The 2023 season will mark exactly 20 years since a reliever last took home a Cy Young Award in either of Major League Baseball’s leagues. That honor went to the inimitable Eric Gagne of the Los Angeles Dodgers back in 2003, his dazzling 337 ERA+ and game-best 55 saves looking absurd next to his very, very nice 0.69 WHIP.
Anyway, the Cincinnati Reds have brought back reliever Hunter Strickland for the 2023 season, though this time it’s merely on a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. The club themselves announced the move on Twitter to much fanfare.
The #Reds and RHP Hunter Strickland have agreed to terms on a minor league contract with an invitation to Major League camp.— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) February 18, 2023
Strickland, now 34, pitched to a 4.91 ERA, 4.78 FIP, and 1.51 WHIP in 62.1 IP for the Reds last year, taking home $1.825 million on a guaranteed big-league deal in the process. That included a brutal 9.82 ERA during an April when the Reds torpedoed their own season with a 3-22 start as well as a July/August stretch in which he yielded 6 dingers in just over 24 IP.
That said, his average slider velocity (84.8 mph) was his highest since the 2015 season, while the 95.0 mph he averaged on his heater was a) better than 2021 and b) more or less in-line with where it’s averaged since the 2017 season, so there’s a chance there was just some rust or bad luck or the coffee wasn’t the right blend in the Cincinnati clubhouse, or whatever. It’s hard to judge relievers by BABIP, really, especially when so many of their meatballs get turned around for homers, but the .301 mark he yielded last year was much higher than the .278 career mark he now owns (with that .301 mark included).
It’s a minor league deal, so there’s no harm in bringing him in and seeing if he’s fixed some things. If not, they’ll cut and run. If so, though, the Reds might have added a bit of veteran relief depth after the injury setbacks to Tejay Antone and Tony Santillan, which I do suppose is something.