Despite the fact that we’re in the second week of the new year, there are still quite a few relief pitchers on baseball’s free agent market. We’ve been running down the list of pitchers available—at the time of publishing—by strikeout rate. Some of the pitchers from the first four parts of the series are off the market now, but some remain available.
In the most recent part, we looked at pitchers who struck out between seven and eight batters per nine innings. So let’s keep running down the list with pitchers fell in the range one strikeout below that.
Pitchers with 6.00-6.99 K/9 in 2016
Former Mets reliever Joe Smith was pretty good in his first two years after the team traded him and then dominated from 2011 through 2014—2.25 ERA, 169 ERA+—with the Indians and Angels. He totaled a 3.53 ERA over the 2015 and 2016 seasons, the grand majority of which he spent with the Angels before he was dealt to the Cubs at the deadline last year. His 6.9 strikeouts per nine last year was his second-lowest mark in his big league career, though his was 8.2 per nine in 2014, the only season he finished over 8.0. He was never a flamethrower, but the past two seasons were his only ones with an average fastball in the high-89 range rather than his usual 90-point-something.
Now 38 years old, Australian native Peter Moylan made his major league debut just over a decade ago. If the name sounds familiar, he spent the 2006-2012 and 2015 seasons with the Braves. Moylan has only thrown forty-plus major league innings in a season four times, in part because he’s undergone Tommy John surgery and dealt with back injuries. Overall, he’s been pretty effective, with a 2.91 ERA and 3.83 FIP in his big league career. He threw 44.2 innings for the Royals last year and finished with a 3.43 ERA and 4.00 FIP on the season. He struck out 6.85 batters per nine in the process.
Cory Rasmus came up through the Braves’ system and debuted with the team before he was traded to the Angels. He struggled in three of his four seasons in the big leagues and was at his best in the other one—back in 2014. Last year, he had a 5.84 ERA and 5.94 FIP in 24.2 innings with the Angels and struck out 6.20 per nine.
After the Twins released Kevin Jepsen during the season last year, the Mets almost signed him. He earned that release with a 6.16 ERA in 30.2 innings with the Twins. The Rays wound up signing him, and he was only slightly better the rest of the way, as he had a 5.68 with Tampa. In total, he had a 5.98 ERA and 6.15 FIP and struck out 6.34 per nine. He’s not too far removed from back-to-back good seasons in 2014 and 2015, but his fastball, while still in the mid-90s, was down a couple of miles per hour from where it used to be.
Having pitched in the big leagues regularly since 2005, Matt Belisle has spent time with the Reds, Rockies, Cardinals, and Nationals. To his credit, he had a 3.88 ERA in six seasons with the Rockies, no easy feat for pitchers who spend half their playing time at Coors Field. He used to strike batters out more often than he his clip of 6.3 per nine last year, but his 1.76 ERA as the best single-season mark of his career. With the Cardinals in 2015, he had a 2.67 ERA, his second-best season in that regard. Some of that drop in ERA can be attributed to getting the hell out of Colorado, but perhaps the 36-year-old has figured something out.
Tommy Hunter struggled as a starting pitcher early in his career with the Rangers and Orioles. Once Baltimore moved him to the bullpen, though, he started striking out batters more frequently—albeit at a modest rate compared to other relievers. But he was successful and had a 2.81 ERA in 2013 and a 2.97 ERA in 2014. Hunter didn’t pitch quite as well for Baltimore in 2015, and the team traded him to the Cubs, where he struggled mightily. He finished that season with a 4.18 ERA and hit free agency when it ended. The Indians signed him for 2016, but after he threw 21.2 innings with a 3.74 ERA, they released him in August. He re-joined the Orioles and had a 2.19 ERA in 12.1 innings for them. In total, he threw just 34.0 innings in 2016 thanks to a freak back injury in the middle of the season, but he finished the year with a 3.18 ERA, 3.06 FIP, and 6.09 strikeouts per nine.
As has been the case in the past couple of parts of this series, these relievers might not be the sexiest free agent signings. But if they’re available on really inexpensive deals, some of them could step in as middle-innings upgrades right away with the upside of being a bit better than that. Smith and Hunter stand out a bit from the rest because of their track records and relatively good recent performance.