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Player Poll: Which playoff reliever is toughest?

September 30, 2017

In our childhood dreams acted out in those backyard Wiffle ball days, the scene is always the same: There are two outs in the ninth, Game 7 of the World Series is on the line and you, with your bat in hand, represent the winning run at the plate.It's all

In our childhood dreams acted out in those backyard Wiffle ball days, the scene is always the same: There are two outs in the ninth, Game 7 of the World Series is on the line and you, with your bat in hand, represent the winning run at the plate.
It's all so magical in our minds, until you take note that, in last year's postseason, batters hit just .196 in what were considered "close and late" situations (all the more reason to appreciate that Rajai Davis magic). Thanks to the bullpen-oriented game that baseball has become each October, there are so many relievers with sick stuff who are capable of turning those dreams into a nightmare.
So, we polled 30 position players from around the league -- one from each team -- and asked them to pick the one closer or setup man from a team heading to the 2017 postseason whom they would least like to face with the game on the line. We granted anonymity in the name of getting honest answers.
Here are the results:
Kenley Jansen, Dodgers: 11 votes
As was the case with Mariano Rivera, there's no real mystery here. As was the case with Rivera, there's a pretty darn good chance you're getting a cutter. And as was the case with Rivera, there's a pretty darn good chance you're not hitting it. Jansen has had a walks-and hits-per-innings-pitched mark of less than 0.9 in five of the last six seasons.
"He only throws one pitch, pretty much, and you still can't hit it," a National League Central infielder said. "That's why it's so impressive, and so frustrating."

Added an NL East infielder: "Every time you try to cheat on him a little bit, he'll catch you on that corner with 94, 95 miles an hour."
The pitch might be predictable, but the delivery is not.
"He has a different windup almost every single pitch," an NL East outfielder said. "So it's just difficult to time him."
Added another NL Central infielder: "Over the years, I've faced him a few times, and he's gotten better and better. It's not that his stuff is better, it's his delivery is harder to time up. It's hard to get a good rhythm against him. He's facing sideways the whole time, and you really can't see him come set. Then, he's got the pause, and it's hard to see it because it's that profile view of him."
Craig Kimbrel, Red Sox: 7 votes
Just when it appeared Kimbrel might be starting to reveal some semblance of his human side with some injury and walk issues in his first season in the American League in 2016, he snapped back into place as the back-end behemoth who emerged in Atlanta all those years ago. Going back to his arrival in 2010, Kimbrel ranks first among relievers with at least 100 innings pitched in ERA, saves, WAR, strikeouts and strikeout percentage.
"I feel like his stuff is, hands down, the best," an NL East hitter said. "It's a 100-mph fastball with a 90-mph … they say its' a slider, but it's like a curveball. It's just not a very comfortable at-bat."
Added an NL West infielder: "He just has that ball that -- kind of like Kenley Jansen -- it stays up. It feels like it rises. He gets down so low and underneath the ball, that it almost has an upward plane to it."

Through no fault of his own, Kimbrel has only had one career postseason save opportunity among his eight appearances. Perhaps that will change this year.
"I think that he has a bulldog mentality that the more pressure or heated the situation, the more intense, the more he seems to execute," an AL East outfielder said.
Andrew Miller, Indians; 6 votes
Miller was the only non-closer to get multiple votes, and for good reason. In the Tribe's 2016 ride to within one win of a World Series title, Miller supplied a relief-record 19 1/3 innings, in which he allowed just three runs on 12 hits with 30 strikeouts against five walks. Many clubs are now employing multi-inning monsters capable of shortening games, but Miller, even with an iffy knee, remains the gold standard among setup men.
"He's tall, he's long, he misfires," an NL Central infielder said. "He can throw it behind your ear and it's a strike. It's not fun. You can't prepare for that. I literally just try to make contact. Certain guys, you can say, 'OK, I'm going to look for this or that.' For him, it's like, anything close to a strike, try to guess and hope it's the right one."

Added an AL Central right-handed hitter: "I usually get pretty comfortable with lefties, but I'm not comfortable in the box at all with him. I felt like I was confident on what pitches were coming at certain times, and I still couldn't hit it. You might think he's going to give you four heaters in that at-bat, and he's pumping four sliders at you."
"His ability to throw his slider for a strike is what makes him so nasty," an AL Central catcher said. "We all know he can throw it down and in to a righty and away to a lefty. But when he can throw that thing for a strike, guys try to wait him out, but can't. His stuff looks like a strike for so long. It's a strike until like three feet in front of the hitter, and sometimes it ends up behind them."
Albertin Chapman, Yankees: 2 votes
Between the Davis home run in Game 7 of last year's World Series and some shaky stretches in his 2017 return to the Yankees, Chapman has lost some of his past mystique. But we're still talking about a guy who can routinely throw 100 mph, and then get you to chase his breaking ball.
"There's a reason he has the numbers that he does," an AL West outfielder said. "He's really good."

Wade Davis, Cubs: 2 votes
He may not be quite as statistically dominant as he was in that ridiculous run with the Royals from 2014-16, but the Cubs have no complaints about the trade they made to replace Chapman. And Davis enters October with the pedigree of having accrued a 0.84 ERA in 32 1/3 career postseason innings.
"I don't want to face somebody who has done what he's done," an NL Central outfielder said.

Added an NL East catcher: "Seeing the way he works, he puts every pitch pretty much where he wants to. Every pitch has a purpose."
Also receiving votes: Cody Allen, Indians; Dellin Betances, Yankees.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.