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2020 Marlins Season Preview: Brad Boxberger

Can Boxberger reverse the trends that have limited his effectiveness in recent years?

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The annual tradition has returned. Leading up to Opening Day, Fish Stripes will be previewing the 2020 Marlins season, one player at a time. Find every article of the series here.

Where Did He Come From? As reported by’s Joe Frisaro, the Marlins and right-hander Brad Boxberger have agreed to terms on a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. It includes a $1 million base salary if he makes the roster plus incentives.

2019 Performance

5.40 ERA | 4.68 FIP | 5.45 xFIP | 1.58 WHIP | 0.0 fWAR | 26.2 IP (MLB)

5.14 ERA | 28.8 K% | 1.71 WHIP | 14.0 IP (MiLB)

Testing free agency for the first time a year ago, Boxberger languished on the market until early February. The Royals inked him to a $2.2 million deal—the highest salary of his career—with the potential to earn an additional $1 million in incentives.

It would prove to be his least effective season as a major leaguer.

Boxberger’s preparation for 2019 hit a snag when he “tweaked” his leg during Spring Training. That limited him to six tune-up games and may partially explain the poor results (11.57 ERA, 2.57 WHIP in 4.2 IP).

Even so, the veteran right-hander opened the regular season with an important role on the rebuilding Royals. His first meaningful appearance came in a super high-leverage situation.

However, that was Boxberger’s only converted save with K.C. He was lit up for three earned runs later in the same series and gradually settled into middle relief duty. The Southern California native allowed too much traffic on the bases to be trusted with the game on the line, walking 13.9% of total batters faced.

The Royals designated Boxberger for assignment in late June once it became clear he didn’t hold any trade appeal to contending teams.

A few weeks later, the Nationals took a flier on the 31-year-old with a minor league deal, but he couldn’t break through to their active roster. Same situation with the Reds in August. He was released by the latter on Aug. 23, making for an extra-long offseason.

2020 Expectations

Pardon the pun, but I would put him in the same box as fellow Marlins NRI Ryan Cook. Both have substantial MLB track records and closing experience—Boxberger’s 77 career saves are actually the highest total of any pitcher in major league camp.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to ignore the signs that he’s in decline:

The key to much of Boxberger’s success has been keeping batters guessing between his four-seam fastball and changeup. Through the years, the velocity gap between those weapons has narrowed. He’s also losing some spin rate on the fastball.

Of course, there are adjustments that could possibly neutralize those trends. Boxberger may be able to throw more strikes and get into favorable counts by changing his delivery, or consider trusting his breaking ball in more putaway situations when batters aren’t expecting it (he has recorded only one strikeout via the slider since 2018).

Hopefully Boxberger is receptive to a stint with Triple-A Wichita because he doesn’t have a direct path onto the Opening Day roster. A call-up could come fairly soon after that, though.