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Just call him ‘Mr. August’: Brad Ziegler closes out record-setting month

The Marlins’ hottest stretch of 2017 was made possible by Ziegler’s latest scoreless streak.

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

It’s fine to admit that you got distracted—we all did. The Miami Marlins surged back into the NL Wild Card picture last month, with much of the credit going to Giancarlo Stanton’s home run binge and encouraging performances from their controllable starting pitchers. No doubt, they exceeded expectations and should be applauded for doing so.

Meanwhile, the only Marlins player to achieve a perfect August—to succeed in literally every single appearance he had—was Brad Ziegler.

Thirteen games. Thirteen innings pitched. Zero runs allowed. With the exception of Thursday night, the Fish got a win whenever he took the mound.

At age 37, Ziegler became one of the oldest Marlins to ever complete a scoreless month, trailing only Arthur Rhodes (August 2008) and Brendan Donnelly (July 2009). And there was nothing fluky about it. Miami’s “Unicorn” thrived by forcing batters to pound his pitches directly into the ground, the same game plan that he has executed for much of the past decade.

Highest MLB Ground Ball Rate, August 2017 (min. 10 IP)

Name Team IP ERA GB%
Name Team IP ERA GB%
Brad Ziegler Marlins 13.0 0.00 70.7
Tyler Chatwood Rockies 14.1 6.91 70.5
Brandon Kintzler Nationals 14.0 3.21 69.8
Richard Bleier Orioles 12.2 2.84 69.0
T.J. McFarland Diamondbacks 12.2 13.50 67.9
Dan Otero Indians 10.1 0.87 67.9
Source: FanGraphs

There’s some precedent for this. Ziegler has enjoyed three longer scoreless streaks in his career, most recently in 2015 and most famously in 2008. In the latter case, he was an unheralded rookie, terrorizing opponents who had never heard of him with that funky release point. The dominance was stunning yet understandable. They just needed time to adjust...right?

Major league hitters are running out of excuses.

Ziegler actually leads the entire sport with 651 appearances over the past 10 seasons, split fairly evenly across the AL and NL. If anything, that familiarity should be hurting him now. Consider that the active leaders in appearances—Francisco Rodriguez (948), Chad Qualls (844) and Fernando Rodney (817)—are all struggling in 2017. Joe Nathan (787) was fourth on the list before officially retiring on Friday.

A heavy workload has steadily drained Ziegler of velocity (although he didn’t have much to begin with). His fastball is only averaging 83.2 miles per hour this year.

Not enough adversity for you? A lower back strain forced the veteran right-hander to miss six weeks of action, and during his absence, the Marlins traded away top closer candidates David Phelps and AJ Ramos. So rather than easing Ziegler in slowly when he returned to the active roster, the club plugged him into the ninth-inning role immediately. And he’s been giving them goose eggs ever since.

The contract Ziegler signed last winter guarantees him $9 million in 2018. It’s more than Miami has ever paid a reliever in a single season, but fair value for his typical production (career averages of 2.58 ERA and 64 IP).

Extending this scoreless streak deep into September would be a big help to the incoming ownership group. It’ll either convince them that he’s a reliable contributor moving forward, or at least re-establish Ziegler as a legitimate trade chip.