Despite Arizona’s bullpen woes in the 2010s, they have had a number of impressive relievers on the staff. Two pitchers on this list of nominees continue to pitch for the team to this day. Another is arguably the best relief pitcher the team has ever sent to the mound. These five finalists were chosen primarily by the number of appearance they made, with extra consideration given for how their presence in the bullpen impacted the team. As such these five make up five of the six top pitchers in terms of appearances for Arizona in the 2010s. The drop-off from these five in both appearances and performances is a stark one. The one exception goes to nominee honorable mention David Hernandez. Despite Hernandez appearing in more games during his two stints in Arizona than J.J. Putz, it was Putz’s arrival in Arizona that stabilized Arizona’s bullpen and helped lead the team to their 2011 playoff appearance. That, along with Putz’s strong reputation as a quality mentor got him the nod on this list. Though it should be noted that, unlike the others, Hernandez was the only one who was a member of both of Arizona’s playoff runs in 2011 and 2017.
Bradley joined Arizona when he was taken seventh overall in the 2011 draft. He was Arizona’s second selection in that draft, the Diamondbacks selecting Trevor Bauer with the third overall pick. This is the same draft that produced Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, Francisco Lindor, Sonny Grey, Jose Fernandez and a number of other highly talented players. At the time, Bradley was looked at as being one of the most talented prospects available in the entire draft, a future horse to headline a Major League rotation. Given the depth of that draft, that was saying something. Fast forward to 2015, when Bradley made his Major League debut as part of the team’s opening day rotation. The scouting report on Bradley was that he still needed to develop a better third pitch. However, results said he was ready for playing on the biggest stage. Bradley’s debut was something of a mixed bag. Bradley pitched a minimum of six innings in each of his first three outings. After three games, Bradley was sporting a 1.45 ERA and seemed to be blessed with the ability to get outs just when he needed them. This is how he managed such strong success despite his problems with his control. Then, on April 28th, Bradley was struck in the head by a batted ball. He returned to action only 18 days later, but he simply was not the same. Well, in some ways he was, but the end-results were not nearly as good. His luck with pitching around walks completely disappeared. Four games, 15 2/3 innings, and 11 walks later, Bradley’s 2015 MLB season came to an end. In 2016, Bradley once again made the rotation, but it was not a pretty sight. Having only two useable pitches, he struggled through 26 starts during which he pitched to a dismal 89 ERA+.
Then, in 2017, Mike Hazen and Torey Lovullo came on board and put Bradley in the bullpen for the season. Bradley was electric, establishing himself as one of baseball’s very best high leverage relievers that year. In 63 games he threw 73 innings compiling a miniscule 1.73 ERA. Bradley’s contributions as the team’s primary set-up man and overall best reliever played no small part in Arizona’s season-long success, finishing as host of the NL Wild Card play-in game. In that game, Bradley once again left his mark, smacking a bases clearing triple to the wall in left center, one of the team’s great plays of the decade.
In 2018 and 2019, Bradley was not quite as dominant. In fact, Bradley struggled mightily for a stretch in 2019, leading to speculation that he would be optioned back to the minors. After a heart to heart talk with Hazen and Lovullo, Bradley managed to turn his season around. He closed out the final eight weeks of the season in strong fashion, establishing himself as the team’s new closer. All told, Bradley appeared in the fifth-most games among Arizona relievers in the 2010s with 239 appearances. He also pitched to a respectable 112 ERA+. He dominated his fellow relievers, leading the way with 407 strikeouts, the next closest being Randall Delgado at 371. Alas, he also led the way in free passes with 166 (with Delgado again being second at 147).
Andrew Chafin was selected with the 43rd pick of the 2011 draft, the same draft that gave the Diamondbacks Archie Bradley. Chafin made his Major League debut in 2014, making three starts at the end of the season. Having seen enough, the Diamondbacks moved Chafin to the bullpen to open 2015. That season, Chafin worked as a typical middle reliever with the ability to give some length. Chafin had 22 outings where he contributed four or more outs to the game and had two outings where he pitched three full innings. Quietly and without much fanfare, Chafin completed the 2015 season with 75 innings under his belt with a sparkling 2.76 ERA. Chafin’s 2016 season saw him installed as the team’s primary seventh inning arm. Injury curtailed both the number of outings and effectiveness. However, while healthy, he still had a relatively strong season outside of a bad six day stretch in which he gave up nine runs in three games.
In 2017 Chafin returned to pre-injury form. He appeared in a whopping 71 games and finished the season with a respectable 3.51 ERA, once again spending nearly the entire season as the team’s go-to arm for seventh inning work, commonly the bridge to Archie Bradley as the primary setup man.
2018 brought more of the same, 77 appearances and a 3.10 ERA. Then, in 2019, Chafin established himself as Mr. Consistency, a rare trait in relief pitchers. 2019 saw Chafin make another 77 appearances while throwing to a 3.76 ERA, filling in in whatever bullpen capacity was needed.
Since his debut in 2014, Chafin has established himself as essentially the ideal left-handed relief pitcher. In a league and an era where relief pitcher volatility is the norm, Chafin’s consistency has allowed him to compile the second-most appearances in team history at 326. Assuming he stays healthy and is not traded during the season, it is likely he will claim the top spot in appearances by the end of the 2020 season. Unlike many of the players making these player of the decade lists, Chafin does not really have a singular stand-out moment. Instead, Chafin and his cowboy persona have done yeoman’s work and quietly put together the resume of one of the best all-around relievers to ever pitch for the Diamondbacks, despite the fact that the one role he has never really filled is that of closer
Randall Delgado was one of the key players acquired when the Diamondbacks chose to send Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves between the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Initially, Delgado worked as a starter for Arizona. Though he experienced some success as a starter, he still found himself out of the rotation by the time 2014 rolled around. In 2014, Delgado almost pitched his way off the team. Only his ability to eat innings in large chunks managed to save him. Then, 2015 happened. Like his left-handed bullpen mate, Andrew Chafin, Delgado established himself as a model of consistency, able to put in a ton of work each season. In 2015, Delgado pitched 72 innings, primarily as a complement to Chafin. This included 18 outings in which he was asked to get four or more outs.
From 2015-2017, Delgado appeared in 169 games, compiling 209 2/3 innings of work and an ERA+ of 117. Delgado’s biggest moment with Arizona came during his rocky initial season. On July 26, 2013, Delgado tossed a three-hit shutout against the San Diego Padres.
In 2018, Delgado went down to injury and required Tommy John surgery. Although the Diamondbacks kept him around through his rehabilitation, he never returned to the mound in a Major League capacity. In 2019, Delgado was signed and released by the White Sox before the season began. He eventually landed in the Yankees’ system where he pitched 51 1/3 but failed to find a call to return to the Majors.
J.J. Putz joined the Arizona Diamondbacks in December of 2010, the first big splash of new General Manager, Kevin Towers. The Diamondbacks, having been without a reliable closer for three seasons, saw the former closer and set-up man installed as both the team’s closer and bullpen mentor. Putz’s contributions as closer in 2011 played a significant part in Arizona’s unlikely run to the playoffs as NL West champions.
Putz made a name for himself in Arizona with his filthy splitter. He was a breath of fresh air for Arizona fans, a rare late-inning pitcher who was adept at managing walks while still dialing up strikeouts. When the ball was put in play, his splitter induced plenty of ground balls, limiting the amount of damage that could be created by opposing hitters. From 2011-2012, Putz notched 77 saves, making a strong run at Jose Valverde’s franchise record 98 accumulated from 2003-2007. Then injury struck Putz in 2013, sidelining the big 6 foot-5 inch righty for about half the season. Despite the extensive time he missed due to injury during the season, Putz’s reputation as a bullpen mentor made him an essential part of the development of other pitchers down in the bullpen, including David Hernandez and Josh Collmenter.
In 2014, another shoulder injury struck Putz, bringing his season and his career to a premature end. After two incredibly strong seasons to start his Arizona career, Putz limped through two injury plagued ones that somewhat tarnished his overall tenure. Still, across those four seasons, Putz appeared in 175 games and compiled 83 saves while serving as a mentor to future pitchers and also anchoring a rare Arizona playoff bullpen.
There is very little I can write here about Ziegler that has not already been written about numerous times at the Pit. In Brad Ziegler’s two stints with Arizona, he appeared in 377 games, more than any other pitcher in team history. He pitched in 357 1/3 innings, second among relievers to only Archie Bradley, who benefitted from a full season of starting pitching to pile up the innings. Despite not being an established closer until near the end of his career, he still accumulated 62 saves for Arizona. Ziegler managed all this while posting a miserly 2.57 ERA. By the time the ageless wonder retired after the 2018 season, Ziegler had cemented himself in a two-pitcher race with Byung-Hyun Kim as the best reliever in team history. Though he was never one to get many strikeouts, his side-arm slinging delivery made him one of baseball’s elite groundball-inducing pitchers. This meant that, even when he did find himself in a spot of trouble, he was still only one pitch away from recording two outs. Sometimes it seemed like he dialed up the GIDP at will.
Who was the Arizona Diamondbacks’ relief pitcher of the decade for the 2010s?
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