Blue Jays: Ranking the top 10 relief pitchers in the AL East in 2023

Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays
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1: Félix Bautista, Baltimore Orioles

If you're not yet familiar with Félix Bautista, you might want to familiarize yourself with him soon. There are tons of good, even great relievers in the AL East, but if you're looking at the 2023 season, Bautista might have the best case for being the top guy. At last year's trade deadline, the Orioles were starting to make a playoff push, but traded their star reliever Jorge Lopez to the Twins, because they had a 6-foot-eight righty in the pen who threw triple digits in line to take his place. In 2022, Bautista's first year in the Majors, he pitches 65.2 innings with a 2.19 ERA, while converting on 15 of his 17 save attempts. But 2022 was more of a proof of concept than anything, and there's plenty of reason to be scared of (or excited for depending on who you cheer for) him this upcoming season.

While Bautista's ERA may not look like it's on the same level as some of the other guys on this list, a bad outing in his second last game of the season against the World Series champion Houston Astros, where he allowed four earned runs in 1.1 innings, inflated his ERA from 1.71 to 2.23, and was a bit of a rough finish to an otherwise outstanding rookie campaign. He finished the year with a 0.929 WHIP, over 12 strikeouts per nine, and a walk rate slightly above league average, which is huge for a young flamethrower. His statcast metrics were similarly great, with an xERA, xBA, xSLUG, strikeout rate, whiff rate, and fastball velocity all in the 90s for percentile rankings. The aforementioned fastball is elite and averages 99 MPH, but has gotten as high as 103. He also featured an incredible splitter, which batters hit just .087 off of last year, and a decent slider to round out his repertoire.

The important thing to remember about Bautista is that, in theory, he's just scratching the surface. While he'll be turning 28 this June, he had a bit of a rough journey through the minors after being signed by the Marlins as an international free in 2012 and didn't even reach AAA until 2021. Injury will give him a late start to Orioles spring training, but once he gets into the swing of things, he's got a chance to be one of the best relievers in baseball, which is why he earned the top spot on this list.

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