"Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face."
Planning is great and all, but you should never announce something that you might end up wanting to change. Friday is when I write about an overlooked National Leaguer, which means that, even if I figure out who I want to write about on Sunday, all I can really do is tweet aimlessly about him until Thursday afternoon or so.
Well Sunday, when I was working on my weekly closer rankings, I noticed that the Diamondbacks' Brad Ziegler had been pitching really well of late. Bring up his game log on ESPN, and you'll see his May started with seven outings in 12 days, throwing 6.2 innings, allowing two hits, no walks, and no runs, with six strikeouts, and seven straight holds. After that run, his season ERA sat at 0.86.
Of course, if you do look at that game log, you'll see that his May didn't end with those seven holds. No, Ziegler pitched Wednesday night, getting only one out against the Nationals while walking two and giving up three hits and four runs. It was Ziegler's first loss of the year, the first time he's allowed more than two earned runs in an outing since July 2011, and it bumped his ERA on the year up to 2.53.
And of course, since I had decided to be so high on Ziegler, I had him pitching in three different leagues Wednesday. So that 108.00 ERA on the day was pretty fun, pretty helpful.
But screw it, my points still hold. Ziegler sits at 12 percent owned in Yahoo! leagues. He's slotted in as the Diamondbacks' setup man with J.J. Putz hurt (again), in front of Addison Reed. Reed has closer experience, sure, but he has a 5.03 ERA this year (4.28 career), and he's given up five runs in 5.2 innings this month, with runs allowed in eight of his last 13 appearances. The Diamondbacks insist he's still their closer, but that pretty much has to be a "for now" thing, yeah?
Now, if Reed hadn't joined the team in the offseason, Putz (DL now) likely would have been the closer. If not him, then Matt Reynolds and/or David Hernandez (Tommy John for both, so no more 2014) would have gotten a shot. And if they had gone away from Reed on, say, Tuesday, it would have been Ziegler.
The question, then, becomes how much changed on Wednesday night?
Like it or not, stat lines are there. An ERA of 0.86 towers over one of 2.53, even when the only difference between the two is 24 pitches on a Wednesday night. On the flip side, remember, Ziegler's 2.53 is barely half of Reed's 5.03 even after that blowup. With Putz, Reynolds, and Hernandez gone (for now/for a while), Ziegler is the only closer-ish pitcher left in the bullpen if Arizona un-Reeds the role. (To wit: Ziegler has 32 career saves. The rest of the current Arizona bullpen has four total - one each for Joe Thatcher and Trevor Cahill and two for Oliver Perez.)
The knock on Ziegler has been that, as a submarine-type pitcher, he's more vulnerable to lefties. That's help up over his career, as a .216/.269/.269 (19% K rate) career line against righties balloons to .291/.390/.415 (11% K rate) against lefties. As a career line, that definitely does profile as a matchups guy rather than a closer or setup man or other type of face-anyone reliever. But in the last couple seasons, Ziegler has improved against lefties dramatically, while still getting righties out at a stupid rate. Since the start of 2013, these are his numbers:
|2013-14||Slash line||K rate|
There are sample-size issues, but no matter how you look at it, Ziegler has become adept at getting hitters out from both sides.
Like I said, the Diamondbacks have for now insisted that Addison Reed is still their closer. But if he continues to struggle - and there's not much in his career to lend confidence in a Mariano Rivera-like turn - eventually they'll have to make a change. Ziegler is the obvious next choice. And, as I said in my piece on Kelvin Herrera a year ago, "Closers are such a prized commodity in fantasy that waiting until a guy gets the role is the same as waiting until a guy is already on someone else's roster."
There aren't a lot of obvious next-guy-up closers. You need a good reliever who is setting up for a struggling closer. And to really know, you need one reliever who is setting himself ahead of the others. Like, if Kenley Jansen ends up out of the role in Los Angeles, will Brian Wilson get saves? Or Chris Perez? Or Brandon League? They all have closer experience, but Chris Withrow has pretty obviously been the best Dodgers reliever. Jim Johnson, Luke Gregerson, and Sean Doolittle all could get saves, but there's no standout. David Carpenter and Jonathan Broxton would be fine closers, but I don't really expect Craig Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman to go anywhere.
Ziegler, who is 12 percent owned in Yahoo!, is the best closer candidate in the Arizona middle-relief situation, and he pitches in front of a closer who has to real long-term grasp on his job. If you're looking for saves, don't let that Wednesday outing scare you off. I don't know if he'll get the closer role, but if he doesn't, that won't be the reason why.