Sometimes, baseball is cruel, or at least the people who run it. With all the competition there is in the game and with so many people trying to stick around, it’s common to see teams just get rid of ballplayers before they receive a fair shot. That was sort of the case for reliever Anthony Bender.
Bender began his pro career with the Kansas City Royals after being selected in the 2016 MLB draft (20th round). He got to High Class A in the organization, but was released before the 2019 season and was picked up almost immediately by the Milwaukee Brewers after pitching only twice in the American Association.
That year, he looked great between High-A and Double-A. Due to the cancellation of the 2020 MiLB season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bender went again to the cited independent circuit and won the championship with the Milwaukee Milkmen. However, he became a free agent in November. On the last day of that calendar month, the Marlins signed the journeyman Bender to a minors deal.
What came next was beautiful to watch.
Bender cruised through Spring Training with eight scoreless appearances. He struck out 10 opponents across 8 1⁄3 innings of three hits (two singles) and only two walks, featuring a high-90s sinker and nasty slider. After that kind of dominance, we all knew he was big league-ready. The Marlins didn’t initially make room for him on the MLB roster, but called him up from their alternate training site on May 4.
Bender was outstanding from the start. In 21 appearances between May 5 and June 26, the righty threw 21 1⁄3 innings of only 10 hits and two unearned runs—yes, a 0.00 ERA—along with five walks and 23 strikeouts. In that span, opponents hit for a .145 average off him.
The 26-year-old’s biggest weapon is his slider, which has led to 42 punchouts, a .182 opponent’s batting average, a 50.6 strikeout percentage, a 49.7 whiff percentage. The latter is the 28th-best mark among MLB pitchers (10 PA minimum); his K% with that pitch ranks 22nd, right behind Josh Hader’s 50.9 K%.
And that’s not all. Bender owns the 18th-highest strikeout percentage overall in the majors among relievers (33.3), above men such as Ryan Pressly, Diego Castillo, Kenley Jansen, and Héctor Neris. He combines that with the 27th-lowest walk percentage (5.7) and the 17th-lowest WHIP (0.90). The Marlins are getting this kind of production for the league minimum salary.
Unfortunately, Bender hasn’t had it so easy lately—he allowed his first two home runs right before the All-Star break and three more since then. But even so, he’s among the Marlins’ most reliable relievers and has deservedly earned several save opportunities, essentially sharing the closer’s role at the moment with Dylan Floro.
For Marlins fans, it’ll be interesting to see how Bender handles the rest of the campaign, which should give us a glimpse of what role he may occupy in 2022.
Will Anthony Bender’s 2.44 ERA go up or down between now and the end of the season?
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