by Ray Kuhn
At any given time there are 30 closers in baseball. Sure there are committees and timeshares, but one pitcher generally has the advantage. That makes our job as fantasy owners difficult, since not only must we evaluate relievers based on skill but we have to figure out who is going to get those elusive saves.
It has been slowly developing over the past few seasons, but in 2017 we saw the revolution come to a head. Bullpens are now being managed differently, and I would make the argument that it is better than they have been in years past. That led to Bradley being a valuable part of Arizona’s pitching staff last season.
He was just too good in his role last year for the Diamondbacks to restrict him just to the ninth inning. After years of being a top prospect and not living up to those expectations, we saw what Arizona saw in him as he found his footing in the bullpen last season.
The right-hander threw 73 dominant innings as he struck out 79 batters while recording a 1.73 ERA to go along with a 1.04 WHIP. Bradley did have a slight dip in the second half, but with a 2.61 FIP it’s hard not expect a repeat performance. Pitching out of the bullpen Bradley’s two pitch mix worked well, as his plus velocity played a big part in his success.
At this point he is best served pitching in short bursts as a multi-inning reliever in the seventh and eighth innings of tight games. So who would he be handing the ball off to?
So far this off-season the Diamondbacks acquired three relievers with closing experience, and this group will give us our 2018 saves leader for Arizona.
First let’s deal with the low hanging fruit. It has been a few years since Neftali Feliz has been successful, he had eight saves last season to go along with a 5.48 ERA, and expectations are at a minimum as he was signed to a minor league contract. While I would keep an eye on him, he doesn’t warrant a look on draft day as it is possible he doesn’t even make the team out of Spring Training.
In 2015 Brad Boxberger saved 41 games for the Tampa Bay Rays. Thanks to injury problems the right-hander logged 53.2 innings over the next two seasons. After struggling with a back injury in the first half of last year he appeared to bounce back towards the end of the season. Overall it was a successful season, as in limited work he had a 3.38 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 29.1 innings with 40 strikeouts.
Control was an issue, but that along with his skills did appear to recover in the second half of the season. We do need to keep an eye on his control, but he does appear to be healthy and poised to follow up on his 2015 campaign.
Arizona also added Yoshihsa Hirano after a distinguished career in Asia. The 33-year old has 156 career saves and last season he closed 29 games. Hirano heads to Arizona after a successful campaign in which he had a 2.67 ERA to go along with a 1.27 WHIP and 47 strikeouts in 57.1 innings.
Hirano doesn’t fit the mold of a hard throwing closer, but he has had a track record of success, albeit not in the Major Leagues. We know that you don’t have to be the most talented option in the bullpen to be the closer, you just have to be adept at picking up saves; which is something he has proven he can do.
Of the three Bradley will finish the season with the best numbers, but my guess is that Boxberger will lead the team in saves. Hirano will likely have the job at some point as well and he is also worth targeting as a late round speculative selection. Boxberger, though, is the reliever I’ll be looking to draft.
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