The closer is a key factor in the success of any baseball team. The Marlins had that position secured during the past several seasons. Steve Cishek was the closer throughout 2013, 2014 and part of 2015. More recently, AJ Ramos held this position before his midsummer trade to the Mets.
When Brad Ziegler was signed in December 2016, the Marlins had a vision: they wanted to jump aboard the bullpen hype train and create their own super bullpen.
Two pieces were already set in place, Kyle Barraclough and Ramos. There were also rumblings of the Marlins going after top-tier free agent Kenley Jansen. But when Jansen agreed to a deal with the Dodgers, their backup plan was to improve with quantity over quality. Those ample resources that would’ve gone toward the proven closer were instead divided among Junichi Tazawa and Ziegler.
Keep in mind, the Marlins were looking to make a big push towards the playoffs in the upcoming 2017 season. Ramos would remain the closer and everyone around him would bridge the gap between him and the starting pitcher.
Things didn’t go according to plan, of course. On their way to a mediocre 77-85 record, Ramos was one of the assets flipped at the trade deadline for prospects. Meanwhile, Barraclough was having another successful season when Ziegler was selected to fill in the role of closer.
Plain and simple, Ziegler has not been good with the Marlins. There is no way to sugarcoat it—the production is not there.
Ziegler was 37 years old when he signed that two-year, $16 million contract. He had been consistently great his whole career to earn that payday, but the Marlins perhaps should have had some concerns about age-related decline.
Last season, Ziegler posted a 4.79 earned run average—the worst of his career—and converted just 10 of 15 save opportunities (66.7 percent). This season, he has continued to be far too hittable to trust with the game on the line. It shows that the closer role is not suited for him anymore.
To me, the logical choice to replace Ziegler is Kyle Barraclough. The 27-year-old has been building toward this opportunity for quite some time.
Barraclough had an impressive breakout season with the Marlins in 2016. His strikeout-to-innings ratio (14.00 K/9) and swing-and-miss stuff (13.8 SwStr%) were noteworthy. He only gave up one home run in 72 2⁄3 innings, contributing to that solid earned run average. The next year wasn’t as consistent, but he came on strong during the second half to finish with similar overall numbers.
Barraclough mixes three pitches to keep batters guessing: a four-seam fastball, slider and changeup. Generally, his most reliable strikeout weapon is the slider. The right-hander creates a ton of movement with it and shows the ability to move the ball all around the plate.
An exciting development early in 2018 has been the maturation of his changeup. It has been even more effective than the slider at putting away his opponents. Barraclough can credit that for taking his performance to another level so far (15.63 K/9).
How do the Marlins justify keeping Ziegler as a closer with a superior option already on the roster? The only reason I could see is to showcase the veteran in hopes of dumping off the rest of his $9 million salary to another team via trade. This would fall in line with their rebuilding process, but my fear is this will backfire and cause greater damage. I believe age has finally caught up with Ziegler and he would be best served in low-pressure situations.
If the Marlins want to keep “the sizzle on the steak,” they better make it easier on themselves and demote Ziegler now. Be realistic—the best-case scenario is that a contending team desperate for bullpen help later on in the season could seek a trade to bring him in as a middle reliever.
Kyle Barraclough, on the other hand, is in the middle of his prime at 27 years old. He is currently making a little over $1 million and will be arbitration eligible for the next three years. The time is now to make him closer and allow him to settle into the role. There are other relievers capable of filling Barraclough’s setup spot nicely, like Tayron Guerrero and Drew Steckenrider.
Production for Barraclough has always been there and now it is time to reward him with the closer role.