The top compliment you could ever give to a late-inning reliever is that he makes the game boring. Called upon in situations where there’s a slim margin for error, the best in the business consistently deny their opponents any opportunities to score.
Fans want boring from their teams. Above all else, they want results, but getting work done without putting the lead in jeopardy is a plus.
Right-hander Kyle Barraclough got off to a boring start to the 2018 season, which put pressure on the Marlins to promote him into the closer’s role. He made the transition at the end of May, a decision that has paid off handsomely for everybody involved. Over the past month, Brad Ziegler rediscovered his mojo, while Barraclough has peaked: 11 2⁄3 consecutive scoreless, hitless innings since May 26. It’s the longest streak of its kind by a Marlins pitcher since Antonio Alfonseca (12.0 IP in 2004).
Barraclough is maintaining this impressive run without missing as many bats as usual (26.9 K% this season compared to career 31.0 K%). That means there have been plenty of threats—not to score, but at least to find an opening in Miami’s defense.
Shouldn’t be that hard, right? Here’s Adrián González, back on May 22, feasting on a hanging breaking ball, lining it over the out-stretched glove of Justin Bour for a double. (González has since been released by the Mets.)
Nobody has done that against Barraclough since then, but after comparing game footage with launch angle/exit velocity/hit probability (LA/EV/HP) data from Statcast, here are five relatively close calls.
Batter: Anthony Rendon
LA/EV: 7/105.6 (71% HP)
This line drive was no more than a couple feet away from disrupting the streak in its very first inning. If Miguel Rojas fails to make that athletic catch in foul territory, it would have still extended the plate appearance.
Trusting his changeup has been a key to Barraclough’s breakout, but middle-middle location makes any pitch hittable.
Batter: Ketel Marte
LA/EV: 5/93.7 (54% HP)
A fastball intended to be low and away ends up catching way too much of the plate, and Marte hammers it. Starlin Castro has limited range at second base, so if he’s positioned even one step to his left, it turns into a single.
Marte has been crushing mistakes lately, a big reason for his .303/.349/.671 batting line in June. He knows those numbers could’ve been slightly better if not for Barraclough.
Batter: Freddy Galvis
LA/EV: 11/92.0 (80% HP)
Galvis clearly made solid contact on the 95 mile-per-hour heater, just didn’t get much lift on it. JT Riddle only had time to take a couple steps, but that was enough to get a glove on it before reaching the outfield grass.
Batter: Gorkys Hernández
LA/EV: -8/96.2 (28% HP)
So much could go wrong when relievers attempt to field their position, considering how rarely they do it in game situations.
With Hernández running—he ranks among NL leaders in infield hits—and the ball headed directly up the middle, it would’ve been a difficult play for any of the other players. Instead, Barraclough reacted quickly and makes the backhanded grab. “Helping his own cause,” as they say.
Batter: Nolan Arenado
LA/EV: 34/94.0 (13% HP)
No hitter in the majors rakes at his home ballpark as well as Arenado. He had gone deep during each of the previous four games. In any of his other plate appearances on Saturday, this goes for extra bases.
Cameron Maybin makes the difference here as a defensive replacement for Derek Dietrich. Solid speed, route running and wall awareness allow him to convert it into an out.
As long as Don Mattingly continues deploying the most capable Marlins fielders in support of Barraclough, it bodes well for the longevity of his already-remarkable streak.