Much of the free agent market has been picked clean at this point, but there are a handful of solid relief pitchers left for clubs looking to shore up their bullpens. In particular, there remains a group of relief options with heat that checks in well north of the 92.5 mph average velocity of the league-average relief arm from 2014. If your team is on the hunt for a hard-throwing arm, here are the top names left (courtesy of Fangraphs’ leaderboards)…
- John Axford (94.7 mph) — Axford split the 2014 season between the Indians and Pirates, and while his control was the worst of his career (5.9 BB/9), he also managed to strike out 10.4 hitters per nine and post a career-best 53.6 percent ground-ball rate. The Canadian-born former closer has been linked to the Rockies and Blue Jays of late and could be a boost to a number of bullpens if he can rein in his command and keep the added grounders.
- Chris Perez (94.3 mph) — Another former Indians stopper, Perez also battled his control in what was a disappointing first (and apparently only) season with the Dodgers. He’s still just 29 and won’t be 30 until July, making him one of the youngest options on the market. Perez’s K/9 dropped from 9.0 in 2013 to 7.6 in 2014, but his swinging-strike rate in 2014 was actually better than it was the year before. The velocity he showed was his best since 2010, so there are some positives here despite the sub-par results.
- Dustin McGowan (94 mph) — McGowan, 32, made it through the 2014 season without so much as a single day on the disabled list, which is no small feat for a man who was on the 60-day DL in each season from 2008-13. Those injury problems will limit McGowan’s market, and his 4.17 ERA (4.74 xFIP) don’t paint a pretty picture either. However, McGowan worked to a much more palatable 3.35 ERA (4.17 xFIP) in 43 innings as a relief pitcher, striking out 36 and walking 16.
- Phil Coke (93.7 mph) — Coke’s 3.88 ERA was the second-best full-season mark of his career, and 2014 was the first time that ERA, FIP, xFIP and SIERA all pegged him for a mark under 4.00. His strikeout numbers (6.4 K/9) weren’t up to his normal levels, but Coke did reestablish his control (3.1 BB/9). The 2014 season was another piece of evidence that he’s best shielded from right-handed hitters, but he can likely help a team against left-handed hitters.
- Joba Chamberlain (93.5 mph) — It’s been a surprisingly quiet offseason for Chamberlain given the strong year he recorded in 2014. Chamberlain posted a 3.57 ERA with most estimators feeling that mark could’ve come down by 0.2 to 0.4 runs. He averaged 8.4 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 with a 53.2 percent ground-ball rate in 63 innings and has age on his side, as he won’t turn 30 until late September. Perhaps the lack of activity truly is because he rejected offers from teams for which he did not wish to play, but I’m personally a bit surprised that we haven’t heard more on the Joba front this winter.
- Matt Lindstrom (93.1 mph) — Lindstrom is the elder statesman of this group at 34 (35 next week), and he’s coming off an injury-shortened season in which he recorded the second-worst ERA of his career (5.03). However, he has a history of plus velocity (95.8 mph career average fastball) and solid control. Lindstrom ditched his four-seamer for a sinker in 2012, and the result has been a ground-ball rate well over 50 percent in the three seasons since the change. He said he hoped to return to the White Sox previously, but a new team is probably the more likely outcome, and he could be a nice low-risk option for a team with bullpen uncertainty.
It should also be noted that names such as Jose Veras, Matt Albers and Kyle Farnsworth are either at or just a tick above the league-average velocity. Another relief option, David Aardsma, is set to throw for clubs a week from today and is said to have increased his velocity after changing his mechanics. Likewise, Albers will be showcasing for clubs a week from tomorrow.