Ziegler as closer could expose other cracks in D-backs 'pen
JUL 12, 2013 2:48p ET
July 12, 2013
Is Brad Ziegler the Diamondbacks' new closer? Maybe. That was Kirk Gibson's response when asked Thursday night after Ziegler closed out the D-backs' 5-3 win over the Brewers (after putting two on with one out).
Ziegler's entrance in the ninth didn't come as much of a surprise after Gibson and GM Kevin Towers spent the previous 24 hours talking about their frustration with the bullpen's back-end implosion this year, with closers J.J. Putz and Heath Bell as well as setup man David Hernandez each posting five of the D-backs' major-league-leading 19 blown saves.
Of his options, Towers said this before the game: "It's not to say we're not looking outside the organization, but I always try to give every opportunity to our internal options. That's guys that are currently on our ballclub, in our bullpen and in our system. I think if those don't work out then you need to be a little more aggressive externally. ... We're going to weigh all the options we have here. We're in a tight divisional race right now. Every game could be the difference in winning the division or winning a wild card or not."
He added: "I'm not as concerned probably (with) starting pitching and looking externally for starting pitching as much as trying to get our bullpen in order."
Translation: We'd prefer to have the answer than have to go looking for it, but if we have to go looking for it, it'll be our top priority.
So the question now is, essentially, if Ziegler proves himself as a viable closer option over the next couple weeks, do the Diamondbacks still go looking for something? And, if so, what are they looking for?
To be clear, Ziegler has been effective this year. He has a 2.49 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP while having allowed just two homers in 49 games. Perhaps more to the point, he has inherited 37 runners -- an average of about one per appearance -- and stranded a ridiculous 81 percent of them. Eight times this year he has stranded at least one inherited runner in a game the D-backs went on to win by one run. The value in that stat should be self-evident.
So if Ziegler isn't in that role anymore, it means some combination of the aforementioned struggling back-end guys -- who have allowed a whopping 19 home runs between them -- will be. And given those relievers' results this year, it's fair to wonder if the close games that have featured save opportunities in large part because of Ziegler still will going forward if he's no longer there to get the D-backs out of those tough sixth-, seventh-or eighth-inning situations.
If moving Ziegler to a new role means having to acquire somebody else to get through the earlier innings, would it make more sense to get an established closer -- one with more than Ziegler's four saves over the past four years -- and let Ziegler do his get-out-of-somebody-else's-jam thing?
That's a loaded question that doesn't have a clear-cut answer without being able to fill in every variable -- for example, closer types typically command a much higher price, one the Diamondbacks may not want to meet in terms of salary and/or prospects -- but it's one Towers should strongly consider over the next couple weeks as he weighs his options.
-- Matt Swartz