Diamondbacks Report Card: Brad Ziegler and the Missing Piece of the Bullpen

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Name: Brad Ziegler
Age on opening day: 31
Salary: $1,250,000
2011 stats (OAK/ARI): 66 games, 58.1 IP, 2.16 ERA, 3-2, 44:19 K:BB
2010 stats (OAK): 64 games, 60.2 IP, 3.26 ERA, 3-7, 41-28 K:BB

Certainly, the Diamondbacks 2011 bullpen staff was a major improvement from 2010, but of course, that wasn't too hard to accomplish. Even with a solid starting rotation and J.J. Putz as an anchor at the end of games, there was still the problem of finding reliable middle relief pitchers. Aaron Heilman, Esmerling Vasquez, Yhency Brazoban, Juan Gutierrez - just a few of the pitchers that were trotted out and struggled. Relief pitchers tossed over 255 innings the first half of the season and compiled an ERA near 4 with 12 losses. June was the worse, with an ERA of 5.82 and only 6 saves. Something had to be done if Arizona was to remain in the hunt for the NL West crown.

Enter Brad Ziegler.

I was thrilled when I found out the Diamondbacks traded for Ziegler at the (non-waiver) trade deadline. I'd known of Brad from his minor league days when he wrote a column for SBN's Athletics Nation. He was hit by a line drive and fractured his skull down in A-ball and came back to pitch the next season. He was an average relief pitcher until one of his coaches convinced him to become a submariner. And when Brad finally made his major-league debut in the spring of 2008, he went out and broke a 101-year old record for relief pitchers and pitched 39 consecutive scoreless innings to begin his career.

Ziegler was not performing at 2008 levels when Kevin Towers plucked him from Billy Beane, but with a good reputation and three years of control left on his contract, Towers felt Ziegler was one of the final pieces solidify the bullpen and get us to the post-season.

2011 Expectations

Jump-started by his scoreless streak, Ziegler ended his rookie season of 2008 with an ERA barely above 1. Certainly nobody expected him to repeat that the next year, but he did struggle with Oakland in 2009 and 2010, giving up a few too many hits and not getting as many double-plays, and had an ERA in the 3s.

Whatever change Ziegler made from 2010 to 2011 was a big improvement as his ERA dropped nearly a point from 3.26 to 2.39 with Oakland before the trade. He was allowing a few too many walks and baserunners but kept the runs off the board. He came in as a ground-ball pitcher against whom batters make contact with the ball 73% of the time. Normally, I wouldn't think that'd be a great number, but he only allowed 10 runs for Oakland through the end of July. He didn't give up any home runs in 2011 and very few extra-base hits.

To partner him with fellow submarine pitcher Joe Paterson was seen as a great fit. Ziegler's lefty/righty splits were clear that he should be a ROOGY. All of the usual statistics for batters against Ziegler - BA, OBP, SLG, OPS - were nearly double for left-handed hitters. (For instance, a .188 BA for righties, .373 BA for lefties.) He struck out right-handed batters nearly four times more than lefties. If Gibson could position Ziegler in such a way, he would be very effective in the Diamondbacks bullpen.


2011 Performance

Ziegler initially struggled to fit in to a new team and new routine. In one outing in Philly, he four runs (one earned) without getting an out. He admitted the changes in routine were causing his performance to suffer, but he and the staff turned that around. For about a month mid-August/September, he appeared in 13 games and threw 10.2 scoreless innings (including 14 inherited runners), with two hits, one walk and nine strikeouts. He was a very reliable late-inning, one-or-two-batter reliever that the Diamondbacks needed. I honestly doubt the Diamondbacks could've made the post-season without adding a relief arm, and Ziegler fit well in that role.

Of course, the large tarnish on his 2011 season was NLDS Game #2. He came in with one out in the 6th inning in a tie game, replacing Daniel Hudson. (Gibson was rather quick with the hook on Hudson after letting Ian Kennedy pitch too long with poor results.) First he balked the baserunner to third base, issued a walk to a guy who had only 16 BB all season, made a throwing error on the bunt attempt, issued an intentional walk to load the bases, then allowed three straight singles. He allowed four runs plus one of Hudson's on only 13 pitches for an ERA of 108.00 (he got one out in Game 1, otherwise it would've been infinity).

Yes, that was absolutely horrible, but it was also incredibly rare for Ziegler. Only four times in the 2011 regular season did he allow two or more runs in his outings. He normally pitches a clean inning or less, and can be very economical with his pitches. One pitch, one out; five pitches, two outs. If his pitch count goes up and he allows a walk, he can still get out of the jam. Even counting a few poor outings, Brad's regular-season ERA with Arizona was 1.74, ERA+ of 230, and only four earned runs out of 79 batters faced. If you like ERA+ (and I know many of our readers do), you should know that Ziegler's was nearly 50 points higher than his closest Diamondbacks teammate last season - J.J. Putz had an ERA+ of 182.


2012 Expectations

Ziegler is an experienced major-league reliever, and I don't expect him to change much. He's been around long enough where he won't repeat the awesomeness of his rookie season, but he'll continue to be effective. Having two opposite submarine pitchers on our staff (with Joe Paterson) is an incredible asset. Splits show Ziegler is much more affective vs right-handed batters, so let's use him as a ROOGY, and he should be alright pitching an inning against righties. I will be thrilled if he puts up another season with a ERA of 2.20-2.50, but don't be surprised if the National League starts to adjust and his ERA jumps a little bit closer to 3.

Brad Ziegler is under the Diamondbacks' control through the 2014 season. He was Super-2 arbitration-eligible this off-season, and he and the Diamondbacks agreed to a 1 year/$1.795M contract. Follow Brad Ziegler on Twitter at @bradziegler.

snakecharmer's grade: B

Jim: Incomplete
20 innings for us isn't quite enough to grade him, but what he did, he did very well. Splits suggest he really needs to be kept away from lefties, who clobbered him overall at a .373 clip last year - almost twice the .188 right-handers managed! That's extreme, but not much of an aberration: in his career, the southpaw OPS is 359 points higher... If used correctly, should be a valuable piece of the D-backs bullpen as a ROOGY. Plus, he Tweets, which is nice.

Kishi: B
Hey, you can never have too many arms in the bullpen, right? Ziegler may not have been around for too long, true, but he did pretty well in the time we had him. A 1.74 ERA, and getting him for two players who didn't seem to have much of a future in the organization- seems like a good deal to me.

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