We’ve already done this for position players and starters, so let’s check in on the relief arms. In this context, as MLBTR arb guru Matt Swartz teaches, we’re looking for innings, ERA, and saves or (to a lesser extent) holds. Swartz also frequently cites strikeouts as a factor in analyzing comparables.
Now, to be sure, the “opener” concept and/or other contemporary baseball phenomena may one day lead to some changes in how reliever salaries are determined. For now, though, the traditional numbers still play in the arbitration process. Here are ten relievers who can anticipate nice first-time arb salaries after turning in strong 2018 showings.
- Matt Barnes, Red Sox: Though he doesn’t own an overly dominant ERA (3.39), Barnes has made the most of his 58 1/3 frames for purposes of arbitration-worthy counting stats. He has not only recorded an impressive (and quite surprising) 92 strikeouts, but has picked up 25 holds while serving in a set-up capacity for the league’s best regular season team.
- Carl Edwards Jr., Cubs (possible Super Two): With 1.134 years of service, Edwards is in the grey area for S2 eligibility, but well within the plausible zone to make it. He’s also one of the best candidates on this list. Despite some trouble with consistency, and an unhealthy volume of walks, Edwards has racked up 21 holds and 64 strikeouts over 49 innings of 2.39 ERA pitching.
- Archie Bradley, Diamondbacks: Bradley hasn’t followed up on his dominating 2017 season, but he was still leaned on by the Arizona ballclub in the late innings. He has accumulated 66 2/3 frames of 3.65 ERA ball while recording a league-leading 33 holds.
- Taylor Rogers, Twins (likely Super Two): It has been a breakout campaign for Rogers, who is through 64 1/3 innings with a nice 2.80 ERA. Though he has only picked up a pair of saves, he has 16 holds and has retired 72 opposing batters on strikes.
- Scott Oberg, Rockies: Through 54 frames this year, Oberg carries a sparkling 2.17 ERA. All that despite pitching much of the time at Coors Field. With solid tallies of 13 holds and 50 strikeouts also bolstering his case, it has been a strong year all things considered.
- Chaz Roe, Rays: True, his 3.54 ERA in 48 1/3 innings doesn’t jump off the page. But Roe has picked up 27 holds, the seventh highest tally in baseball this year.
- Ryan Tepera, Blue Jays: He’s now up to seven saves and 16 holds, so Tepera has some useful numbers to dangle before a panel if his case makes it to a hearing. Otherwise, he carries a pedestrian 3.84 ERA in 61 innings.
- Mychal Givens, Orioles: True, he’s only carrying a 4.39 ERA. But Givens is likely to exceed seventy innings and has also accumulated 7 saves and 15 holds, so he’ll still be paid.
- Heath Hembree, Red Sox: With a 4.15 ERA in 56 1/3 innings, Hembree doesn’t seem like much of a candidate. But he has recorded 73 strikeouts and is one of only 22 pitchers to have reached twenty holds, so he’ll likely be another beneficiary of some of the ballclub’s overall success.
- Kyle Barraclough, Marlins: He has failed to capitalize on the opportunity to rack up a big number of saves, losing his closing job and sitting on 53 innings of 4.42 ERA ball. But the hard-throwing hurler has still reached double-digit saves (10) and picked up seven holds as well.
- Honorable Mention: Edwin Diaz had 1.121 days of service entering the season, giving him a very outside chance at Super Two eligibility. That seems unlikely, but if he does qualify, his monster season will result in a handsome reward. Ryan Buchter of the A’s has a case with 15 holds and a 3.12 ERA, but the southpaw has only thrown 34 2/3 innings. Dodgers righty Erik Goeddell has a sub-3.00 ERA, but is also under forty frames and hasn’t worked the late innings. And though he has 11 saves, Phillies reliever Hector Neris carries an ugly 5.52 ERA in just 44 frames.