pERA Leaderboard: Non-Closer Relievers

I’m going to continue looking at my recent pERA rankings after writing about starters the last couple of days. Today, I am going to examine the top non-closers. These guys may not be closing now but are showing some promising skills to open the season.

Note: For reference, here are the articles in which I created the framework for the metric (full list).


James Hoyt (2.12 pERA): In a handful of innings, Hoyt has a 43% K% and a 6% BB%. Insane. These raw skills are being masked by a 1.5 HR/FB and .400 BABIP which has pushed his ERA to 4.08.

The thirty-year-old righty has made the jump by throwing his slider over 50% of the time which has a 26% SwStr%. Additionally, Hoyt is mixing in a change (10%) which has a 17% SwStr% for the season.

Hoyt’s biggest weakness is his 93 mph fastball. It only gets 4% swinging strikes but does generate a ton of flyballs (35% GB%). Right now, he is not in the closer mix in Houston.


Tyler Duffey (2.15 pERA): The Tyler Duffey starter experiment finally seems over. It’s probably a good thing. Basically, he’s a two-pitch pitcher (fastball and curve) so he would have struggled as a starter. While he’s riding some great results from his curve (73% GB%, 14% SwStr%) his fastball is mediocre, even with a 2 mph bullpen velocity bump.

With “just” a 9.3 K/9, he has gone more than one inning in 11 of his 21 appearances so he’s still racking up some strikeouts. The biggest issue with Duffey is that he’s not being used as a setup man so he does look to be in line for Saves.


Jonathan Holder (2.23 pERA): The Yankees just seem to grow bullpen arms. Holder is no exception. The 24-year-old made the transition from starter to bullpen arm after the 2015 season. In 2016, he put up strikeout rates over 12 K/9 in all three minor league stops.

In a small 2016 MLB stint, he couldn’t find the strike zone and posted a 4.3 BB/9. This season he’s been lights out with a 9.4 K/9 and 1.1 BB/9. He uses a three-pitch mix (fastball, slider, curve) with each one being thrown over 30% of the time. While throwing them almost equal amounts, they each have a swinging strike rate above 10%.


Tommy Kahnle (2.42 pERA): Kahnle’s been a stud so far this season with a 47% K% and only 7% BB%. In all but the shallowest of leagues, I think he may be a must own at this point. When David Robertson is traded, Kahnle is likely to become the White Sox’s closer.

His 98 mph fastball (up over 1 mph from last season) is his main weapon generating a 14% SwStr%. If a hitter start catching up to this fastball, he can use his 90 mph change (28% SwStr%) to finish them off.

Besides the swing-and-miss pitches, he’s finally not walking hitters. His 2.3 BB/9 is a career low at any level. Most of his walk rates were north of 4.0 BB/9 with a 6.6 BB/9 last season in the bigs.

I’m not sure how long 27-year-old right can keep this production up but owners desperate for Saves can’t take that chance. It is just a matter of time before Robertson gets traded and Kahnle will likely be the replacement.


Anthony Swarzak (2.46 pERA): Another great arm, like Kahnle, the White Sox have picked off the scrap heap. Swarzak has turned around his career by throwing his slider (55%) more than his fastball (45%). His slider is getting an elite number of a swings-and-misses this season (20%) to help keep strikeout rate over 9 K/9.

Besides his slider, he’s been able to add a tick to his fastball after adding another one last season. A 94.5 mph fastball will almost always be preferred to one at 92 mph. Besides the increased velocity, the pitch only has a 28% GB%, so it will limit the hits it allows.

My worry is that the 31-year-old righty hasn’t been able to keep the walks down so he may have issues with them going forward.

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Choos on first
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Swarzak still has a 4.00 K/BB ratio, so while that’s not elite, it’s still REALLY good. and his BB/9 is a respectable 2.28. Is your worry then based on historical rates like it is for Kahnle?


Kahnle’s historical rates are due to a mechanical flaw in which his front leg raised too high therefore not allowing him to be able to focus his head on the target. It’s been fixed now, so I’m confident in him.