11 pitchers to watch in FA relief market

January 17th, 2021

The top free-agent reliever came off the board this past week, with signing a four-year, $54 million deal with the White Sox. So did (Phillies) and (Astros). But a large number of intriguing options remain.

While the best available relievers are not without their flaws, each of the pitchers below has the potential to significantly boost a team’s bullpen. Here are the pros and cons clubs are surely considering. (Players listed in order based on their FanGraphs wins above replacement total over 2019-20.)

, RHP (3.4 fWAR)

Pros
Yates was brilliant in 2019, leading all pitchers (min. 50 innings) in ERA (1.19) and FIP (1.30) while ranking third in strikeout rate (41.6%). Mowing down hitters with a steady diet of four-seamers and splitters, the right-hander held opponents to a .229 xwOBA, the second-best mark among qualifiers. Yates was also excellent the year before, recording a 2.14 ERA while yielding a lowly .259 xwOBA.

Cons
A late bloomer, Yates is entering his age-34 campaign in 2021. He threw just 4 1/3 innings this past season, as he underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow after giving up six runs on seven hits and four walks in his first six appearances.

, LHP (2.6 fWAR)

Pros
Since the beginning of 2016, Hand has recorded a 2.70 ERA with a 1.07 WHIP and a 33.3% strikeout rate in 320 innings. The left-hander had the third-lowest FIP (1.37) in MLB this past season and led the Majors with 16 saves in 16 chances.

Cons
As MLB.com’s Matt Kelly pointed out in his breakdown of Hand back in November, the southpaw’s velocity on both his fastball and slider was down a couple ticks in 2020, and his whiff rate (misses per swings) dropped to 24.8% -- his lowest since moving to the bullpen full time in ’16. Additionally, Hand’s ground-ball rate has plummeted to 27.6% over the past two years (46.6% from ’16-18).

, RHP (1.8 fWAR)

Pros
Osuna has been excellent since he debuted in 2015, registering MLB’s third-best WHIP (0.90) and K/BB ratio (6.33) in that span among pitchers with at least 200 innings. He’s the youngest pitcher on this list, as he’s entering his age-26 season.

Cons
If Osuna’s health wasn’t a question mark, he’d likely still be a member of the Astros. Houston opted to outright the righty off the 40-man roster in October after he threw just 4 1/3 innings due to a partially torn UCL in his right elbow this past season, and he elected free agency. He’s attempting to pitch through the injury instead of undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Related

, RHP (1.5 fWAR)

Pros
While he's pitched for 10 teams in 14 seasons, Clippard has managed to remain effective for much of his big league tenure. The veteran has rebounded from a 4.77 ERA in 2017 by posting a 3.22 ERA with a 1.00 WHIP over the past three seasons, and his 2.65 FIP this past season was a career best.

Cons
Lacking overpowering stuff, Clippard typically has excelled by getting batters to swing underneath the ball. In fact, 40% of his batted balls in Statcast history (since 2015) have been classified as “poor/under” contact, the third-highest rate in the Majors (min. 500 batted balls). But Clippard is skirting a fine line by inducing so much air contact, and he can be homer-prone when things go awry. Clippard allowed only two homers in 2020 (0.7 HR/9), but his HR/9 rate was 1.5 from ’16-19.

, RHP (1.5 fWAR)

Pros
Among the 54 pitchers with at least 50 saves since the beginning of 2013, Melancon ranks third in ERA (2.43), fifth in FIP (2.58) and 11th in WHIP (1.09). Since Statcast began tracking in 2015, only 16.3% of Melancon’s batted balls allowed have been hard-hit (95+ mph exit velocity) fly balls or line drives, one of the lowest rates in MLB during that span.

Cons
Melancon never has been a pitcher who misses a ton of bats, but he was especially prone to contact in 2020. The right-hander’s 19.6% whiff rate this past season put him in the eighth percentile, and his 14.7% strikeout rate ranked in the sixth percentile.

, RHP (1.5 fWAR)

Pros
A reliable long man, Petit has recorded more than three outs in 154 appearances since the beginning of 2014, 48 more than anyone else in that span. His ERA over the past four seasons was 2.74.

Cons
Petit recorded four-plus outs in only two of his 26 appearances last season, getting two outs or fewer in 10 of them. And while he finished the year with a sparkling 1.66 ERA, some of his numbers below the surface weren’t as inspiring. Petit’s xERA was 4.42, as his strikeout rate (19.6%), walk rate (5.7%) and barrel rate (10.6%) all went in the wrong direction from the previous year. Teams may view that as an ominous sign for a pitcher who is now 36 years old.

, RHP (1.5 fWAR)

Pros
Soria is a long way from his days as a top closer with the Royals, but he has continued to provide effective relief work into his mid-30s. Last season, Soria ranked in the 92nd percentile in xERA (2.76) and xwOBA allowed (.294) for the A’s.

Cons
Soria is moving into his age-37 season, and while his four-seam fastball velocity remained steady last season, his whiff rate on the pitch fell more than nine percentage points from 2019 to ’20. Overall, Soria’s whiff rate dropped 5.3 percentage points from the previous year.

, RHP (1.3 fWAR)

Pros
Greene has recorded an ERA of 2.66 or lower in three of the past four seasons, and his xwOBA allowed in 2020 was .279, his lowest since Statcast started tracking.

Cons
Greene’s whiff rate dropped to 20.0% in 2020, putting him in the 11th percentile. Likewise, his strikeout rate tumbled to 19.3%, a 24th-percentile mark, and he had an 11.0 K-BB%, down from 18.7% in 2019.

, RHP (1.2 fWAR)

Pros
Since Colomé made a full-time switch to the bullpen in 2016, only Kenley Jansen and Edwin Díaz have recorded more saves (138), and just nine pitchers with at least 200-plus innings have recorded a better ERA than the righty’s 2.62. Colomé’s cutter has held batters to a .246 xwOBA over the past five years, the lowest mark in MLB among fastballs of any type (min. 2,000 thrown).

Cons
Colomé hasn’t thrown a breaking ball since 2016, and he abandoned his changeup in ’20, using only cutters and four-seam fastballs. As good as Colomé’s cutter has been, his four-seamer has proven ineffective, yielding a .403 xwOBA from 2017-20. In addition, Colomé’s strikeout rate dipped to 17.8% last season, a drop of 4.3 percentage points from the previous year.

, RHP (0.5 fWAR)

Pros
Check out Rosenthal’s percentile ranks from 2020: 99th in xERA, xwOBA, xBA, strikeout rate and fastball velocity; 98th in xSLG; and 95th in whiff rate. In 23 2/3 innings between the Royals and Padres, the 30-year-old posted a 1.90 ERA with a 0.85 WHIP and 38 K's, notching 11 saves along the way. It was a remarkable rebound for a pitcher who was released by two clubs in 2019 and signed a Minor League contract prior to the '20 campaign.

Cons
Rosenthal isn’t that far removed from a 2019 season in which he allowed 23 earned runs and issued 26 walks in 15 1/3 innings between the Nationals and Tigers. Control has been a persistent issue for the veteran, who owns a lifetime 11.3% walk rate.

, LHP (0.3 fWAR)

Pros
Released by the Rockies last July, McGee signed a one-year deal with the Dodgers and quietly turned in an outstanding campaign for the eventual World Series champions. The left-hander struck out 33 batters and walked only three, registering the second-best K-BB% (38.0) among pitchers with at least 20 innings.

Cons
Was McGee’s strong performance in a limited sample last season enough to make teams forget about his struggles over four seasons with Colorado? He had a 4.78 ERA with a 14.1 K-BB% during his time with the club, albeit with a 3.50 ERA away from Coors Field (6.14 ERA at home) in that span.