There’s no more fickle existence in Major League Baseball than that of a relief pitcher. Teams are generally more willing to tinker with their bullpens than their benches, and often need to make changes to account for overworked staffs.
But the tumult also brings opportunity. Relievers who are throwing well at the right moment can find themselves right back in the majors. And there are often wide-open Spring Training battles to be joined and won.
Plenty of relievers signed minor-league deals last winter. And a solid number of them ended up on MLB rosters within the first two months of the season. Despite failing to receive MLB guarantees on the free-agent market, these ten hurlers have provided quite a bit of value in the early going:
Matt Albers, Nationals: With the Nats’ pen struggling badly, Albers has been a desperately need source of reliable frames: 16 2/3 innings of 1.62 ERA ball. A strong 57.8% groundball rate and meager 1.6 BB/9 walk rate tend to support the results, though Albers isn’t getting enough whiffs (7.6 K/9) to keep up quite this level of pitching.
Craig Breslow, Twins: The lefty specialist has been everything the Minnesota front office hoped for when it bought into his new-look delivery over the winter. Like Albers, a minimal BABIP (.217 in this case) helps explain the sub-2.00 ERA, though in both cases the solid early work is enough to entrench these pitchers in their respective pens for the time being.
Jorge De La Rosa, Diamondbacks: A long-time starter, De La Rosa has averaged less than one inning per relief appearance in Arizona. But the results of that change in focus have been quite promising. It’s good enough that De La Rosa carries a 50% groundball rate with 8.8 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9, supporting a 2.35 ERA through 15 1/3 frames. But there could be more in the tank, as he’s also averaging a career-high 94.1 mph with his fastball and generating a huge 19.5% swinging-strike rate.
David Hernandez, Angels: Though he has completed just 11 innings thus far, after making his debut later than most of the names on this list, Hernandez has impressed. He’s showing the same kind of velocity and swinging-strike rates that made him a buy-low option last year for the Phillies, but the real question is whether he can continue to avoid the long balls that have plagued him in recent years.
J.J. Hoover, Diamondbacks: It was anyone’s guess whether the former Reds’ late-inning stalwart would rebound, but he’s showing well through fifteen frames in Arizona. Hoover is walking more than five batters per nine, but has also racked up 12.6 K/9 (on a career-high 12.6% swinging-strike rate) and owns a 3.00 ERA. So far, a new pitch mix (more two-seamers and sliders) seems to be working.
Jason Motte, Braves: After beating out Hernandez to become the next veteran reclamation project in Atlanta, Motte has ascended to the majors and helped stabilize the pen. His peripherals aren’t terribly inspiring — 6.4 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 53.1% groundball rate — but the results (1.59 ERA) have been there through 11 1/3 innings.
Bud Norris, Angels: The crown jewel of the Halos’ impressive slate of finds, Norris has thrived in the closer’s role that he took over out of necessity. Through 23 2/3 innings, he carries a 2.66 ERA with 11.8 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, and a 44.2% groundball rate. Norris is bringing more velocity (94.1 mph fastball) and swinging strikes (13.2%) than ever before.
Yusmeiro Petit, Angels: The veteran long man has been stellar, delivering 28 1/3 staff-preserving innings of 2.54 ERA ball through 16 appearances. Petit is carrying 9.5 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9 on the year. (As if the trio of arms on this list weren’t enough, the Halos have also benefited from the strong work of Blake Parker, who had been outrighted off the 40-man roster over the winter.)
Anthony Swarzak, White Sox: There are some very strong performers on this list, but perhaps none has been quite as impressive as Swarzak. He has given the South Siders 19 2/3 breakout innings of 1.37 ERA ball, with 10.1 K/9 and just 0.9 BB/9 in that span. At present, he’s working at a 19.8% swinging-strike rate — about double what he carried over the prior two campaigns — making him quite an interesting potential trade candidate this summer.
Jacob Turner, Nationals: Though he isn’t carrying sparkly numbers, Turner has been an important contributor in D.C. He’s functioning in the swingman role that Petit occupied last year, providing 21 2/3 innings (over two starts and six relief appearances) of 3.74 ERA pitching thus far. While Turner is averaging only 5.8 strikeouts and 3.3 walks per nine, he is continuing to carry the velocity boost he showed last year. Interestingly, he is now working in the zone far more than ever before (50.2% versus 42.1% career average) — though it’s also important to note that his swings and misses are way down (4.8%).
DBacks did well to pick up De La Rosa, Hoover and Wilhelmsen as minor league free agents. A trade for another back End reliever at the deadline could really help this team get to October
Let’s hope they are willing to not only go get a reliever but also drop Rodney down the bullpen ranks when that time comes (will be sooner than later)
Outside of two or three outings, Rodney has been decent. I do agree that they’d be better served with Bradley or anyone else in the closer role though. The problem with then acquiring a closer is that they don’t have the prospects to get anyone much better than what they currently have.
So Hoover doesn’t suck…
…is this thing on?
No he’s still the same old Hoover just wait
Dam, he sucks!
Your mother taught him how to.
Angels need to trade those relievers for prospects.
You do realize that the Angels are only 1 game back in the wild card right? I laugh because if you listen to ESPN and most fans, the Angels are the worst team in baseball.
RyÅn W Krol
I think the word ‘contender’ was way overused during offseason. Pundits and fans alike were so stuck on what happened last season, not realizing how nearly impossible it will be for the Cubs to repeat ranking at the top in both runs and ERA. That’s a rare occurrence to begin with. And now we’re seeing teams that made the playoffs struggling just to stay above .500. Twins and Rockies are in first. Blue Jays and Mets are pretty much done. Angels, like you said, a game out of the WC. I think people missed the part where the Angels lost an entire starting rotation throughout the season. But they also scraped together a bullpen that eventually became more effective by late August. Now they have a durable bullpen full of multi inning reliever, and are getting a full season from Ricky Nolasco and a fine replacement for Garrett Richards so far in JC Ramirez. A lot of that has to do with having Martin Maldonado behind the plate. And they might have stumbled upon a very good pitching coach in Charles Nagy.
The angels started 2016 off with Richards, heaney, Santiago, Shoemaker, Wilson, weaver,Skaggs, and tropeano as starters for the rotation. Only Shoemaker and weaver were healthy the whole season and shoe was sent to triple a. So the worst starter they had the most.
What, no love for Drew Storen? An ERA under 2 until his last outing. The Nat’s might come calling for former closer.
Signed a big league deal.
Swarzak has been lights out, should fetch the Sox a nice return if they decide to deal him before the deadline.
If only he was good when he was on the Yankees.
Well, if they want him now that he is good they would have no problem in getting him back. The Yankees have this nice little problem called cash flow and prospect currency, the best of both worlds. He would lengthen that bullpen even more, would be a solid deadline pick up
Yanks need starters,currently they have the third best BP ERA in MLB,seventh in SO per inning in BP in MLB,and Chapman has been out awhile. They’ll be fine with what they got up and what they can bring up!
The Yankees are scary good right now, Chris Carter batting last on a team is something I thought wasn’t imaginable but in that lineup it is certainly justifiable.
By “nice return” you mean a random prospect in Double-A instead of Single-A? Cuz Swarzak isn’t fetching an actual prospect.
Do we really need to have a history lesson on last year’s relievers that were traded and what was came back to the other team in those trades? Fernando Rodney, Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Will Smith, Jeffress, Brad Ziegler, Tyler Thornburg.. Just to name a few incase you wanted to do some research to see what those guys netted in return.
Swarzak is filthy and someone will give up a top 10-15 organizational prospect for him, not to mention he is cheap which also bodes well for what the return will be, not to mention his GM has shown in the past coupe trades that he will get what he wants as far as prospects in trades are concerned.
Do you guys even proof read your articles before posting? Christ!
What’s the problem, exactly?
Why do people take it as a personal attack on their freedom if they spot a missing comma or a slightly misspelled word?
Proofread is one word.
Too much emphasis continues to be placed on strikeouts. While sometimes a strikeout is needed, give me a pitcher that has movement and can locate for pop ups and ground balls. Relying on hard throwing and strikeouts is what puts many on the DL. I’ve always liked Ambers when healthy and I was hoping the Sox would again sign Breslow. Abad? Give me anyone but Abad. I just don’t trust him.
In the bullpen? Late innings and close games? No, you want strikeouts. Too much risk in putting the ball in play.
Correct, Ask Blake Treinen how being a groundball reliever has its ups and downs.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the best reliever in the game last season, Zach Britton, was also the reliever with the highest GB%. It wasn’t particularly close on either measure. His 80% GB rate was 14% higher than Treinen’s.
Ground balls are not often hit for home runs. Home runs are a relievers biggest nemesis, not singles up the middle.
Movement AND control. Today all they do is throw as hard as they can until they dial up Doc Andrew’s. That’s not pitching. While there have always been injuries, it’s escalated at a time when relievers are starting to get paid. Give me the one who knows how to pitch. Mariano and Hoffman, the two with the most saves. Neither threw the ball through a brick wall yet their careers had something in common. an unhittable pitch that they knew where it was going before they threw it.
Eppler hit gold. With three starters and the top three Angels relievers gone, he gets Hernandez, Petite, Norris and Parker. Thank good DiPoto is gone!
So true. I could not be more impressed with the job Eppler has done. Inexpensive players to give the Angels a shot, while trying to somewhat salvage the farm