Welcome to the last installment of our positional power rankings series, tackling the top half of the bullpen rankings. Just in the last decade, we’ve witnessed the game achieve record offensive levels by certain measures. One positional group, shortstops, is enjoying a golden era. Some positions are weaker, some are stronger. The game and its positions experience peaks and troughs of production. But relief pitchers give us a constant: they keep marching forward, to greater workloads and relevance.
Last season, bullpens accounted for a major-league record 38.1% of total innings thrown, up three percentage points (35.1%) from 10 years earlier. In 2017, relief pitchers beat their previous record for workload — set the previous season — by 578 innings. Thirty years earlier, bullpens accounted for 31.8% of innings; 50 years earlier, for 26.0%. This trend has been a constant.
The bullpen becomes even more important in the postseason, when urgency and off-days warp the game. Last postseason, relievers accounted for 46.4% of innings. Bullpens have become and more important, and teams have responded by trying to build super ‘pens. The top-eight teams in the projections here all went to the postseason last season. While most free agents endured historically long waits to sign this offseason, relievers were quickly plucked from the market. Expect relievers to continue growing in importance and workload.