Bullpen Showdown: Jake McGee vs. Brad Boxberger: Who Is Actually The Better Option?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

I have long been a supporter of Jake McGee and hope that he finally gets an opportunity to hold onto the Rays’ closing job the rest of the season.  However, as the second half gets underway we can’t ignore Brad Boxberger.  He’s proven that he has the stuff to handle ninth inning duties, but could he actually look like the better option moving forward?  Let’s take a look (please note that all statistics are through the All-Star Break):

 

Jake McGee
He’s long proven that he can excel, with a 2.90 ERA and 1.05 WHIP over 192.1 innings in the Major Leagues. He also owns an impressive 10.89 K/9 and 1.96 BB/9 this season (the walk rate would be the second time in the last three years that he was under 2.00). So what exactly is there not to like?

For one, he’s a lefty and it’s possible that ultimately does work against him. The Rays have shown that they are willing to play matchups, and that could lead to more seventh or eighth inning appearances.

Another issue is that he’s essentially a one pitch pitcher. Obviously he has proven he can be incredibly effective with it, but 94.8% of the time with his fastball?

Third, and maybe most important, is that he has not yet allowed a home run this season. This comes a year after he allowed 8 HR over 62.2 IP and it’s not like he has suddenly become a groundball machine. In fact his fly ball rate is up, from 38.8% to 40.6%. It just seems like there is a problem in the making.

 

Brad Boxberger
Like McGee, Boxberger has shown electric stuff this season with a 13.01 K/9 and 2.95 BB/9. Strikeouts were never a question for him, though the control was borderline. Over his minor league career he owned a 3.8 BB/9 and had been at 5.86 and 5.32 the previous two seasons as a member of the Padres.

Where he has really been hampered is where McGee has flourished, in that he’s allowed 6 HR over 36.2 IP. That’s good for a 22.2% HR/FB rate, a number we’d expect him to improve upon. Of course you can easily argue that his luck metrics will regress as well, given a .215 BABIP and 94.0% strand rate.

Those two things should offset each other, somewhat, making his 2.45 ERA and 0.85 WHIP that much more believable (the ERA more than the WHIP).

Where Boxberger really has an advantage, though, is that he’s a right-handed pitcher who has proven he can get out left-handed hitters. Just look at his career split (86.1 total innings):

  • vs. RHH – .229/.345/.424
  • vs. LHH – .163/.270/.288

With that type of split, he becomes that much more attractive as a ninth inning option.

 

Conclusion
At the end of the day we should expect Joe Maddon to continue to mix and match the back end of his bullpen, much to the frustration of fantasy owners (with Grant Balfour and Joel Peralta also in the mix). However, if there were to be someone to ultimately emerge don’t be surprised if it’s Boxberger grabbing the reigns. If he happens to still be available, now is the perfect time to try and stash him.

Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Reference

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3 comments

  1. Marky Mark says:

    Cut Giles to pick up Boxberger? I’ve only got one roster spot to spare for saves-speculating…

    • Rotoprofessor says:

      Close, but I’d hold onto Giles through the trading deadline. If Boxberger is still there, I don’t think anyone is going to suddenly grab him. If Papelbon isn’t dealt, it’s worth making the move.

  2. Dave says:

    In my 10-Team AL Only keeper league (out of the race this season) I currently have a bid in on Huston Street for trade purposes. My back up bid is for Boxberger however. I also currently have McGee rostered and believe in both of their skills.

    While McGee mainly relies on his fastball, he is getting a 14% swinging strike rate this season (on “all” his pitches), with that number reaching 18% over the last 31 days.

    Boxberger is currently sitting at 15% swinging strike.

    Both pitchers are great save speculation targets for this year and beyond.

    xERA actually favors Boxberger 2.23 to 2.59 as well.

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