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Top bullpens

Long after Anthony Rizzo raised his arms in celebration and stuffed the championship-clinching baseball into his right pocket, Aroldis Chapman reminded everyone why the Great Reliever Revolution has no chance of happening.

When the New York Yankees formally announced the re-signing of Chapman, he suggested to reporters on a conference call that Cubs manager Joe Maddon overused him through Chicago’s championship run.

“Personally, I don’t agree with the way he used me,” Chapman said through an interpreter. “But he is the manager, and he had the strategy, you know?”

This was after Chapman, Maddon and the Cubs won the World Series — after it all ended well. Imagine how some players feel about aggressive bullpen decisions by a manager of much less stature than Maddon — in other words, most managers — when things don’t turn out well.

The primary reason that the Great Reliever Revolution will never truly take form is a matter of practicality. The aggressive manner in which Terry Francona managed the Cleveland bullpen last October cannot happen during the summer, because there are no consistent off-days built into the regular season; teams play almost every day. In the first two months that Andrew Miller pitched for Francona, in August and September, he had exactly one appearance in which he reached 30 pitches (35, on Sept. 17). In the 32 days of the Indians’ 2016 postseason, Miller threw more than 30 pitches five times. If Francona tried to do that from April through September, Miller wouldn’t be available at all for stretches of three or four days. If Francona wanted to call on Miller for a fifth-inning jam, that would mean asking Cody Allen or Bryan Shaw to stretch out in the eighth inning — making them unavailable for two or three days.

“The postseason is a different animal,” Francona said recently. “The only time I do it different during the season is when a pitcher hasn’t pitched for too long.”

But at the heart of what Chapman said was not animosity toward Maddon, but players’ general cravings for structure as they go through the long regular season. Most position players want to know the night before a game whether they’re going to be in the lineup. Most starting pitchers want to know how long the national anthem will be so they can time their warmups properly. Most relievers want to know, generally, when the bullpen phone could ring for them.

This is part of what distinguishes Miller from a lot of relievers: He has shown time and again, with the Red Sox, Orioles, Yankees and Indians, that he does not fret over when he is used. He believes that he is paid to pitch when he is told to pitch, and not just as a setup man, or a closer, or in the eighth or ninth inning.

Relievers have been paid record-setting dollars this winter. But don’t assume that means the newly minted Kenley Jansen is going to be jumping up in the bullpen in the seventh inning in April, or that Joe Girardi will call on Chapman in the eighth. The habits and needs of the old baseball world are too entrenched for the Great Reliever Revolution to happen — for now.

With that in mind: Here’s a ranking of the Top 10 team bullpens in MLB, based on the input of evaluators.

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