Five relievers you might overlook

Major League Baseball is quite a massive entity. There are 780 players on an active roster at any time during the regular season. This year in particular, with the expanded rosters in April as well as the annual calls in September, that number jumps to 840. It’s impossible to track every player. In the first month alone, 394 different pitchers made an appearance out of the bullpen. Those who aren’t stars or highly touted prospects can fall through the cracks. This is further compounded by the incessant turnover in the league-wide bullpen. They go from team to team, they get injured, they get fired and new ones are called up. It’s an endless cycle. So I thought I’d shed some light on a few of them – the hot start ones that you might not have noticed.

1.Victor Arano

From 2019 to 2021, Victor Arano pitched just 44.2 innings. 40 of them came in AAA. After pitching through the Braves system never being called up last year, he signed with Washington last offseason to a minor league contract. This difficult period after a promising start to his career makes the start of the season even more fascinating. The Statcast movement numbers might not be particularly impressive but, looking a little deeper, we find that his slider is one of the best in baseball.

It’s a slider that feeds on its gyroscopic rotation so it doesn’t have a big sweeping motion. He’s almost completely straight with very little horizontal movement in either direction, but seems to have late batting bite. Something about this movement profile completely baffles hitters. They can barely touch the pitch. He also has a heavy sinker that induces a lot of ground balls. Additionally, it will sometimes throw a 4-seam high seam which has been effective albeit in limited use. The location of the pitch has been one of its strengths so far, hammering the bottom corners. He often throws his pitches just outside the box but close enough that hitters are enticed to swing towards them.

Arano is a great relief pitcher, anything you could ask for. High number of strikeouts, does not fight with poor command and limits dangerous contacts. After going just 11 days shy of three years between MLB outings, he looks set to dominate from the bullpen.

2. Joey Krehbiel

Having reinvented itself over time since its first cup of coffee in 2018, Joey Krehbiel is a back thrower. Of course, it always has been. He threw a sweeping slider more than 50% of the time on that first stint. What makes it weirder is that it has since essentially abandoned that ground. Less than a third of his shots so far this season have been fastballs. He is now mostly working on a change that was previously an afterthought and cutter that he learned and developed during the downtime that the lack of minor league baseball in 2020 has created. The microscopic sample size aside, there’s promise there that he could find lasting success with his new arsenal.

(Image courtesy of Baseball Savant)

Having three locations with distinctly different shapes and movements is a good start. Tossing each of them regularly enough that a hitter can’t comfortably sit on one of them helps all of them play a bit. His change in particular is excellent. It collects non-threatening touches and similar smells. This new cutter poses problems for hitters because it has a bit of hold to go with a slider-style horizontal break. This complements his fastball beautifully as the 6.4 inches of cut he averages contrasts with the 10.6 inches of stroke he gets on the radiator. He’s shown a knack for avoiding line drives during his short MLB career, creating extreme pitching angle results that are likely to revert to a more normal profile eventually. Even with that in mind, I think he has the potential to stay in the back of a big league bullpen.

3. Trevor Stephan

Garret Whitlock generated a ton of buzz last year as a rookie star backup arm for Boston. One of the things people refused to let go of was that Whitlock was a Rule 5 draft pick. He was originally a Yankees prospect before he was left unprotected and then moved on. be recovered by their bitter rival. What you might not know is that Whitlock wasn’t the only Yankees farmhand caught in the Rule 5 draft that year. Trevor Stephan was selected by Cleveland. Now he looks set and ready to contribute from the back of their bullpen this season. He’s been largely sheltered in his first season with the club, mostly with low-leverage innings. With a year of major league experience under his belt, he’s made some slight adjustments and has been devastating hitters so far in 2022.

It hasn’t had any noticeable mechanical changes – its exit points and extension are nearly identical to last season. Her delivery also shows no signs of changing. Maybe it’s the new humidifiers, but he’s increased the active spin of his fastball and splitter. His fastball, a 4-seam variant, moves more like a 2-seam. There is a lot of stroke on the side of the arm and it sinks rather than it rises. Despite this, bats are regularly missing: far more than the league average. It also reaps the benefits of a sinker, inducing ground bullets. He pairs that fastball with a devastating splitter, pictured above, and a slider that ranks higher despite being arguably the weakest of the three offerings. Although he’s had some difficulty controlling the height of split fingers in the past, he seems to have a newfound confidence in her.

Armed with a three-height mix, all of which are capable of missing bats and forcing weak contact, there’s not much negative you can say about Stephan right now. He hasn’t even walked a batter yet this season. Although it won’t last forever, there’s more than enough reason to believe that it will continue its strong performance as the sample size increases.

4. Dillon Peters

When I noticed that this was the sixth MLB season that Dillon Peters launched, I was a little surprised. He never really established himself anywhere – bouncing between the majors and AAA. Now the Pirates are his third team since 2018. After opting for a full-time bullpen arm, early results appear to be paying off. As you would expect with a former starter now working on shorter outings, his business has improved. He throws about a tick and a half harder on his fastballs. His off-speed pitches also hit one on the radar gun. Perhaps more importantly, he has a new approach.

Peters’ career may have been saved by the trade that sent him to the Pirates. They’ve tweaked his mechanics twice, having him expand further in 2021, then deepening the change by making him lower his arm slot slightly. It’s not super noticeable to the naked eye, but the effect it had on its locations is another story. A soft touch machine so far, he uses his change to good effect. He induces weak ground balls even if they come into contact with him. He also reintroduced his slider almost exclusively against lefties. Its absurd BAA of 0.029 is unsustainable, but there is reason to be optimistic and cautious. There may be more strikeouts along the way. His business suggests the potential. For now, he is playing a dangerous game. The one with whom he could succeed.

5.Wil Crowe

Looking at another pitcher who found himself traded to the Pirates in 2021, William Crowe seems to have received advice similar to that of Peters. He changed his pitch mix, throwing more changes and sliders, so now he only throws his two fastballs 35% of the time. Although his business hasn’t worked out in the traditional sense with the move to the bullpen, he is throwing significantly better. I think it has a lot to do with improving the location of the land. It stays away from reachable spots and throws less “bad strikes”. This resulted in a significant decrease in contact quality, albeit on a much smaller sample. Building on the success of his switch last year seems to be the recipe for success. It was the only pitch he had that performed well in 2021.

Like some of the other launchers we’ve reviewed, this change can create both odors and weak contact. It’s a bit of a unique land in that it doesn’t have as much side arm movement as you might expect. On average, it makes less horizontal pause than its ballast. Despite this, it has been an effective playground for him. Maybe it’s his weirdness that makes it work. What’s interesting is that with the improved mastery of his other lands, this may not be his best offering anymore.

Now that he places his cursor just outside the area more often, it generates more ground balls and soft contact. This, along with the change, sinker, and 4-seam fastball, provides a varied arsenal that few relievers have access to. He also throws a curve ball with a good vertical break and a 12-6 form although the use of that pitch has been reduced a bit. If this new order is real, he has potential as a multi-inning relief pitcher, maybe even one who can come back in a starting rotation.

Final Thoughts

One of the good problems in baseball is that there are so many talented players in the game today. There’s so much baseball to watch and no way to keep tabs on it all. There are players like this every year that go completely under the radar, and they deserve more recognition. I look forward to keeping an eye on these guys over the year and looking for other players who deserve further consideration and praise.

Photos by Frank Jansky and David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Drew Wheeler (@drewisokay on Twitter)

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