Looking around the Internet, it appeared that just about everyone had anointed Archie Bradley as the Diamondbacks’ closer for 2018. ESPN, CBS Sports - virtually all the sites had Bradley there on the Arizona depth chart, and over the weekend the Bovada sportsbook was quoting the line on Bradley’s saves at 19.5. I seriously contemplated getting me some of the “under” on that, because it really didn’t seem likely the team would waste their best reliever, capable of pitching multiple innings, by limiting him to the artificial save situation. And so it proves, with Brad Boxberger being officially announced as the team’s closer by Torey Lovullo this morning.
Of the three candidates, along with new Japanese reliever Yoshihisa Hirano, Boxberger makes most sense. We’ve seen this template before, last year with Fernando Rodney: the team acquired a pitcher who had seen success in the closer’s role, but who had not been able to sustain it. You therefore get someone with experience, but without the premium given to someone who is the current incumbent for a team - see, for example, the two year, $16 million deal Brad Ziegler got, after hitting the free-agent market as the Diamondbacks’ closer. Boxberger has a 40-save season under his belt, in 2015 with the Rays, but injury has limited him to only 53.2 innings since, which is why he only gets $1.85 million this season.
The move will allow Bradley to remain a roving fireman, putting out high-leverage blazes wherever they may occur. While Hirano has plenty of experience during save situations in Japan, it lets him settle in to facing major-league hitters without the added pressure of the ninth inning. Of course, there may still be times when all three men end up taking the ball, as the need arises - just as last year Bradley, Randall Delgado, David Hernandez and Jimmie Sherfy all ended up in the Save column for us. But, again using last year as the pattern, Boxberger will be Lovullo’s go-to guy, and we also saw that the manager will stand by that, almost regardless of results.
I am optimistic Boxberger will do well, probably better then Rodney based on their career norms. Brad has a lifetime ERA of 3.19, which is an ERA+ of 120 - Rodney’s figure before coming to Arizona was 112, and that was very close to the 114 he posted for the Diamondbacks last year. We should naturally remember that reliever volatility is a very real thing: Boxberger’s single-season ERA+ has been anywhere from 84 to 158, and there will be blown saves in the months to come. But providing he remains healthy, I’m optimistic he’ll be a solid performer at the back of the bullpen.