The past five years
King of the Double Play Pitch
In a 2013 heavily marked by bullpen failures, Brad Ziegler was a shining light of success. While his best calling was to come into games with runners on base in order to induce ground ball double plays, Ziegler proved himself quite capable in just about every situation he was thrown into, eventually taking over as the team's closer at the end of the season, where he acquitted himself well enough with only two blown saves against 13 saves and one hold from July 4th through the end of the season. Although Ziegler did enjoy success for the most part, increased exposure to left-handed pitching did expose a weakness in Ziegler's game. Furthermore, Ziegler's attachment to ninth inning duty increased the pressure on an already shaky bullpen to perform even better in high leverage situations earlier in the game.
A full offseason of rest for J.J. Putz and the acquisition of Addison Reed from the Chicago White Sox paved the way for Ziegler to return in 2014 to the role for which he is best suited, the role of fireman. Powered by a GB/FB ratio of 2.43 Ziegler managed to induce 21 double plays in 2012 and 8 more in 2013. With 3.8 WPA in 2013, Ziegler ranked second on the team only to Paul Goldschmidt and his 8.0.
Last season with the D-backs, Ziegler set career highs in wins, saves and games and fell 0.1 inning shy of matching his career high 73.1 frames set back in 2009 with the Oakland Athletics. In 78 games in 2013, he went 8-1 with 13 saves and a 2.22 ERA while posting a .228 opponents average. In just under three seasons with the Diamondbacks Ziegler has compiled a 2.49 ERA, saved 19 games and put together an ERA+ of 174. This was enough to convince the team to give Ziegler a 2-year extension in the offseason rather than face arbitration. The two-year deal is guaranteed at $10.5 million with an option for 2016. With an AAV slightly over $5 million per season, the Diamondbacks obviously expect to see a continuation of good things out of their sidearm slinger.
Somewhat worrisome is Ziegler's performance in Spring Training this year. To put things mildly, he has been savaged in spring. His ERA of 11.37 driven by a WHIP of 2.211 are about as ugly as it gets. This should be tempered somewhat by the fact that Ziegler for the most part faced a tougher quality of opposition throughout the majority of spring (9.2 OppQual), getting very few opportunities against inexperienced bats while he spent spring trying to improve his slider and changeup. Perhaps more reassuring, Ziegler pitched a scoreless inning in the season opener against Los Angeles in Sydney.
While it might be somewhat much to expect Ziegler to be as continue being as dominant as he has been since joining the Diamondbacks in 2011, the fact that he does not rely on swings and misses to get the job done actually works in his favor in this case. So long as Ziegler continues to throw strikes down in the zone with his sinker, there is little reason to believe he will be unable to keep his groundball rate over 65% (it was 70.4% in 2013). This sort of groundball-inducing success will be the key to Ziegler's situational usage.