Angels' Top 5 relief pitchers: Bollinger's take

June 8th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Angels' all-time best: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | RHP | LHP

Here is Rhett Bollinger's ranking of the top 5 relievers in Angels history. Next week: manager.

1) , 1995-2004
Key fact: Club’s all-time saves leader with 316

Percival, affectionately known as Percy to Angels fans, grew up locally in Moreno Valley and attended UC Riverside before being drafted as a catcher by the Angels in the sixth round of the 1990 Draft. But after hitting .203 with no homers in 29 games as a catcher with Class A Boise in '90, the organization converted him to a reliever the next season and he immediately became one of the best relievers in the Minors.

Percival made a splash as a rookie in '95, posting a 1.95 ERA and striking out 94 batters in 74 innings to finish fourth in the balloting for American League Rookie of the Year. He replaced Hall of Famer Lee Smith as the club's regular closer in '96 and had a 2.31 ERA with 36 saves and 100 strikeouts in 74 innings, earning All-Star honors for the first time. Percival was again an All-Star in '98, '99 and 2001 before playing a huge role in the club winning the World Series for the first time in franchise history in '02. Percival had a 1.92 ERA with 40 saves and 68 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings that season and was 15th in the balloting for AL MVP.

In the playoffs, Percival was 7-for-7 in save opportunities, tying a Major League record for saves in a postseason ('02) and had a 2.79 ERA with 10 strikeouts over 9 2/3 innings. He also picked up the memorable save in Game 7 of the World Series against the Giants at Angel Stadium. He left the club after the '04 season as a free agent to join the Tigers and also pitched with the Cardinals and Rays before retiring after the '09 season. He's now the head baseball coach at UC Riverside. In his 10 years with the Angels, Percival had a 2.99 ERA, 316 saves and 680 strikeouts in 586 2/3 innings.

2) Francisco Rodríguez, 2002-08
Key fact: Set MLB's single-season save record with 62 in 2008

Rodríguez was originally a starting pitcher after the Angels signed him as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela in 1998, but he was converted to relief in 2002 and quickly took off with his quirky delivery and nearly unhittable slider. He made his debut as a 20-year-old September callup in '02 and played a pivotal role in the club's run to the World Series title, as he tied Randy Johnson's MLB record with five wins that postseason and posted a 1.93 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings. Rodríguez served as the setup man to Percival in '03 and '04, the year he became an All-Star for the first time with a 1.82 ERA and struck out an incredible 123 batters in 84 innings. He was fourth in the balloting for the AL Cy Young that year and also finished fourth in '06. He led the Majors in saves with 45 in '05 and 47 in '06 and was an All-Star again in '07 and '08.

His last season with the club in '08 was one of the best in franchise history, as he broke the Major League record by picking up 62 saves in an AL-leading 76 appearances and posting a 2.24 ERA with 77 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings. He finished third in the voting for the AL Cy Young and sixth in the balloting for AL MVP. He departed for the Mets as a free agent after the season and pitched nine more seasons in the Majors. In his seven seasons with the Angels, he had a 2.35 ERA with 208 saves and 587 strikeouts in 451 2/3 innings.

3) Scot Shields, 2001-10
Key fact: Second all-time in games pitched (491) in Angels history behind Percival

Shields was never the full-time closer for the Angels but he was one of the best setup relievers in baseball during his 10 years with the club. He was a versatile pitcher who could fill a variety of roles and was an incredibly durable reliever. After being selected in the 38th round of the 1997 Draft from Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee, he made his debut in 2001, throwing 11 scoreless innings, and he followed that up by recording a 2.20 ERA in 49 innings as a rookie in '02. He made two appearances in the World Series, allowing a pair of homers in 1 2/3 innings, but won a ring with the club as a rookie and became a stalwart for the club thereafter.

He made 13 starts and 31 relief appearances in '03 and threw a career-high 148 1/3 innings with a 2.85 ERA but became a full-time reliever after that. He threw 105 1/3 innings in relief in '04 and struck out 109 batters with a 3.33 ERA. He was consistently one of the best setup relievers in the league until struggling in his final two seasons in '08 and '09. In his 10 years, he posted a 3.18 ERA with 631 strikeouts in 697 innings. He also had a 3.20 ERA in 17 career postseason appearances.

4) Bryan Harvey, 1987-92
Key fact: Led the AL in saves with 46 in 1991

After throwing five scoreless innings in 1987 in his first taste of the Majors, Harvey became the club's closer from '88-92. He started strong by finishing second in the voting for AL Rookie of the Year in '88, when he had a 2.13 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 76 innings and 17 saves. His best year came in '91, when he had a 1.60 ERA, led the AL with 46 saves and the Majors with 63 appearances, striking out 101 batters in 78 2/3 innings. He was an All-Star that season and finished fifth in the AL CY Young voting. He departed in '93 to join the newly created Marlins and was an All-Star in his first season with the club. In his six years with the Angels, he had a 2.49 ERA with 365 strikeouts in 307 2/3 innings. His 126 saves with the club rank third in franchise history.

5) Brendan Donnelly, 2002-06
Key fact: All-Star in 2003

Like Shields, Donnelly was never the club’s full-time closer but was an excellent setup reliever during his time with the Angels. Donnelly had an untraditional path to the Majors and didn't make his debut until he was a 30-year-old rookie in 2002. A former replacement player, Donnelly played a huge role in helping the Angels to the World Series title, as he had a 2.17 ERA in 49 2/3 innings as a rookie and threw 7 2/3 scoreless innings in the World Series against the Giants. Donnelly was an All-Star in '03 after posting a 1.58 ERA in 74 innings and went 23-8 with a 2.87 ERA and 295 strikeouts in 295 innings over five years with the Angels.

Honorable mentions

Dave LaRoche pitched six seasons with the Angels from 1970-71 and '77-80, posting a 3.65 ERA with 386 strikeouts in 512 1/3 innings. His 65 saves with the Angels ranks sixth all-time.

Bob Lee pitched three seasons with the Angels from 1964-66 and had a 1.99 ERA with 246 strikeouts in 370 innings. His best season was in '65, when he was an All-Star and had a 1.92 ERA in 131 1/3 innings.

Donnie Moore was with the Angels for four seasons from 1985-88 and was an All-Star in '85, when he had a 1.92 ERA in 103 innings and finished seventh in the balloting for the AL Cy Young Award. He had a 2.75 ERA in 235 1/3 innings with the Angels.