The Next Crop of Elite Relievers

Relievers have 47% of the wins so far this season. This is a figure that has been on the rise for a while, but this still represents a massive jump. It was at 40% a year ago and never above 40% prior to that (38%, 33%, 33%, and 31% the four years before 2019). Obviously, the wild 60-game COVID-fueled season is a driving force behind this starter/reliever win split, but we know that pitcher usage has been changing the last couple years in normal seasons so we might’ve seen another jump in RP wins even if we had played a standard 162.

Even before this rise in the share of wins, premium non-closing relievers have been viable in many league types as a ratios and strikeout source with the occasional save or win thrown in with the idea that 2-5 elite IP was a better bet than streaming a 4th-5th starter type hoping to snag a win and not hurt your ratios too much. The 2010s have seen a strong surge in these types of relievers and today I want to highlight a group of them you can consider this year.

The idea is to jump on the next Dellin Betances, Josh Hader, or Seth Lugo instead of paying full price for those guys once they’re known (see also: Anderson, Nick). Freddy Peralta is too well-known for this exercise, just to avoid anyone putting him in the comments. He’s on 86% of the Rotowire Online Championship NFBC teams which are 12-team leagues.

James Karinchak | CLE – 11.3 IP, 0.79 ERA & WHIP, 52% K, 0 W, 1 SV

He’s probably the most known of this group especially when Brad Hand had back-to-back bumpy outings in late-July and Karinchak started to get picked up as the heir apparent. Hand has settled a bit and Karinchak is windup up back on waiver wires. He’s their key fireman and will likely get the role if Hand does falter so I’d consider scooping him in leagues where middle relievers are viable and he’s available. He has strikeouts in all 10 of his outings, including more than one in four straight (3, 4, 2, and 3).

Gregory Soto | DET – 10.3 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.48 WHIP, 37% K, 0 W & SV

2020 is insane!

It’s so bizarre to see the Tigers have a premium reliever, let alone a couple others that don’t scare the heck out of Tigers fans when they come into the game. Soto is doing a fun little Josh Hader impression with a blistering fastball and killer slider combo. The bulk of his high-90s fastballs are classified as sinkers, helping him keep the ball on the ground (52% GB) and avoid homers the rare times that hitters actually make contact. After lulling them into sitting on the nasty sinker, he unleashes the filthy silder that has an obscene 44% swinging strike rate, which ranks best among the 238 pitchers to have thrown at least 25 sliders (he’s thrown 27). His ability to get righties out just as often as lefties allows Ron Gardenhire to deploy him whenever he wants.

Josh Staumont | KC – 9.7 IP, 0.93 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 44% K, 0 W & SV

Did I mentally confuse Staumont with former Phillies prospect Phillippe Aumont? Yes, yes I did. Staumont is a 26-year old righty who has struggled to consistently find the plate on his way up through the minors with a 17% BB rate in 413.7 minor league innings. This issue isn’t completely fixed at this point with a 12% mark in major league time, but amping his fastball up to the high-90s with a disgusting swing-and-miss low-80s curve has made him a force out of their pen. The curve has allowed a .125/.263/.313 line with a 63% K rate and 0 walks in 19 PA so far. He’s pitched anywhere from the 5th to the 8th so he’s a better bet for wins than saves and has already notched four holds.

Jordan Romano | TOR – 10 IP, 0.90 ERA, 0.70 WHIP, 35% K, 1 W, 0 SV

The 27-year old Romano was a non-factor in the Jays system last year with a 5.59 ERA in the minors and 7.63 in his 15.3-inning debut so anyone who says they saw this coming is lying. It took a massive approach change that is working remarkably well so far. He debuted with a pretty standard high-90s heater and mid-80s slider combo that used at a 64/36 split, which was also pretty dang standard. He flipped that on its head this year after the disastrous 2019 results, using his fastball 38% of the time and his slider at 62%.

Both also added some velo (+2 on the FB to 96.6; +4 on the SL to 88.8) and the results have been incredible. He nearly threw a no-hitter to start the season with 8.7 hitless before a Francisco Cervelli single and he made it 9.3 innings before allowing his first run (a Brandon Lowe HR). He has settled into the setup role for Anthony Bass and could find himself closing at some point soon if the 32-year old journeyman righty can’t hold the gig.

Jonathan Hernández | TEX – 12.7 IP, 2.13 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 32% K, 3 W, 0 SV

The emergence of Rafael Montero as the closer (5 saves in 5 innings) put Hernandez back on waiver wires after there was some speculation that he could take the job when Jose Leclerc went down, but he’s in position to keep collecting wins as their high leverage fireman. Hernandez has been a little susceptible to lefties with an .860 OPS against them, but the .429 BABIP is doing a lot of the heavy lifting and he still has a 29% K rate against them.

Matt Foster | CWS – 10.7 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.47 WHIP, 42% K, 2 W, 0 SV

Foster is the first of our group with a true three-pitch mix. He’s also the only one so far without a high-90s heater, though a 93.7 mph average is hardly unusable. Foster backs it up with an 84.2 mph changeup that he uses 35% of the time and 85.2 mph slider used at an 11% clip. Lefties haven’t touched him this year outside of 2 walks, otherwise they’re 0-for-15 in 17 PA with 7 strikeouts. He started a couple games as an opener, but otherwise he’s been put into leveraged positions in the middle innings. He logged strikeouts in each of his first six outings before tossing a scoreless and strikeout-less 8th on August 16th.

Also consider:

Devin Williams | MIL – 8.7 IP, 1.04 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 46% K, 1 W, 0 SV

Tyler Duffey | MIN – 8 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.25 WHIP, 42% K, 1 W, 0 SV

Joakim Soria | OAK – 9.7 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 35% K, 2 W, 2 SV

Tanner Rainey | WAS – 9.3 IP, 0.96 ERA, 0.32 WHIP, 44% K, 1 W, 0 SV

Jake McGee | LAD – 8.7 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.46 WHIP, 40% K, 2 W, 0 SV

Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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2 years ago

Thanks for giving these guys some attention. I’ve been stashing a few of them and have struggled to differentiate. Foster’s bullpenmate Codi Heuer has looked the part too, though he’s more like a 30% k rate than Foster’s 40%.

Lunch Anglemember
2 years ago
Reply to  Piotr

Heuer has the groundball rate to go along with the Ks too though. And the home run he gave up was an inside the parker, I feel like that should hardly count against the HR/FB!