Last season, Brad Ziegler wasn't even supposed to be the Arizona Diamondbacks' closer. That job had been given to right hander Addison Reed, but when May rolled around, and Reed was struggling mechanically, the Diamondbacks had no choice but to remove him from the closer role.
Arizona had a few options to replace Reed: Enrique Burgos, Daniel Hudson and Ziegler. For a little while, Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale experimented with his bullpen, letting guys have different roles and seeing how they performed.
After Reed was removed from the closer role in mid-May, the other members of the bullpen had their proverbial chances to shine. Burgos picked up back-to-back saves on May 18 and 19, Ziegler pitched the ninth on May 20 as Chase Anderson picked up the 6-1 win, and Ziegler was the again the closer on the 21st, picking up his first save of the season.
The following day, all hands were on deck for the Diamondbacks 13-inning marathon against the Chicago Cubs. Hudson pitched the seventh, Burgos the eighth, and Ziegler the ninth, with Arizona eventually winning despite Reed's two runs allowed in the 10th inning.
Paul Goldschmidt hit a game tying home run in the bottom of the 10th to keep the game going. In the series' second game, Burgos suffered the loss after allowing a three-run homer to Anthony Rizzo in the ninth. It gave the Cubs a 9-6 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. From that point forward, Ziegler assumed the closer's role and did a pretty nice job for the rest of the season. He converted 23 saves before his next loss on August 30 and he finished 2015 with 30 saves in 32 chances.
The most immediately noticeable feature of Ziegler's game is his submarine delivery (think Chad Bradford of the 2002 Athletics, but better). Not only that, but his repertoire includes a rare submarine changeup, making it nearly impossible for batters to get anything off the ground against him.
In 528 2/3 career innings, Ziegler has given up 21 home runs, and he only gave up three in 68 innings last season. Incredibly, batters hit a paltry .111 against Ziegler's changeup, without a single hit coming in July, August, or September.
Eno Sarris of Fangraphs wrote about Ziegler's pitch arsenal in 2014. He focused on the changeup and spoke about how rare it is for someone with his mechanics to throw the pitch. After initially struggling to develop the pitch and working on it in 2012 and 2013, Ziegler's progress led to a 19 percent whiff rate and a 67 percent ground ball rate on the pitch in 2014. In 2015, his ground ball rate increased to 73 percent. The changeup, which Ziegler threw 22.1 percent of the time in 2015, averages around 78 mph.
Ziegler also has a sinker that's hard to hit and was his most frequent offering in 2015, 65.7 percent of his total pitches. For such an effective fastball, it has a surprisingly low 84.9 mph average velocity.
Ziegler also throws a fly ball-inducing slider, from which he gave up only two hits out of 101 opportunities in 2015. The average on that pitch is around 74.5 mph.
You'll notice I haven't mentioned his strikeouts yet, and there's a reason for it. Ziegler finished 2015 with a career high in saves (30) and he did it with a K per 9 rate of 4.8. He struck out only 36 batters all of last season. That combination puts him in the same company as Todd Jones, the last pitcher to have at least 30 saves with a K per 9 of less than five. Jones had 38 saves with a K per 9 of 4.8 in 2007, his penultimate season in the majors.
Ziegler had a career low BABIP of .218 last season and that more than likely will not be sustainable this season. More ground balls may find some holes and he may be less lucky, but can Ziegler be the Diamondback's closer all season in 2016? I believe so. The only thing that works against him is his low strikeout total, but if his ground ball rates stay low, and his mechanics remain consistent, his projections will come to fruition.
PECOTA projects his K per 9 will increase while his ground ball rate will regress slightly, and his BABIP will increase to .289. Steamer projects a K per 9 increase of up to around 6 per 9, his BABIP going up to .300.
Last season, Ziegler had a 1.85 ERA with a 3.44 FIP. Both PECOTA and Steamer have those increasing in 2016 (PECOTA 3.99/4.05 - Steamer 3.39/3.75). So the question here is, can Ziegler with what we know about his 2015 repeat that performance in 2016? All signs point to quite possibly.
. . .
Stacey Gotsulias is a contributing writer of Beyond the Box Score. She also writes for The Hardball Times. You can follow her on Twitter at @StaceGots.