Having already examined position players and starting pitchers, we’ll now set our sights on this year’s crop of minor-league signees who have turned into useful relievers. Volatility goes both ways, of course, so it’s relatively unsurprising to see hurlers emerge in a MLB pen after failing to land 40-man spots over the winter.
When we checked in on relief arms earlier this season, we were focused mostly on which pitchers had earned opportunities. Now, we’ll turn our attention to their actual contributions on the season. We’re looking for volume and quality of innings here. If there’s anyone you think I missed, drop a comment and we’ll talk it out.
The nominees, presented in order of the number of innings pitched:
- Tyler Clippard, Blue Jays: Home runs have remained an issue, but Clippard has provided the Jays with 58 1/3 frames of 3.70 ERA ball with 10.5 K/9 against just 2.8 BB/9. Not bad considering Clippard opened the spring at the MLBPA free agent camp.
- Dylan Floro, Dodgers/Reds: There’s a strong argument to be made that Floro has been the find of the year. He’s now through 57 innings with a 2.37 ERA, with less-than-exciting K/BB figures but an excellent 56.4% groundball rate. Better still, he won’t even be eligible for arbitration until 2021.
- Richard Rodriguez, Pirates: Another excellent contender for the best minor-league relief signee, Rodriguez is humming along with 10.6 K/9 against 2.6 BB/9 for the Bucs. His 13.0% swinging-strike rate portends good things in the future; like Floro, he’s under team control through at least 2023.
- Justin Miller, Nationals: Though he’s fading a bit as the dingers pile up, Miller has also been pressed into roles to which he’s probably not best suited. Regardless, with 10.4 K/9 (13.9% SwStr) and 2.9 BB/9 over 44 frames on the season, to go with a 3.89 ERA, Miller looks like an arb keeper.
- Erik Goeddel, Dodgers/Mariners: Though he’s dishing out too many free passes, the 29-year-old has been awfully tough to square up. He carries a .268 wOBA and a .264 xwOBA to match. In 36 2/3 innings this year, he owns a 2.95 ERA.
- Xavier Cedeno, White Sox: Suppressing home runs has driven Cedeno’s 2.96 ERA, but he’s also producing 10.4 K/9 against 4.8 BB/9 to go with a 53.2% groundball rate. He hasn’t been asked to get many outs, compiling only 24 1/3 innings in 32 appearances, but seems like a good bet to be tendered a contract for 2019 (which will be his final season of arb eligibility).
- Jonny Venters, Braves/Rays: Another veteran southpaw, Venters has allowed just seven earned runs in 24 2/3 innings this year — and done so after five full seasons away from the majors owing to a dizzying run of arm injuries. He has held 49 opposing lefty hitters to a .156/.229/.250 slash.
- Vidal Nuno, Rays: It’s tough to get too excited about his 1.50 ERA when it is so heavily dependent upon a .169 BABIP-against and 95.7% strand rate, but Nuno has given the Tampa Bay organization 24 useful frames.
- Oliver Perez, Indians: The bottom-line results are equally sparkly for yet another southpaw, but in this case there are more interesting underlying peripherals as well. Perez has recorded 10.2 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 with a career-high 13.6% swinging-strike rate. Opposing hitters have managed a paltry .153 wOBA against him; that’s likely a bit fortunate, but the 37-year-old has also been outstanding by measure of expected outcomes based upon the quality of contact (.217 xwOBA).
- Ryan Brasier, Red Sox: Though he has thrown only twenty MLB frames, Brasier has been a revelation for the Boston organization with a paltry 0.90 ERA. He’s pumping 97 mph heat and generating a hefty 15.8% swinging-strike rate in his first action in the majors since a brief showing back in 2013. There’s some regression to come, to be sure, as Brasier won’t continue to hold opposing hitters homerless with a .180 BABIP. Still, the initial showing has been awfully impressive.
- Honorable Mention: John Axford, Matt Magill, Louis Coleman, Jorge De La Rosa, Neil Ramirez, Anthony Bass