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Kent Hrbek inside the park homer at the Metrodome in 1984

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Surveying the 2018/19 Free Agent Relievers at the Quarter Pole

Posted by diehardtwinsfan , 18 May 2019 · 2,276 views

Gaging value in relief pitichers is always a difficult task given that they are prone to issues with small sample size. Many relievers who were good one season will regress the next, and as we've seen with Blake Parker, guys who were nothing special can turn into a very good option.

Regardless, it was, without question, a point of contention this offseason among TD readers about the front office getting more help for the pen. I personally beat this horse dead on numerous occasions. I was happy with the Parker signing, but made it clear that I didn't want this to be the main acquisition. The pen so far has not been as bad as some of us (myself included) thought. It has essentially been slightly better than league average if WAR is be believed, though its peripherals definitely say that there's room for improvement.

As such, I'm going to wade into the dollars vs. development debate and take a look at the FA relievers from the 2018 season to see if it was worth spending the money. I'll split these out by contract value. That's a bit arbitrary, but it does speak to the general demand for these players. My main source is this ESPN list. I'm not going to pretend that I've found all of them, so apologies if I missed a few. I'm not going to touch minor league signings.

The cream of the Crop:
  • Kelvin Herrera - Herrera signed a 2/17 deal with Chicago and has so far been a bust, posting an ERA north of 5 out of the pen in 20 appearances so far this season. His K rate has been acceptable, but his BB rate has risen along with his WHIP.
  • Andrew Miller - Another big name in the RP market, Miller has been, so far at least, a bust as well, posting a 4.80 ERA for the Cards after signing a 2/25 deal with an additional option. His K rate has improved this season but his WHIP has gotten worse with increases in hits, walks, and HRs per 9 innings.
  • Adam Ottavino - Our first success story on the big name candidates comes from Ottavino, who thus far has been a dominant option in the back of the Yankees' pen. His control has been a bit worse than normal (walking 6.5 batters per 9), but his hit rate is an absurd 4.5 per 9 and his strike out rate has increased as well. So far at least the 3/27 contract he signed has been good for NY.
  • Craig Kimbrel - He's still unsigned. So the book is still out.
  • Jeurys Familia - Familia chose to remain with the Mets this offseason, and thus far hasn't rewarded the 3/30 contract he signed as his ERA is also north of 5 and his WHIP has skyrocketed due in large part to doubling his walk rate. His HR rate has doubled too thus far.
  • Zach Britton - Britton made bank signing a 3/39 deal with the Yankees and has so far not disappointed. His K rate has increased substantially while the rest of his peripherals have remained pretty close to the same. His ERA is slightly lower as well.
  • Joe Kelly - Kelly signed a 3/25 deal with the LAD and has been probably the worst of this bunch. His ERA sits over 8. His K rate has dropped and he's seen large increases in both his hit and HR rates in his 16 appearances. His walk has dropped though.
  • David Robertson - Robertson signed a 2/23 deal with Philly and has been a bust so far. He's pitched in only 7 innings and has been shelled. He's currently on the shelf with elbow sorness.
In all, there have only been two hits of the 7 who signed in this group. I cannot emphasize enough that SSS is a huge factor here, but only 2 of these guys would have helped our pen... and unfortunately both are pitching for NY.

Second Tier
  • Justin Wilson - Wilson was a cheap grab for the mets, signing a 2/10 deal. Risk aside, he hasn't performed well thus far posting a 4.8 ERA in only 10 games. His peripherals are all over the place and seems to be buoyed largely by a couple extra home runs. His K rate and BB rates are both down this year.
  • Joakim Soria - Soria signed a 2/15 deal with Oakland, and while the ERA is not pretty, his peripherals are in line with his career averages. Both his K rate and BB rates are up a bit and he has yet to give up a HR in his 21 innings. I'm not sure I'd call this a bust at this point as I think he's probably a victim of bad luck, but his 5.14 ERA is a bit ugly.
  • Cody Allen - Allen signed a 1 year deal with the Angels and so far has not lived up to his 8.5M salary. His HR and BB rates have skyrocketed though he still maintains a sexy K rate. His 5.54 ERA is something we can all live without.
  • Jesse Chavez - Chavez signed a 2/8 deal with Texas, and thus far every one of his peripherals have trended in the wrong direction. His ERA is north of 5.
  • Trevor Rosenthal - Rosenthal has under performed his 1/7 deal and is currently in the minors rehabbing due to a viral infection. His 3 inning ML sample is a bit too small to gage at this point, though the results weren't good.
There are only 5 names in this tier, and so far every team wouldn't mind a do over. I could see a couple of these names evening out over the course of this season, but none of these guys would have helped us much at this point.

Cheap Fliers
  • Brad Brach - Brach has gotten results for the Cubs, but his peripherals say he's on borrowed time. His walk rate has doubled and his K rate is about at career norms. Still for 3 million dollar deal, Brach hasn't been bad.
  • Zach Duke - yes, that Zach Duke. He signed a 2M deal with the Reds and has been horrible in 15 innings so far.
  • Cory Gearrin - the Mariners have, thus far, gotten a bargin with Gearrin for the 1.4M value of his contract. His ERA is a bit higher than we'd like for an RP at 3.63 but thus far he's performed. His K rate is way up as is his walk rate. Gearrin would be an upgrade over a couple players in our pen. Not bad for the money.
  • Greg Holland - I have to tip my cap to those on the Holland bandwagon along with Arizona for picking him for only 3.25M. He's been worth it posting a 1.80 ERA. Despite an elevated walk rate, his WHIP is down. His K rate is up. He's given up less hits and kept the ball in the park in his 15 innings. He would be one of our best relievers.
  • Shawn Kelley - Another nice find for the bargain price of 2.75M. Kelley has only pitched 14 innings, but has given up 9 hits and 2 runs in that span allowing for a 1.29 ERA.
  • Aaron Loup - The Padres got him for 1.4M and he's been perfect so far this season. The only real problem is that it's a 4 inning sample as he hit the IL in early April with elbow soreness. The book is still out here.
  • Blake Parker - We know him. So far a win for the front office.
  • Oliver Perez - Perez signed a 2.5M deal with Cleveland. He has only pitched in 10 innings to the tune of a 4.5 ERA thus far. Not a bad find in the value category. His peripherals all look pretty good and he's one of the few pitchers whose BB rate has dropped so far this season. I'm going with a bit of bad luck on the ERA, but he wouldn't present much of an upgrade to our pen.
  • David Phelps - The Blue Jays signed him in hopes that he recovers from TJS at some point this year and pitches. He went under the knife last spring. Not a bad risk for 2.5M. He's yet to pitch.
  • Tony Sipp - Sipp signed for 1.25 for the Nats and has not been good. He's appeared in 17 games and only pitched 9 innings with an ERA of 6.
  • Hunter Strickland - Strickland signed a 1.3M deal and has pitched all of 2 innings, and poorly. He's out a couple months due to a grade 2 strain of a lat muscle.
  • Adam Warren - Warren has been OK for the Padres with a 3.72 ERA. That's not special, nor are his peripherals, but he hasn't been horrible either. Not bad for 2.5M.
Of the 12 names on this list, there are only 3 clear misses at this point. Phelps was not expected to necessarily be pitching yet, so I'd say the jury is still out here. That may turn into a good deal for the Jays. Given their season though, he's likely going to be traded if he's pitching this summer. Holland, Kelley, and Parker have all been quite good for their teams. The other 6 fall under too soon to tell or value signings in that they haven't been bad, though they wouldn't necessarily be huge upgrades either.

One other trend that I noticed is that most relievers seemed to have noticeable increases in their BB rates. I'm not sure if that's more on an emphasis on Ks (which also were generally up), but relief pitching outcomes seemed much more skewed to higher BB and K rates over these pitcher's career norms. That appears, thus far, to the be the case across MLB as well, as RPs in general are averaging 3.93 BB per 9 along with 9.42 K per 9. Both are thus far significantly higher than last year.

Obviously, with these small samples, it's a bit too soon to tell on all of them, but for those of us (myself included) who wanted the Twins to do more, the results say that they would have likely missed.. The top tier has had some good performances, but has ultimately disappointed. The bottom tier has had about the same percentage of hits as the top tier along with some value guys who have performed as well as the top tier signings for much less. As much as I hate to say it, it looks like our front office hasn't done a bad job in this area.

  • birdwatcher, Mike Frasier Law, nicksaviking and 1 other like this

Wow maybe they were smart to not sign any of these guys, other than the two with NY I guess... Still, we need pitching from *somewhere*

    • diehardtwinsfan likes this
May 18 2019 12:30 PM

I'm drawing 2 conclusions from this article. First, signing free agent relievers is a total crap shoot, even with guys with decent track records. And either the Yankees are targeting the right players or they're simply better at putting them in a position to succeed. Either way, they're doing something right and I don't care for it.

    • birdwatcher, diehardtwinsfan, Mike Frasier Law and 3 others like this
I was just thinking about this subject a couple days ago. Thanks for doing this so I didnt have to take all the time for research, lol!

All of this, and the results and waiving of Addison Reed should show us, as does past history, that the FA RP market may be a bigger crapshoot than any other spot.

Now, that shouldn't preclude signings in the future. Some do work out. And if you have a pitching coach you really trust and believe in, so much more the reason to make a move or two on the FA market.

But clearly, IMO, we need to be a little more forgiving for the FO going the flier and internal development rout this past offseason.
    • Mike Frasier Law and tarheeltwinsfan like this
I'm still ticked that the Twins missed out on Hector Rondon before last season--he signed a two year contract with Houston for a lousy $8.5 million.
    • ChrisKnutson likes this
May 18 2019 05:39 PM
I know he hasn’t been overly successful for the Halos, but I still wish we would’ve signed Cody Allen. I mean, if Wes can turn Perez into our #3 starter, I’m pretty sure he could’ve gotten through to Allen as well.
May 19 2019 06:00 AM

I know Ottavino was a name a few of us tossed out. I remember a few people being on the Holland bandwagon too. If we had both of those, we'd probably have a couple more in the W column. That said, we're still in some pretty strong SSS territory. Plenty of guys could go out there and toss zeros in their next handful of appearances and look pretty good. I'll probably dust this off again come closer the ASB and see, but so far, it looks like the FO new what they were doing when they did nothing. I don't like that, but that's what the data says.

    • birdwatcher and TFRazor like this

While signing relief pitchers is a crap shoot, it is imortant to have quantity. In any given year, you are going to have a few, that for whatever reason, will not be effective. Teams should have enough depth to compensate for this. Build a good farm system and complement with low budget relief pitchers if need be.  

    • birdwatcher likes this
May 20 2019 03:32 PM

Yeah, nice list Diehard.


At one point I wanted just about everyone on that list. Funny thing though, of the top tier guys, the two I least wanted were Ottavino due to his long history of control problems and Britton as he had fallen back on what I felt was an outdated sinker and was putting the ball in play too much. I usually laugh at myself when i'm completely wrong, but it stings a bit when it ends up being the Yankees who somehow had it right.

    • birdwatcher and tarheeltwinsfan like this
May 21 2019 08:58 AM

SSS or not, these are stunning statistics in my mind. Despite the results though, I'm inclined to temper any opinion about what it says about the Twins decision-making. No Yu Darvish "I told you so" arguments are going to persuade me that the FO, rightly or wrongly, is not dancing a fine line with this pen. Morin, Adams, Magill, Duffey, Harper...those names make me nervous.


I agree with Strato Guy about depth from all sources of acquisition: the system, FA signings, minor league make-good signings, independent league wanna-be's. I'll give the FO some credit in that regard. Looking at Diehard's list, and then looking at our own list of disappointments leads me to thinking they get an okay grade when it comes to assuring adequate yet imperfect depth. They've had their share of hiccups so far in Romero, Hildenberger, Vasquez, et al, but also their share of pleasant surprises too in Harper, Magill, possibly Duffey and Morin, who knows?


But dammit, they shudda gone out and gotten Ottovino. I told them so.

May 22 2019 03:30 AM

Nice post. Thanks.