Yesterday, we began our annual rundown of the free agent market for relief pitchers by taking a quick look at the top four by 2023 ERA: Josh Hader, Jesse Chavez, Hector Neris, and Matt Moore. Let’s get right back to it, running down the list of free agent relievers who threw at least 30 innings this year by their ERA.
Wandy Peralta: Having spent all of the past two seasons and the vast majority of the 2021 season with the Yankees, Peralta had a 2.83 ERA and a 5.05 FIP in 54.0 innings this year. And over the entirety of those three seasons, Peralta has a 2.96 ERA despite not striking all that many batters out. The 32-year-old is a lefty, for what it’s worth, and hasn’t typically struggled with walks the way he did this year.
Phil Maton: The 2023 season was Maton’s best as a major league pitcher, as he finished with a 3.00 ERA and a 3.74 FIP in 66.0 innings of work for the Astros. He’s spent time in San Diego, Cleveland, and Houston since his major league debut in 2017, and after putting up a 4.76 ERA over his first five years in the big leagues, he had a 3.42 ERA over the past two years with the Astros. Maybe something clicked for the 30-year-old this year.
Ryan Brasier: Back in 2013, Brasier made his big league debut with the Angels at the age of 25 and threw a total of nine innings for the team that year. But he didn’t make his next major league appearance until the 2018 season, during which he pitched very well for the Red Sox. He spent the next several seasons in Boston, accumulating a 4.25 ERA from the 2018 through 2022 seasons before things went haywire as he posted a 7.29 ERA in 21.0 innings there to start the 2023 season.
The Red Sox released him in late May, and the Dodgers picked him up in early June. A couple of weeks later, he made his first appearance in the big leagues for the Dodgers in a high-leverage situation, and he went on to throw 38.2 innings for Los Angeles with a 0.70 ERA and a 2.48 FIP the rest of the way. In his time with the Dodgers, opponents hit just .140/.203/.194 against him. With the Red Sox, he threw either his four-seam fastball or his sinker the majority of the time, but with the Dodgers, he learned a cutter, cut down drastically on his four-seam fastball usage, and found success.
Emilio Pagán: Over his seven years in the big leagues, Pagán has been traded four times: from the Mariners to the A’s, the A’s to the Rays, the Rays to the Padres, and the Padres to the Twins. In total, he has a 3.71 ERA and a 4.07 FIP as a major league reliever. But the 2023 season was his best since his 2019 season with the Rays. This year with the Twins, he had a 2.99 ERA and a 3.27 FIP. He doesn’t typically strike out many opposing batters, but for the first time in his major league career, he managed to not be plagued by home runs. From 2017 through 2022, Pagán gave up a staggering 1.74 home runs per nine innings. This year, the 32-year-old gave up just 0.65 per nine.
David Robertson: There’s plenty of familiarity with Robertson around these parts, as he was an ideal free agent signing for the Mets just last offseason. The 38-year-old had an excellent 2.05 ERA with the Mets before he was dealt for good prospects at the deadline. He struggled pretty significantly with the Marlins after the trade, putting up a 5.06 ERA the rest of the way, but finished the year with a 3.03 ERA and a 3.55 FIP. The Mets could do worse than bringing him back to Queens if he were interested in a reunion.
Aroldis Chapman: In 2016, Chapman was the first player to be suspended for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy. At the time, he had recently been traded to the Yankees after spending six seasons establishing himself as a dominant reliever with the Reds. After the Yankees dealt him to the Cubs at the deadline that year, they brought him back in free agency, and he remained with the team through the end of the 2022 season. At the end of that season, the Yankees left him off their playoff roster for missing a workout with no excuse. Chapman began this year with the Royals, was traded to the Rangers, and threw eight innings in the postseason as Texas went on to win the World Series. On the mound, Chapman—who is now 35 years old—has remained a very high-strikeout pitcher throughout his career. Over the past three seasons, though, his walk rate has been extremely high: a 15.6 percent walk rate with 6.08 BB/9.
Robert Stephenson: After spending several years with the Reds and relatively brief stints with the Rockies and Pirates between 2016 and 2022 with a cumulative 4.90 ERA, Stephenson got off to a poor start this year in Pittsburgh. With a 5.14 ERA through his first 14.0 innings of the year, the Pirates traded him to the Rays, and—surprise!—he wound up having the best season of his major league career. In Tampa, Stephenson’s strikeout rate soared, his walk rate plummeted, and he had a 2.35 ERA with a 2.45 FIP in 38.1 innings of work. Upon his arrival there, he added velocity to his slider—so much so that baseball’s pitch tracking system classified it as a cutter instead. Whatever the name, the pitch was extremely effective, and Stephenson wound up throwing it more than any other pitch—by far—over the final few months of the season.