The BBTN 100 ranking of the best players in the game is fun fodder for discussion. Here's something I'd like to discuss with the panel: What's up with the love for the relief pitchers? We're unveiling players ranked 26th through 50 on Tuesday (with the top 25 unveiled at 8 p.m. on "Baseball Tonight" on ESPN2 and WatchESPN), a group that includes three relievers. Here are all the relievers ranked in the top 100:
26. Craig Kimbrel
28. Aroldis Chapman
35. Greg Holland
53. Dellin Betances
55. Wade Davis
62. Kenley Jansen
65. David Robertson
82. Andrew Miller
Those are all great relievers. But they are all ranked too high. There is a simple way we know this. Consider Kimbrel (pictured), the highest-rated reliever. He's ranked just ahead of Carlos Gomez (27th), Zack Greinke (29th), Jordan Zimmermann (30th) and Jose Altuve (31st). Holland is ranked ahead of Anthony Rizzo (37th), Freddie Freeman (38th), Adam Jones (40th) and Anthony Rendon (42nd).
Ask yourself this: Would you trade any of those players for Kimbrel? The answer is no. No general manager would trade a star position like Gomez or Altuve, or a No. 1-caliber starter like Greinke or Zimmermann for a reliever, even a closer as dominant as Kimbrel. Holland isn't more valuable than Rizzo. Davis, even if he can repeat that 1.00 ERA with 109 strikeouts in 72 innings, isn't more valuable than Ian Desmond or Andrelton Simmons or Sonny Gray.
We see this idea of value reflected in player salaries. Free-agent relievers don't get the same contracts as free-agent starters or position players. Robertson ranked one spot ahead of Russell Martin. Robertson, an in-his-prime closer, signed a four-year, $46 million deal with the White Sox; Martin received a five-year, $82 million deal from the Blue Jays.
Another way relievers are overrated: There are a lot of good ones these days. Last year, 24 relievers who threw at least 40 innings had an ERA under 2.00; 49 had an ERA under 2.50; 83 had an ERA under 3.00. That's nearly three per team on average.
That's not to diminish the importance of good relief pitching. We've all seen how a bad or mediocre bullpen can sink a season. But in terms of value, we've rated relievers too high on the BBTN 100.