Rays' Top 5 relievers: Toribio'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.

Here is Juan Toribio’s ranking of the top five relief pitchers in Rays history. Next week: managers.

Tampa Bay's all-time team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | RH SP | LH SP

1. (2010-15)
Key fact: Franchise leader in appearances (297)

McGee doesn’t have as many saves as the other players on this list -- in fact, he only had 26 with the Rays -- but his impact out of the bullpen goes way beyond that one stat. During his time with Tampa Bay, McGee provided consistency out of the 'pen, especially from a pitcher who throws from the left side.

While McGee struggled as a rookie in 2011, he was just as dominant in the following seasons. He posted a 1.95 ERA in ‘12 and got even better in ‘14, recording a career-low 1.89 ERA and collecting 19 saves. Advanced stats show that McGee was just as good, if not better, during those seasons than his surface numbers indicate. McGee posted a 198 ERA+ in ‘12, which means he was 98 percent better than the league average. He finished with a 197 ERA+ in ‘14. Again, that’s pretty good.

The only knock against McGee might be his save totals, but as we’ve learned throughout the years, the best reliever on a team isn’t necessarily named the closer. Just like what Nick Anderson was able to do for the Rays in 2019, McGee provided quality production for almost six seasons.

2. (2013-18)
Key fact: All-Star in 2016

It wasn’t always smooth, but Colomé seemed to always find a way to record the final out of the game. The righty began his career as a starter, and it didn’t necessarily go poorly, but it was clear that his stuff might play better as a reliever. Once given the closer job in 2016, Colomé took full advantage, earning his first All-Star appearance and posting a 1.91 ERA in 57 appearances.

The following season, Colomé’s numbers weren’t as good, but he recorded 47 saves -- the second most by a reliever in franchise history. When the Rays traded him to the Mariners during the 2018 season, he was just six saves shy of tying the club record.

3. (2012-13)
Key fact: Holds franchise's single-season saves record (48)

Rodney has played for 11 different organizations during his career, but his best season came as a member of the Rays -- and it’s not even close.

After a couple of disappointing seasons with the Angels, Rodney came to the Rays in order to re-establish himself as a quality reliever. The right-hander did that, and so much more, during a historic 2012 campaign.

Rodney made 76 appearances and recorded 48 saves, which is the most in a single season in franchise history. But that wasn’t the most impressive record he broke. Rodney finished with a 0.60 ERA in 2012, breaking Dennis Eckersley’s mark for the lowest ERA by a reliever in MLB history. His season was so impressive that he finished fifth in American League Cy Young Award voting and also received votes for the Most Valuable Player Award.

4. (1998-00)
Key fact: Franchise's all-time leader in saves (101)

Hernandez is the Rays’ all-time leader in saves, and that’s why he’s on this list. But he’s fourth because his overall numbers left a little to be desired.

In 1999, Hernandez was spectacular. The right-hander finished with 43 saves, a 3.07 ERA and a 2.94 FIP. The season was so good that Hernandez finished 10th in AL Cy Young Award voting. But his two other seasons with the Rays weren’t as good.

Hernandez posted a 4.44 and 4.13 FIP in 1998 and 2000, respectively. His strikeouts didn’t necessarily jump out, either, recording 6.9 K/9 in ‘98 and a 7.5 clip in ‘00. Despite that, Hernandez did manage to record at least 26 saves in all three seasons with the Rays, and he deserves credit for that.

5. (2007-10, '14-15)
Key fact: Ranks third in appearances (274) in franchise history

This was a tough decision, but we ultimately decided to go with Balfour at No. 5 because of his contributions over multiple seasons and his superb 2008 season, which helped the Rays reach their only World Series.

Balfour’s 2008 season is one of the best by a reliever in Rays history. The right-hander posted a 1.54 ERA in 51 appearances with a strong 12.7 K/9 (struck out 82 batters in 58 1/3 innings). Balfour wasn’t as effective in ‘09, recording a 4.81 ERA, but he quickly bounced back in ‘10, finishing with a 2.28 ERA in order to help the Rays get back to the postseason.

Honorable mentions
received a lot of consideration, but he was ultimately edged out by Balfour. Despite that, Howell was a very good reliever for the Rays, posting a 3.04 ERA or lower in three seasons. ... led the AL with 41 saves during his only All-Star season in 2015, but that was about it. ... Same goes for , who compiled an AL-leading 45 saves in his All-Star season with Tampa Bay in '10. ... also received a lot of consideration due to his consistency over a four-year stretch. ... had 71 saves in two seasons with the Rays, but he just missed the cut because he wasn’t with the organization longer. ... Also, a shout-out to .