 stats: 75 G, 71 IP, 0 saves (3 BS), 11 holds, 3.68 ERA, 3.25 FIP, 1.225 WHIP, 61 SO (7.7 K/9), 18 BB (2.3 BB/9), 5 HR (0.6 HR/9), .665 opponents’ OPS

11. Héctor Neris (PHI) – 2 points

2019-20 stats: 92 G, 89 1/3 IP, 33 saves (9 BS), 6 holds, 3.32 ERA, 3.51 FIP, 1.187 WHIP, 116 SO (11.7 K/9), 37 BB (3.7 BB/9), 10 HR (1.0 HR/9), .628 opponents’ OPS

Hudson spent the 2020 season trying to be a pitcher he’s not. Normally an effective groundball pitcher, he tried going for more strikeouts and — while he succeeded — the results were more home runs, more walks and more runs allowed. That career-high 12.2 K/9 was impressive, but it came at the expense of an 18.4% groundball rate (down from his career average of 39.2%) and a starting 2.6 HR/9.

Floro joins the Marlins’ bullpen after two and a half successful years in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ bullpen. He’s never recorded a save in his career but stands out among the young Miami relief corps. Neris has been the Phillies’ unofficial closer the last two years, streaky enough to lose the job to someone else only to earn it back again later. He’ll be Bradley’s biggest competitor for saves this season.

TIER 5

13. Dellin Betances (NYM) – 1 point

2019-20 stats: 16 G, 12 1/3 IP, 0 saves (0 BS), 4 holds, 7.30 ERA, 4.49 FIP, 1.946 WHIP, 13 SO (9.5 K/9), 12 BB (8.8 BB/9), 0 HR (0.0 HR/9), .703 opponents’ OPS

14. Richard Bleier (MIA) – 1 point

2019-20 stats: 74 G, 72 IP, 4 saves (1 BS), 11 holds, 4.63 ERA, 3.86 FIP, 1.264 WHIP, 41 SO (5.1 K/9), 12 BB (1.5 BB/9), 6 HR (0.8 HR/9), .755 opponents’ OPS

15. José Alvarado (PHI) – 1 point

2019-20 stats: 44 G (1 start), 39 IP, 7 saves (2 BS), 10 holds, 5.08 ERA, 4.57 FIP, 1.821 WHIP, 52 SO (12.0 K/9), 33 BB (7.6 BB/9), 4 HR (0.9 HR/9), .775 opponents’ OPS

Betances has barely pitched a dozen innings over the last two years and the Mets spent the winter trying to trade him, but here he is still in camp. Owed $6 million this season, Betances is likely to at least open the season with the team and have a chance to return to form. Even though the right-hander was one of baseball’s best relievers from 2014 to 2018, he might not have too long of a leash.

The Marlins acquired Bleier at the trade deadline last season and he rewarded them with a 2.63 ERA over 19 appearances. An under-the-radar player, Bleier had a 1.97 ERA across 111 appearances from 2016 to 2018 for the New York Yankees and Orioles. Alvarado is a Pitching Ninja favorite who was acquired by the Phillies in a trade this offseason. His high velocity gives him a high ceiling, but he’ll need to improve his command before he can be a true late-inning arm.

*Scoring will be determined as follows:

Max total = 100 points

  • 5 points awarded for each of the best position players, 4 for second-best, etc.

  • 1 bonus point awarded for each of the five best position players in the division

  • 6 points awards for each of the top three starters, 5 for the next three, etc.

  • 1 bonus point awarded for each of the two best starting pitchers in the division

  • 5 points awarded for each of the top three bullpen arms, 4 for the next three, etc.

  • 5 points awarded for the best manager, 4 for second-best, etc.

  • 5 points awarded for the best GM, 4 for second-best, etc.

Scoring breakdown = 45 max points for hitting, 45 max points for pitching, 10 max points for coaches/GMs

Other NL East position rankings:

Right field: Soto, Acuña Jr., Harper, Conforto, Duvall

Left field: Ozuna, Smith, Schwarber, Dickerson, McCutchen

Center field: Nimmo, Marté, Robles, Pache, Kingery

First base: Freeman, Alonso, Hoskins, Bell, Aguilar

Second base: McNeil, Albies, Segura, Castro, Chisholm/Díaz

Shortstop: Turner, Lindor, Swanson, Gregorius, Rojas

Third base: Anderson, Davis, Bohm, Riley, Kieboom

Catcher: Realmuto, McCann, Gomes, d’Arnaud, Alfaro

Starting pitcher: deGrom, Scherzer, Nola highlight top 18 starters

Manager: Girardi, Martinez, Snitker, Mattingly, Rojas

GM: Dombrowski, Rizzo, Anthopoulos, Alderson, Ng

Teams: Mets, Nationals, Braves, Phillies, Marlins