2023 MLB Reliever of the Year Award Winners
The season may not have ended the way Felix Bautista or Devin Williams wanted, but the two players who dominated the game on Wednesday were named Reliever of the Year in their respective league.
Bautista, whose stellar campaign with the Orioles’ rookie team was cut short by Tommy John surgery, earned the American League’s Mariano Rivera Award for Most Valuable Player, while Williams – whose team was knocked out of the National Wild Card Series by the Brewers – claimed his second career NL Trevor Hoffman Award for Most Valuable Reliever For this year.
Bautista was one of the main reasons the Orioles won their first AL East title since 2014 — and only their second in the past 25 seasons. After an impressive showing as a starter in 2022, Bautista earned his first All-Star selection in ’23 on his way to recording a 1.48 ERA, 33 saves, and 110 strikeouts over 61 innings.
That average of 16.2 strikeouts per nine innings pitched was the third-best mark in AL history among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched, trailing only Craig Kimbrel (16.4 in 2017) and Aroldis Chapman (16.3 in 2018).
Bautista’s season ended prematurely when he suffered soreness in his right elbow following an outing on August 25, the final appearance of his breakout season. The 28-year-old reliever made a failed comeback attempt in late September before eventually undergoing Tommy John surgery on October 9.
Although he was unable to play, Bautista was able to celebrate with his teammates when Baltimore clinched the AL East title on September 28.
“He’s a big reason why we’re celebrating,” manager Brandon Hyde said at the time. “A huge reason for us to celebrate.”
Although the O’s won 101 games during the regular season (their most since 1979), they were ultimately swept in the ALDS by the eventual World Series champion Rangers.
Williams’ Brewers experienced a similar postseason exit after winning the NL Central for the second time in three seasons.
Williams, who also earned NL Reliever of the Year honors in 2020, has continued to assert himself as a dominant closer in the major leagues with an impressive 23rd season. The 29-year-old right-hander finished with a 1.53 ERA and 36 saves while striking out 87 batters over 58 2/3 innings in 61 games.
Williams has a 1.75 ERA dating back to 2020, the year he won his first Reliever of the Year award. This is the best in the majors during that period. Bautista is second with a 1.85 ERA.
Of course, Bautista and Williams take a completely different approach to the mound.
Bautista recorded 59 of his 110 at-bats with his four-seam fastball, which averaged 99.5 mph. The other 51 came on his separator.
Williams, on the other hand, used his changeup — rarely a comfortable two-hit offering — to finish 57 of 87 at-bats. The other 30 came on his four-seater, a distance that averaged just 94.2 mph.
“It’s something I played with as a kid to mess with my friends,” Williams told MLB.com in September. “I took it to the mound. I started developing it — see what it’s like coming off the mound. I learned to control it. I still struggle with it sometimes. Organically, this has happened since I was 10 years old.”
This pitch played a pivotal role in Williams becoming one of only six active pitchers to win multiple Reliever of the Year awards. The others are Kimbrell (three), Josh Hader (three), Edwin Diaz (two), Liam Hendricks (two) and Kenley Jansen (two).
Although Bautista is expected to miss the entire 2024 season while he rehabilitates from Tommy John surgery, he will look to join this exclusive club when he returns to the mound in ’25.
“He should be back in the Felix Bautista role in 2025 spring training, so we’ll be in good shape there long term,” Orioles general manager Mike Elias said in September. “He’s going to get through this. He’s very healthy and has a work ethic other than that. But obviously we’re going to miss this guy terribly.”
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