By: Chris Larson
It's been about a month since Opening Day officially happened and we have already seen plenty of exciting things both on and off the field. As is the case every year, we go into the season with a certain set of expectations and most of the time those expectations are met in terms of teams performing the way we expect them to or certain players/pitchers performing up to their capabilities, but there are always a handful of surprises and this year is no different.
While it's still early, there's already been at least 5 relievers that have quietly performed at a very high level and seem to be flying under-the-radar. As always, those are the type of pitchers that are the best to showcase because they are not getting the recognition that they desperately deserve.
Here are 5 relievers that have flown under-the-radar here in the early going and who to watch for the remainder of the year.
1. Edwin Diaz (Mariners) - Every year at the start of the season, people around baseball, including myself, continually come up with projected reliever lists and one guy that seemingly never gets mentioned is Seattle Mariners closer, Edwin Diaz. To say that Diaz has been outstanding so far would be a severe understatement. So far this season, Diaz has a 0.75 ERA over 12.1 IP with 23 strikeouts and an Opponent Batting Average Against of .050. Remarkable and what's even more remarkable is when you dig a little deeper and take into consideration that Diaz has recorded all 10 games that he has had the opportunity to save and has a strikeouts-per-9 rate of 16.78. If the Mariners are going to want to remain committed on making it to the postseason, they will need Edwin Diaz to stay healthy for the remainder of the season and continue putting up the numbers that he has here in the early going. At this rate, Diaz could very well finish the year as the best closer in baseball!
2. Shane Carle (Braves) - You might read the name Shane Carle and say to yourself, "Who?!" Well, start paying attention because Carle has started to turn heads here in the early going. From an innings pitched standpoint, Carle has pitched the most innings of any reliever in the MLB (17.2) and has a 1.02 ERA over that span. Thus far, the Braves have utilized Carle in the middle innings relief role where he has 4 holds over 4 hold opportunities and an Opponent BABIP of .265. Furthermore, so far this season, Carle has thrown 255 pitches, 68.6% of which have been thrown for strikes, and has averaged 14.4 pitchers per inning pitched. Based on Carle's pitch charts, he has an outstanding ability to strike hitters out on the right side of the plate, especially the lower half of the strike zone, and has the ability to throw five different pitches, of which his most common one is, his four-seam fastball which has been thrown 47.3% of the time so far this year.
3. Richard Bleier (Orioles) - The Baltimore Orioles might be playing poorly so far this year, but that doesn't mean that everything has been bad especially when it comes to Richard Bleier, who has practically been a diamond in the rough for them. Bleier currently has a 0.57 ERA over 15.2 innings of work with an Opponent Batting Average Against of .200 and a runs scored-per-9 rate of 2.87. To date, Bleier has been used in the middle innings as the Orioles are still without their successful closer, Zach Britton. In addition, Bleier has a fantastic left on-base percentage of 93.3% to this point and a 0.3 WAR, which already ties a career high for him. According to the computer projections posted on FanGraphs, Bleier was expected to perform much worse (the average ERA of all 4 was around 4.12) for him. Who knows what the future holds for Bleier, but if he continues to perform at this level, he will show everyone how wrong computer models can be sometimes.
4. Josh Hader (Brewers) - Meet the current strikeout leader among relievers, Josh Hader, who has been as valuable as ever for the Milwaukee Brewers. After the Brewers lost Corey Knebel, their bullpen was left in somewhat of a shamble state of mess, but Josh Hader has helped to add some much needed stability and has continued to build off of his success from last year. In addition to his impressive 1.17 ERA over 15.1 IP, Hader has 3 saves in 3 save opportunities so far and is averaging 16.3 pitchers per inning pitched. Hader's arsenal of pitches includes a low-90's fastball, low-80's slider, and a high-80's changeup, which he has only thrown 1.2% of the time to this point. For Hader, it's going to be important that he continues to focus on preventing walks as he does have a walks-per-9 rate of 2.35 currently, but with those walks comes an abundant amount of strikeouts. Hader might be Josh's last name, but don't be hating on him because he has been brilliant and will likely continue to be brilliant as the season wears on!
5. Adam Ottavino (Rockies) - Who would have thought that Adam Ottavino would have been one of the best relievers in all of baseball this year? Not many and that's why it is so important to let the game play out on grass rather than on paper. To date, Ottavino currently has the second most strikeouts (26) among relievers along with a 0.66 ERA over 13.2 IP. Ottavino has appeared in 13 games so far this year and has an Opponent Batting Average Against of .050. Furthermore, Ottavino is killing it with 26 strikeouts, which adds up to a strikeouts-per-9 rate of 17.12, and has a superb hits-per-9 rate of 1.32. Adam Ottavino is able to strike out batters from every corner of the plate besides the lower right side where he has a .500 Opponent Batting Average Against. For a team that spent a significant amount of money on its bullpen this past winter, Adam Ottavino continues to prove his worth as he looks to help the Rockies stay focused on making it back to the postseason.