Relief Pitchers Spotlight: Sophomore Edition

Relief Pitcher

Scanning around the MLB for unique, talented relief pitchers that might be undervalued is a fun endeavor. There are a plethora of relievers that are like this, but there are three specific guys that need to be addressed. The three pitchers are Jeff Brigham of the Miami Marlins, Jimmy Cordero of the Chicago White Sox, and Tim Hill of the Kansas City Royals.

Jeff Brigham

On the surface, Brigham is nothing special. In 38 innings last year, he had a 4.46 ERA, which is decent, but he did not have great peripherals. His 5.08 FIP and 4.90 xFIP show that he definitely has major room for improvement. He had a 9.16 K/9 and a 3.29 BB/9, which are both solid figures, but he struggled to keep the ball in the yard. His relatively high 1.88 HR/9 could be attributed to the juiced balls, but his xFIP would suggest that Brigham simply struggles to induce groundballs. The inability to keep the ball on the ground is a big red flag. However, it *might* not matter. Brigham has incredible stuff. His fastball ranked in the 94th percentile in velocity and in the 85th percentile in spin rate. A 97 MPH fastball should immediately jump out to you, but that is not his most important pitch.

While he throws his fastball around 51% percent of the time, he only mixes in a slider for the other 49% of his pitchers. Fortunately for Brigham, his slider is special. His horizontal movement is around 10 inches above league average on his slider, and it ranked 4th in the entire MLB in 2019. The opposing batters’ xwOBA against his slider was an incredible .184, although some of this can be attributed to selection bias.

The “Eye Test”

Here’s a video of Brigham making Manny Machado look silly:

Budding superstar Ronald Acuna Jr? No problem!

 

However, there is more to Brigham than a visually appealing slider. Aside from his physical traits, Brigham also has good statistical promise. ZiPS, which is an incredible projection system, has him throwing up a 3.86 ERA and 4.06 FIP in the coming season. Baseball Prospectus is a fan as well. Despite a season in which he couldn’t keep the ball on the ground, he still had an above-average 97.1 DRA-. He is far from a sure thing, but he has a ton of potential and should be fun to watch once the season starts.

Jimmy Cordero

Relief Pitcher
DETROIT, MI – SEPTEMBER 22: Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Jimmy Cordero (60) during the Detroit Tigers versus Chicago White Sox game on Sunday September 22, 2019 at Comerica Park in Detroit, MI. (Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

From the way he rolls his sleeves up to the way he pitches, Cordero, is an interesting player to examine. He pitched for four different organizations before finally finding his groove with the Chicago White Sox. In 36 innings in Chicago, he was thoroughly impressive. His 2.75 ERA was backed up by a 3.75 FIP and 3.65 xFIP, therefore it is more than fair to say he performed really well. He doesn’t strike out too many hitters, but he makes up for it in other ways. He had a miniscule 2.75 BB/9 and 0.75 HR/9, the latter being supported by his 60.5% groundball percentage. His GB%+ was 143, meaning that he induced 43% more groundballs than an average pitcher, which is a huge plus in this juiced ball/launch angle era.

Cordero is not your average, everyday groundball pitcher, however. He is an advanced groundball pitcher. His fastball velocity is in the 95th percentile of the league. His sinker and four-seam fastball both travel at around 97.4 MPH on average, which is incredible. The league average xwOBA against sinkers is .363, but Cordero’s sat at just .309. When looking at the full picture, Cordero’s .285 xwOBA was far superior to the league average of .319. It is fair to say that he showed a lot of promise in 2019. What does he look like on tape?

The “Eye Test”

Here he is finishing off Dawel Lugo with a casual 100.7f MPH four-seamer…

What about his vaunted sinker?

His hard pitches are great. What about his changeup?

This guy’s changeup is faster than some pitchers’ fastball. Needless to say, he is insane.

Due to his previous struggles in different organizations, ZiPS is not very high on Cordero. He is projected to be around a 4.7 ERA type guy, which is not enough to survive very long in the majors. Baseball Prospectus, on the other hand, offers some insight into his upside. DRA, which is a very predictive ERA estimator, is a fan of Cordero. He had a 3.47 DRA and 71.2 DRA- while playing for Chicago, so there is some definite hope for him in the future.

Tim Hill

Relief Pitcher
CLEVELAND, OH – APRIL 8: Relief pitcher Tim Hill #54 of the Kansas City Royals throws out Yonder Alonso #17 of the Cleveland Indians at first during the seventh inning at Progressive Field on April 8, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Indians defeated the Royals 3-1. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Last but not least is Kansas City’s Tim Hill. The lefty reliever posted a 4.11 ERA, 3.67 FIP, and a 3.58 xFIP in the past two seasons. While Hill is definitely more effective against lefties, he is surprisingly solid against right-handed hitters. In 48.2 innings against righties, he has a 9.25 K/9 and 2.96 BB/9. His weakness against righties comes in the form of the longball, as his 1.29 HR/9 is a pretty high figure.

When you check him out on baseball savant, nothing really pops out at first. His fastball is sluggish and lazy and does not spark much excitement. However, when you look at his entire body of work, you will be a bit more impressed. In his first two big league seasons, he has put up an incredible .278 xwOBA, and everything is pretty good across the board. He doesn’t allow hard contact, he strikes out a decent amount of hitters, and he limits his walks.

The “Eye Test”

Here is a video of him freezing Marcus Semienwho placed third place in MVP voting last year, on a perfectly placed slider.

Hill absolutely undresses superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor with this slider.

What does Oakland Athletics slugger Matt Olson think about Hill’s slider?

Hill is a fascinating pitcher. His slider seems so casual, but hitters look absolutely baffled when they attempt to hit it. Overall, Hill is a very solid pitcher. While he is already 30 years old, he has 4 more years of control, and seems to have plenty of baseball left in him. ZiPS is not extremely high on him, but they have him performing at a respectable 4.2 clip. In 2019, he had a 3.64 DRA and 74.7 DRA- per Baseball Prospectus.

Outlook on Relievers

Under the radar relievers are really fun to search for, and they are very rewarding to watch. They all have their own unique style that allowed them to make the MLB, and they are all so good at what they do. Unless you are on the level of Aroldis Chapman or Craig Kimbrelyou probably do not get much recognition as a reliever. Because of this, it is important to give these upper mid-tier guys the love they deserve.