12 Best Relief Pitchers Of All Time In MLB History

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The relief pitchers play many crucial roles in baseball. Also known as relievers, they enter the game to substitute the starting pitcher in case of injuries, ejection, etc.

In MLB, there have been occasions where the team has to rely on the relief pitchers for a successful season. And these players performed what was precisely needed.

MLB has seen many great relief pitchers over the years. So it begs the question, who are the best relief pitchers of all time in MLB History?

Trevor Hoffman
Trevor Hoffman (Source: Wikimedia.org)

While being the best topic subjective, we have compiled a list of some of the league’s best relief pitchers.

An ace relief pitcher could play a key role in enhancing the team’s performance on the field. And these players are some of the greatest ones who have excelled in their roles.

So without any further delay, we would like to present the best relief pitchers of all time.

12 Best Relief Pitchers Of All Time In MLB History 2024

We have prepared the list with the help of sources like BleacherReport, Ranker, and other reliable sources. However, before diving into the list, let us first look at the overall ranking.

Players Names MLB Debut
12. Joe Nathan 1999
11. Rob Nen 1993
10. John Franco 1984
9. Troy Percival 1995
8. Bruce Sutter 1976
7. Billy Wagner 1995
6. Lee Smith 1980
5. Rollie Fingers 1968
4. Trevor Hoffman 1993
3. Goose Gossage 1972
2. Dennis Eckersley 1975
1. Mariano Rivera 1995

12. Joe Nathan

The first relief pitcher we are talking about is former baseball pitcher Joe Nathan. He is a 49 year-old who played 16 MLB seasons.

San Francisco Giants selected Nathan in the sixth round in 159th overall of the amateur draft in 1995. He played in the minor league before making his debut in 1999.

He played with other different MLB franchise teams during his playing career, like Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, and Chicago Cubs.

Joe Nathan
Joe Nathan (Source: Wikimedia.org)

Nathan’s career highlight awards include the six All-Star and AL Rolaids Relief Man Awards in 2009. From 2004 to 2009, he was considered one of the top closers in the league.

After the 2017 season, he retired from MLB with statistics of a 64-34 win-loss record, 2.87 earned run average, 976 strikeouts, and 377 saves.

Currently, Nathan is eighth on the all-time saves list and has the highest save percentage in MLB history amongst pitchers.

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11. Robb Nen

Our number 11 best relief pitchers of all time go to a former relief pitcher, Robb Nen. Now 54 year-old whom the Texas Rangers drafted in the 32nd round of the 1987 MLB draft.

After the draft, Nen skipped college to play in the minor leagues. He then made his MLB debut in 1993 with the Rangers. He also played for Florida Marlins and San Francisco Giants during his playing career.

Nen was nicknamed “The Terminator” for his signature pitch and slide style. He was also known for being a fastball recorded with a velocity of up to 92 mph.

Robb Nen
Robb Nen (Source: Instagram)

Similarly, Nen’s career highlight wins include All-Star three times, World Series champion, and NL saves leader.

At his retirement, he was ranked 8th overall in career saves MLB statistics of a Win-loss record of 45-42, 2.98 earned run average, 793 strikeouts, and 314 saves.

10. John Franco

John Franco is a former baseball player who played 22 seasons in the MLB. The 63 year-old has a National League record and ranks fourth in MLB history with 1,119 career games pitched.

The Los Angeles Dodgers drafted Franco in the 5th round of the amateur draft in 1981. But before his debut, the Dodgers traded him to the Cincinnati Reds in 1983. Then in 1984, he made his debut with the Reds.

Franco was also signed with the New York Mets, with whom he spent most of his career, and finished his season with the Houston Astros.

John Franco
John Franco (Source: Instagram)

His career achievements include All-Star four times, NL Rolaids Relief Man Award two times, and NL saves leader three times. Similarly, his 424 career saves ranks fifth in MLB.

Franco retired from MLB with the career statistics of a Win-loss record of 90-87, 2.89 earned run average, 975 strikeouts, and 424 saves.

9. Troy Percival

Troy Percival is a 54 year-old former MLB pitcher and a baseball coach who played 14 seasons starting from 1995. The California Angles drafted him in the 6th round of the 1990 amateur drafts.

In 1995, Percival made his MLB debut for the Angles. He had his career-high in 1998 while he had his best season in 2002. His pitch was clocked consistently at 96-100 mph before altering his style due to a hip injury.

Percival played for Angels for the majority of his career. He was an integral part of Angel’s 2002 World Series championship team.

Troy Percival
Troy Percival (Source: Wikimedia.org)

Similarly, he also played for the Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals, and Tampa Bay Rays. After his retirement, he transitioned into a coaching career. From 2015 to 2020, he was UC Riverside Highlanders’ head baseball coach.

Percival retired in 2009 from MLB with the career statistics of a Win-loss record of 35-43, 3.17 earned run average, 781 strikeouts, and 358 saves.

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8. Bruce Sutter

On our number 8, best relief pitcher of all time is a former MLB pitcher, Bruce Sutter. The Chicago Cubs signed him as an undrafted free agent in 1971. Now 71 year-old, he played 12 seasons in MLB.

The Washington Senators selected Sutter in the 21st round in 1970. However, he opted to go to college. A year after, he signed with the Cubs and made his MLB debut in 1976.

From 1976 to 1980, Sutter played with the Cubs; then, he was signed with St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves. During his playing career, he accumulated numerous accolades and awards.

Bruce Sutter
Bruce Sutter (Source: Instagram)

Sutter is the only pitcher to lead the NL in saves five times. Likewise, he won the NL Cy Young Award as the top pitcher.

His other notable career highlight wins include All-Star six times, World Series champion, and NL Rolaids Relief Man Award four times.

His MLB career statistics at his retirement read 68-71 win-loss record, 2.83 earned run average, 861 strikeouts, and 300 saves. In 2006, Sutter was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

7. Billy Wagner

Next, we have 52 year-old Billy Wagner as our 7th best relief pitcher of all time. Nicknamed ” Billy the Kid,” he played 16 seasons in MLB. The Houston Astros drafted him in the first round of the 1993 MLB draft.

After Wagner was drafted, he made his MLB debut in 1995. During his 16 seasons, he played with various other MLB franchises like the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, and Atlanta Braves.

Similarly, Wagner accumulated wins and awards like seven All-Stars, NL Rolaids Relief Man Award, and pitched a combined no-hitter.

Billy Wagner
Billy Wagner (Source: Instagram)

Additionally, Wagner is one of the only six MLB relief pitchers to accumulate at least 400 career serves. His strikeouts per 9 innings pitched ratio is the highest of any MLB pitchers. 

He retired from MLB with 47-70 win-loss record career statistics, 2.31 earned run average, 1,196 strikeouts, and 422 saves. 

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6. Lee Smith

66 year-old Lee Smith is a former MLB pitcher who made his MLB debut in 1980. The Chicago Cubs selected him in the 1975 MLB draft, and he played 18 seasons in MLB.

During his long career, Smith mainly played the position of a relief pitcher. From 1980 to 1987, he was part of the Chicago Cubs before signing to a different team.

The other franchise team he played with include Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, California Angels, Cincinnati Reds, and Montreal Expos.

Lee Smith
Lee Smith (Source: Instagram)

Smith set the NL record with 47 saves while playing for the Cardinals. His other career highlight wins include ALL-Star seven times, Rolaids Relief Man Award three times, and Saves leader four times.

Similarly, Smith holds the Cubs’ team record for career saves. At the time of his retirement, he had the most career game finish in MLB.

In 2019, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Smith’s MLB statistics show 1,022 games pitched, 71-92 win-loss record, 3.03 earned run average, 1.251 strikeouts, and 478 saves.

5. Rollie Fingers

Born as Roland Glen Fingers, 77 year-old Rollie Fingers is our number 5 best relief pitcher of all time. He is known for his neatly groomed handlebar mustache.

Fingers is credited for redefining the value of relievers within baseball. Los Angeles Dodger offered to sign him, but he turned down the offer to sign with Kansas City Athletics in 1964.

In 1968, Fingers made his MLB debut with the Oakland Athletics. Likewise, in his 17 seasons in MLB, he also played with the San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers.

Rollie Fingers
Rollie Fingers (Source: Instagram)

Fingers had the most career saves in MLB history at his retirement. He also accumulated wins like All-Star seven times, AL CY Young Award, World Series MVP, Rolaids Relief Man Awards, etc.

Fingers retired from MLB with 114-118 win-loss record statistics, 2.90 earned run average, 1,299 strikeouts, and 341 saves. He became the Baseball Hall of Famer in 1992.

4. Trevor Hoffman

Trevor Hoffman is a former relief pitcher who played in MLB from 1993 to 2010. Now 56 year-old, Hoffman was the first player in MLB to reach the 500 and 600 save milestones.

The Cincinnati Reds drafted him in the 11th round with the 288th overall selection of the 1989 MLB draft. However, in the 1992 MLB Expansion draft, Florida Marlins selected him as the eighth pick in the first round.

Hoffman made his MLB debut with the Marlins in 1993. He played only one season with the franchise before signing with the San Diego Padres. During his career, he also played for Milwaukee Brewers.

Trevor Hoffman
Trevor Hoffman (Source: Wikimedia.org)

Hoffman’s career highlight wins include All-Star seven times, NL Rolaids Relief Man Award two times, and NL saves leader two times. He retired with the high career strikeout rate for any reliever.

In 2018, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He retired with the MLB record of 64-75 Win-loss, 2.87 earned run average, 1,133 strikeouts, and 601 saves. 

3. Goose Gossage

And here we are, down to our top 3 best relief pitchers of all time. On our number 3, we have 72 year-old Goose Gossage. He played in the MLB from 1972 to 1994.

Gossage is well known for his mustache and gruff demeanor. The Chicago White Sox drafted him in the ninth round of the 1970 MLB draft. During his career, he played for nine teams in MLB.

Gossage is well known for his time in New York Yankees and San Diego Padres among the nine teams. His career highlight wins include World Series champion, and AL Rolaids Relief Man Award, among others.

Goose Gossage
Goose Gossage (Source: Instagram)

Similarly, he is also a nine times All-Star, and three times AL saves leader. He retired from MLB with a 124-107 Win-loss record, 3.01 earned run average, 1,502 strikeouts, and 310 saves.

Gossage was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.

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2. Dennis Eckersley

69 year-old Dennis Eckersley is a former MLB player who played in the MLB from 1975. Nicknamed “Eck,” he is the first of the two pitchers in MLB history to have a 20-win season and a 50-save season in a career.

The Cleveland Indians drafted Eckersley in the third round of the 1972 MLB draft. He made his MLB draft in 1975. Later in 1978, the Indians traded him to Boston Red Sox.

Likewise, he also played with Chicago Cubs, Oakland Athletics, and St. Louis Cardinals during his playing career.

Dennis Eckersley
Dennis Eckersley (Source: Instagram)

Eckersley’s career highlight wins include WorldSeries champion, AL Cy Young Award, All-Star six times, AL MVP, AL Rolaids Relief Man Award two times, etc.

In 2004, he was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He retired in 1998 with an MLB record of 197-171 Win-loss record, 3.50 earned run average, 2,401 strikeouts, and 390 saves.

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1. Mariano Rivera

The number 1 best relief pitcher of all time in MLB history goes to 54 year-old Panamanian-American former player Mariano Rivera who spent most of his career as a relief pitcher.

Before entering the major leagues, Rivera played in the amateur league. The New York Yankees signed him as an amateur free agent in 1990. He made his MLB debut in 1995.

Rivera spent his whole 19 seasons with the Yankees. He established himself as baseball’s top reliever. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, he was the key contributor to the Yankees’ success.

Mariano Rivera pitching in Baltimore
Mariano Rivera pitching in Baltimore (Source: Wikimedia.org)

He accumulated several wins and awards during his career, like World Series champion five times, AL Rolaids Relief Man Award five times, MLB saves leader two times, etc.

Rivera is regarded as one of the most dominant relievers in major league history. He is well-known for his signature pitch, precise control, smooth pitching motion, and composure.

In 2019, Rivera was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He retired in 2013 with an MLB record of a Win-loss record of 82-60, 2.21earned run average, 1,173 strikeouts, 652 saves, and 1 WHIP.


These relief pitchers have shown an incredible display of their skills during their MLB careers. Many times, relying on their skills, the team has been able to pull off many successful feats. Therefore, we believe they deserve the credit.

What do you think of our list? Do you agree that these relief pitchers are the best in MLB history? Do share your thoughts!

Boby Rai
Boby Raihttps://playersbio.com/

Boby Rai

Boby Rai is a dedicated writer who specializes in capturing the essence of sporting excellence through his unique lens. As the creative mind behind numerous sports-centric projects, he brings a fresh perspective to the world of athletics, blending insightful commentary with captivating narratives.


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  • Boby's writing transcends conventional boundaries, offering readers a glimpse into the lesser-known stories.
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Armed with a passion for sports and a gift for storytelling, Boby has honed his craft through years of immersive experiences in the field. With a keen eye for detail and an unwavering commitment to authenticity, he continues to inspire and inform readers through his thought-provoking work.

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