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Explaining Brad Ziegler's initial struggles in 2016

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Brad Ziegler has been hit harder in the early part in 2016, more than what most Diamondbacks fans have been accustomed to seeing from him the last 4 1/2 seasons.

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The Diamondbacks tabbed Brad Ziegler as their man closer in 2016, and it's yielded mixed results. Ziegler is 8 for 8 in save situations, but really struggles in them and is even worse in non-save situations. For the 2016 season, Ziegler is sporting a 3.72/3.58/4.32 ERA/FIP/xFIP. Ziegler's ERA is always going to beat his FIP and xFIP because of his extreme ground ball rate, but he's been a lot more hittable in 2016 than I've ever seen him.

It doesn't take a big stat page from Fangraphs to tell anyone that Ziegler is getting hit harder this year than ever before, you see it in the games. However, when looking at Ziegler's batted ball profile for 2016, I noticed two alarming stats. Ziegler's line drive and hard hit rate have jumped over 10% from last year and both are significantly higher than his career average. I'm not sure exactly what's causing this, it could be age or just him pressing for another MLB contract in 2017. Ziegler's jump in line drive and hard hit rate have mostly come from his ground ball and soft hit rate, so that's enough to cause the panic alarm to go off.

Another possible answer to why Ziegler is getting harder this year is he's pitching into more hitter-friendly counts. Ziegler's first pitch strike rate is down to 55.2% from his 58.6 rating from last year. That number would be a career-low rate if it stays there for the rest of the season. Falling behind counts is never ideal, especially when your sinker averages 83.1 MPH. As a result of falling behind counts, batters are able to lay off his pitches that are just below the strike zone and his walk rate has nearly doubled from 6.3% to 11.5%. If Ziegler can get ahead of hitters early in the count more frequently, I think his numbers will get better.

If there is one encouraging sign, Ziegler is still able to generate double plays when his team desperately needs one. He's still posting a ground ball rate of 62% and a fly ball rate of only 14%. We're only two months into the season and there is plenty of time for Ziegler to correct his command issues. It could just be the case of a slow start and Ziegler will revert back to the money pitcher that he has been over his Diamondbacks career. If not, then the Diamondbacks should let him walk in the off-season with young talent like Jake Barrett ready to assume the closer role next season although they might do so anyway since Ziegler will be 37 for the 2017 season.