The Free Agent Bargain Bin – Relief Pitchers

Sample size discrepancies render relief pitcher evaluations useless, at times. 60 inning buckets are volatile in nature. Even more problematic, baseball fans (myself included) tend to latch onto yearly figures in a predictive sense. We want to analyze a player based on the most recent data while using said data to make exclamations about future effectiveness.

This is problematic, especially when evaluating relief pitching. Beyond the elite level arms, such as Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, yearly accomplishments are volatile. The volatility clouds up free agency and, as a result, run prevention statistics like ERA are considerably less important than with starting pitching. The Indians, facing the loss of Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith, will have to scan the relief pitching market for buy-low candidates, coming off of poor 2017 showings but with more to offer than their statistics would indicate. Should they come up empty with Shaw and Smith, the Indians should look at the following names as potential replacements.

Luke Gregerson

After a disastrous regular season campaign, the world champion Houston Astros did not depend on Gregerson much in the playoffs. He pitched a total of 3.2 innings in their 18 game playoff stretch, not allowing a run. The limited usage reflected lacking trust after Gregerson allowed 31 earned runs in 61 innings throughout the season. Prior to 2017, he had reeled together eight straight seasons of effective relief work, essentially injury free.

At age 33, the first inclination to explain Gregerson’s difficulties would be diminishing skills due to age. However, his strikeout output remained consistent with his previous campaign and he still wielded a well-above-average whiff rate of 15.6 percent. Additionally, he was a bit unlucky, permitting a weighted on-base average of 0.338 versus an expected mark of only 0.305 in that category. Home runs were an issue, as he allowed more fly balls than in previous seasons, but the home run rate should regress towards the mean. A one year contract with a team option for a second year might be a prudent investment for the Indians.

Trevor Rosenthal

There is a major catch here — Rosenthal underwent Tommy John surgery at the end of August, meaning he would not be available for most, if not all, of 2018. He was scheduled to enter his final year of arbitration with St. Louis, who understandably wanted to avoid giving him a raise to rehab from surgery. The dominant late-inning arm was as impressive as ever in 2017, striking out over fourteen hitters per nine innings and finishing in the top ten among relievers in fWAR on the National League side, despite the injury ending his season early. The Indians should explore a deal that pays him to rehab with them, in hopes of a team option in Year 2 to reap the rewards.

Ian Krol

A quick scan through Ian Krol’s career numbers leaves nothing to be desired, outside of a successful 2016 season. The 26-year-old lefty has had a few tumultuous campaigns but if used correctly, could be an effective back-end arm. Over the past two seasons, he has actually fared slightly better against right-handed hitters, so he is not just your typical left-handed one-out guy (affectionately portrayed as LOOGY).

Krol is very similar to Bryan Shaw in that he depends on his fastball and cutter primarily, using them at a 90 percent rate over the past couple seasons. Inducing swinging strikes at an above average rate while leaning so heavily on fastballs is encouraging in regards to his stuff. Increased breaking ball usage could yield more productive results if new Tribe bullpen coach Scott Atchison could find ways to exploit the pitch without exposing it. The Indians should definitely monitor the market for Krol, as he would likely be an interesting flyer on a minor league contract.

Tyler Chatwood

Starting pitchers in Colorado offer very little in terms of statistical analysis. We know the numbers are inflated but quantifying to which degree they are inflated is a fool’s errand. Winnowing down to his batted ball profile shows some promise. Chatwood’s ability to induce ground balls, at nearly a 60 percent clip, is among the league leaders in this category. His major issue is lackluster control, issuing a walk every two innings. Perhaps this walk rate issue could be mitigated in a transition to a bullpen role. With the premium placed on starting pitching in free agency, it’s hard to imagine that he would be an affordable conversion project but the Indians should monitor his market closely to see if it dips enough to become an interesting flyer.

Michael Pineda

Similar to Rosenthal, Michael Pineda underwent Tommy John surgery in 2017. His surgery was a couple months prior, though, so he should be able to return towards the back end of the 2018 season. A starter throughout his career, Pineda has flashed greatness in small samples but has not been able to find consistency. In a bullpen role, he could dial up the fastball in excess of 95 miles per hour and lean on his effective slider to induce swings and misses. His repertoire resembles that of relievers, as he has never been able to fully establish his changeup as an effective third pitch. He could provide multi-inning relief efforts in the same mold as the Astros’ Chris Devenski if in the right situation. As with Chatwood, the market will dictate the Indians involvement.