Major League Baseball’s highest relief honors were bestowed upon Hader and Hendriks on Wednesday. Hader is the 2021 recipient of the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award, and Hendriks is the winner of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award.
This is not a first for either of these bullpen anchors. Hader is now the first three-time winner of the NL honor (which has been presented since 2014), having also won it in 2018 and 2019 (his Milwaukee teammate Devin Williams won it last year). Hendriks is a back-to-back winner, having won it with the A’s in 2020 after finishing as the runner-up to the Yankees’ Aroldis Chapman in 2019.
The AL award is evidence that the South Siders got it right when they signed the Australian-born Hendriks last winter to the largest relief contract – in terms of average annual value – in history. The three-year, $54 million pact was the Sox attempt to solidify their bullpen as they aimed for their first AL Central title since 2008.
With a 2.54 ERA, Major League-best 0.73 WHIP (among all relievers with at least 45 appearances) and AL-best 38 saves, 42.3% strikeout rate and 2.6% walk rate in 69 appearances, the 32-year-old Hendriks helped make that happen. His 2.7 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement was the best among all Major League relievers, and his 16.14 strikeout-to-walk ratio was the best of his career. Outrighted by the A’s as recently as July 2018, Hendriks has remade himself into a beast in the bullpen, with a 2.08 ERA over the last three seasons.
Hader, meanwhile, has been one of baseball’s very best relievers pretty much from the moment he arrived to the big leagues with the Brew Crew in June 2017. After originally serving as a multi-inning monster, he’s graduated to more traditional closing duties and racked up the most saves in baseball (84) over the last three seasons.
Though it ended with the frustration of surrendering a stunning NLDS home run to the Braves’ Freddie Freeman, Hader’s 2021 regular season might have been his best yet. In addition to notching 34 saves, he posted the best ERA (1.23) and home run rate (0.5 per nine innings) of his career. He did not allow a run after July 28, limiting opponents to a .104 average and .350 OPS in August and September/October. His .126 opponent average for the season was best among Major League relievers by 22 points, and his WHIP (0.84) and fWAR (2.6) were second only to Hendriks’ marks.
Balloting for the Reliever of the Year Awards is conducted among seven of the best relievers in baseball history – Hall of Famers Rivera, Hoffman, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers and Lee Smith, as well as John Franco and Billy Wagner. The awards have been presented since 2014, when they replaced MLB’s “Delivery Man of the Year Award,” which had been presented to one winner across MLB from 2005-13.