Ziegler as closer might expose other flaws in ‘pen

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.