Young Relievers Lighting Up Leaderboards, Radar Guns

Perhaps we should be used to this by now. Just four years ago, Craig Kimbrel was just some guy who walked more than 18 percent of the batters he faced. Now, he’s Craig Kimbrel. In the same timeframe, Drew Storen went from talented rookie set-up man to closer on a suddenly not terrible Nationals team. In their wake, young relievers like Kenley Jansen, Kelvin Herrera, Trevor Rosenthal, Addison Reed and others have taken the baseball world by various degrees of storm. And there was this Aroldis Chapman guy, too.

This season has been no different. Seemingly anonymous relievers have been springing from the figurative woodwork to capture spots on the top of various reliever leaderboards, most notably K% and velocity. Let’s meet some of them, shall we?

Briefly, before we do — standard small sample size warnings are not only present, but heightened, as most of these guys haven’t even tossed five innings yet this season. There’s a decent chance that one or more of these pitchers won’t look so spectacular by the end of the season. Phew, OK, now we can move on.

Gonzalez Germen, Right-Handed Reliever, New York Mets
Germen has actually been covered a little bit on the site before. We’re just that nerdy. Germen debuted last season for the Mets — he earned a call-up in early July, though he had the awkward honor of sitting in the team’s bullpen for three days without being used. He was quickly sent down when the team recalled Ike Davis, but then four days later, they sent Brandon Lyon packing, and brought Germen back up. The Mets kept him to low pressure situations for the most part, though he did get his moments now and then. On August 15th, he tossed the last two innings in a 4-1 victory over the Padres for his first major league save:

Germen, now in his age-26 season, has never been a top prospect, and the Mets are not treating him with glory either — he’s once again been tasked with less glamorous duty, as he hasn’t entered a game this season in which the Mets have held a lead. But he’s got some stuff working for him. Eno Sarris noted in March that of pitchers with a smaller sample size last season, both his changeup and slider were elite pitches. Carson Cistulli then GIF’d his changeup for your viewing pleasure. He won’t earn himself any fame until he performs consistently well with the game on the line, and given the fact that his SD/MD ratio is an even 1.00, that might not be for awhile, but he will be an interesting name nonetheless.

Aaron Barrett, Right-Handed Reliever, Washington Nationals
Any time you see a strikeout rate of 46.2%, you sit up and take notice, even if that really translates to striking out six of 13 batters faced. Like Germen, Barrett wasn’t a FanGraphs top prospect entering the season. Unlike Germen, Barrett had yet to pitch in the majors prior to Opening Day. On Opening Day, in his major league debut, he picked up the win against Germen’s team, the Mets. In his next three outings, he was kept to low-key outings, but then last night he did something pretty neat in an important situation. With the Nats holding on to a one-run lead in the eighth inning, Barrett was brought on to face the mighty Giancarlo Stanton, and he did this:


What’s that you say, you want to see that in slow-motion? OK:

(Credit the wonderful Mike Petriello for the GIFimication)

At the moment, he’s throwing one of the harder two-seam fastballs (19th-fastest among relievers), and his aforementioned ridiculous strikeout rate is in the top 10 among relievers as well. But in this particular at-bat, Barrett’s weapon of choice was a filthy slider. He threw six pitches to Stanton, and five of them were sliders. Stanton took one for a strike, fouled one off, and then you just watched the at-bat’s final pitch (two of the sliders also went for balls, obviously). Barrett’s 6.08 wSL/C, per PITCHf/x numbers, is also a top-20 figure, and if this pitch is any indication, it may just move up those ranks as the season progresses.

As Benjamin Pasinkoff noted back in March, Barrett has a few big names ahead of him on Washington’s bullpen depth chart, but current closer Rafael Soriano is a free agent at season’s end. So if the 26-year-old Barrett keeps pitching like this, he might worm his way into the closer discussion before too long.

Chris Withrow, Right-Handed Reliever, Los Angeles Dodgers
Admittedly, you may be a little familiar with Withrow. Once upon a time, he was a starting pitching prospect, and a pretty good one at that. Thanks to a 2009 campaign in High-A and Double-A where he struck out a combined 131 batters in 113.2 innings, he settled into the 40s in both the Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus top 100 rankings. Unfortunately, Withrow also had command problems that season, and essentially every season, and as a result the Dodgers moved him into a relief role during the 2012 season. In the process, his strikeout rate would increase, and his walk rate basically stayed at the same level. In fact, upon his callup to the majors last year, his walk rate actually improved, and in Los Angeles he posted the second-best walk rate of any stop in his professional career. On the whole, he had a pretty impressive regular season debut. Here’s the video from his first major league win, in which he retired Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper in succession:

You might also know Withrow a little bit thanks to his work in the 2013 postseason. If that was all you saw of him, you might wonder why I have him listed here. As you can see from his postseason game logs, Withrow didn’t exactly cover himself in glory. He only entered one game where the game was tied or tilted in the Dodgers’ favor, and he immediately lost that game — Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. Now, you could make a very good argument that Withrow shouldn’t have been out there at all. It was the 12th inning of an incredibly important playoff game, and ole’ Don Mattingly was too busy shaving his sideburns to get the best reliever on his team into the game. By the time he did, there were runners at first and second and one of the best postseason hitters of all-tme was at the dish. On the other hand, the first two batters in the inning were Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso, and Withrow still landed in hot water.

Nevertheless, 2014 is a new year, and Withrow is off to a fantastic start. He has struck out nine of the 20 batters he has faced, but much more importantly, he has only walked one of them. He is still pumping his fastball in with authority, and he has — for now — picked up a couple of ticks of velocity on his slider and curveball as well. And while he hasn’t thrown his changeup yet, he recently told David Laurila that he’s confident in that pitch as well. We won’t get too caught up in the numbers just yet (though if you do want to, check out the contrast in his contact % this year to last), but if he keeps this up, hopefully Mattingly will wake up from his nap long enough to make Withrow the primary eighth-inning guy instead of Chris Perez.

There are three rookie pitchers who currently have a chance to notch a fastest pitch for the reliable PITCHf/x era (2008-present) under their belt:

Maikel Cleto’s splitter is currently clocking in at 91.7 mph — easily the fastest right now.

Jeurys Familia’s sinker is currently clocking in at 95.8 mph — third-fastest.

Dellin Betances’ cutter is clocking in at 96.9 mph, which would be second-fastest if he qualified, which presumably he will soon.

All three of them also have four-seamers which they pump in at 95 mph. Not too shabby.

Paul Swydan used to be the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for and The Boston Globe. Now, he owns The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Acton, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan. Follow the store @SilUnicornActon.

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10 years ago

What about Kenley’s cutter, didn’t it hit 98mph?

10 years ago
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He’s focusing on rookies.